The Pros and Cons of a 4-Day Work Week

In recent years, the idea of a four-day work week has been gaining traction and interest as companies explore new ways to improve work-life balance and boost productivity. Our society as a whole is increasingly focused on wellbeing, balance and how these concepts are applied to aspects of our day-to-day life. As a result, the traditional five-day work week is being challenged, by both individuals and organizations.

Popularized by Henry Ford in 1926, the five-day work week was actually a post-Industrial-Revolution-shift that aimed (by Ford) offer a better work-life balance, and increased pay, both as incentives and motivating factors behind the productivity of his employees. The decrease in work days compelled workers to be more productive while “in office”--and the theory still stands today: a study found that the most productive countries worked fewer total weekly hours. Luxembourg, for example, is at the top in terms of productivity output, with an average work-week of 29 hours.

Recently, a study done in 2018 showed that nearly half of Canadians would prefer a 30-hour work week, and (in a separate poll) approximately 70% of Canadians would prefer working longer days, in a four-day week, instead of five days at a standard eight hours. We explore some of the pros, cons and considerations of this potential shift.

The Benefits of a 4-Day Work Week

Increased productivity

As seen in productivity research that explores working hours by country, as well as in company trials done in New Zealand and Japan, the four-day work week can result in increased productivity. Having an extra day off allows individuals to recharge and come back to work feeling more energized and motivated. This can lead to improved focus and efficiency during the four working days, resulting in higher productivity levels. Additionally, the process of accommodating the shift to fewer days can push teams to create more efficient processes and workflows to meet the new business operation demands.

Improved work-life balance

One of the major advantages of a four-day work week, and one of the most discussed benefits, is the improved work-life balance it offers. With an added day off, employees have more time to spend with their families, pursue hobbies, volunteer or simply take a well-deserved break. It also reduces the time an employee may need to take for personal appointments or errands that cannot otherwise be done on the weekends, which is a positive for both the employer and the employee. This balance can lead to overall satisfaction and reduced stress levels, resulting in happier and more motivated employees.

Attracting top talent

Organizations that offer a four-day work week can be more appealing; attracting and retaining top talent in some job fields. In today's competitive job market, companies that prioritize work-life balance and employee well-being are highly sought after. By offering a shorter work week, employers can stand out against competitors , attracting skilled individuals that are looking for better work-life integration.

Environmental benefits

A four-day work week can also have positive effects on the environment. With fewer working days, there is a potential reduction in commuting and office energy consumption. Though more difficult to measure, the decrease in work days has shown a decrease in carbon emissions related to travel, the sending and storing of data, and the optimization of energy usage, ultimately reducing an organization’s carbon footprint. Implementing a four-day work week can contribute and align with corporate sustainability.

The Drawbacks of a 4-Day Work Week

Longer work days

One of the main drawbacks of a four-day work week is the longer work days that go with it. In order to maintain the same number of working hours, employees often need to work longer hours on the four days that they’re in the office. This can lead to exhaustion, especially towards the end of the work day. Some companies that have moved to the four-day work week have opted to also reduce to the total number of working hours in a week to combat this potential downside.

Difficulty in coordinating schedules

Implementing a four-day work week requires coordination and planning. It can be challenging to make sure all employees have their days off aligned, and that the business has staff to operate. This can cause scheduling conflicts and difficulties in managing projects and workload distribution. A structured work-flow and coordinated schedule would best ensure coverage of projects or client/business needs across all needed days.

Reduced flexibility

Another potential drawback of a four-day work week is reduced flexibility. While it may initially seem like a dream to have an extra day off, it can also limit options for scheduling personal appointments or attending to unexpected family matters if the off-days are inflexible. In a traditional five-day work-week model, many employers provide flex time for appointments—this could change if employees are granted three days off per week, every week.

Limited industry suitability

Not all industries or job roles are suitable for a four-day work week. Industries that operate 24/7, such as healthcare or emergency services, may be unable to accommodate a shorter work week without compromising service. Additionally, certain roles that work with clients or customers daily may face challenges in aligning schedules and offering enough support on a shorter work week. Employers should carefully assess the suitability of a four-day schedule based on their industry and specific job requirements.

Tips for Implementing a 4-Day Work Week

Flexibility options

To address the challenges that come with a four-day work week, many companies opt for flexibility options. This includes allowing employees to choose which day they would like as their day off, staggering schedules to ensure adequate coverage, and implementing remote work options. By providing flexibility, employers can mitigate some of the drawbacks and create a more sustainable work arrangement.

Trial period

Before fully implementing a change in structure, it can be beneficial to do a trial period. This allows companies to gather feedback from employees and assess the impact on productivity, customer satisfaction, and overall business operations. By evaluating the outcomes of the trial period, companies can make informed decisions about whether to continue with a four-day weekly structure or explore other alternatives.

Open communication

Open communication between employers and employees is crucial when implementing a four-day work week. It is important for both parties to understand expectations, address concerns, and find solutions that work for everyone. Regular check-ins, surveys, and feedback sessions help create a friendly and team-focused atmosphere at work.

While a four-day work week offers many benefits, it also comes with its challenges. By finding the right balance through flexibility options, trial periods, and open communication, companies can create a work environment that promotes employee well-being and business success. If you’re looking for tips on how to kickstart productivity this new year with a remote-work schedule, read our tips for remote employees.