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Will a four-day workweek become the new standard?
Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Writer, Culture Amp

If you start work on Monday and finish work on Friday, you’re in good company. For nearly a century, that five-day schedule has been the standard for office workers.

But here’s a question that’s often overlooked: Is that schedule working? While the five-day workweek is a long-standing tradition (and an improvement over the six-day workweeks that were commonplace during the Industrial Revolution), that doesn’t mean it’s the best option for today’s companies and employees. Should it remain the default approach moving forward?

If workers have anything to say about it, the answer is a resounding “no.” The four-day workweek attracted increased attention during and after the pandemic, as employees actively reevaluated the role of work in their lives.

And most workers are coming to the same conclusion: a short workweek is something to aspire to, with 89% of full-time employees supporting a reduced schedule.

Yet, despite the clear demand, a condensed workweek is hardly mainstream at this point. According to a four-day workweek study released in 2023, only 1% of employers are currently piloting a four-day schedule, with an additional 14% considering the option.

That means offering a four-day workweek could be a competitive differentiator for companies that want to secure and retain top talent. However, this is a big decision that warrants careful thought.

Four-day workweek: Exploring the pros and cons

Ask most employees, and they’ll likely be quick to sing the praises of a reduced work schedule. While there are some distinct advantages, there are also drawbacks that employers will need to contend with.

What are the advantages of a four-day workweek?

Let’s start with the good news: a shorter workweek really does benefit employees. In one study of 61 U.K. companies that tried a four-day workweek, employees experienced better job satisfaction along with:

  • Improved work-life balance: 54% of employees said they had an easier time balancing their careers with household responsibilities.
  • Less stress and burnout: 39% of employees reported lower stress levels, and 71% experienced less burnout.

Employees are generally happier and healthier too, with a separate study out of Spain showing that a four-day workweek improved employees’ happiness levels and their self-perceived health status.

While it’s tempting to think that your company would be trading productivity and performance for employee happiness, that’s not the case. In another study of U.K. companies, 46% of leaders said their teams’ productivity stayed the same when trialing a shorter workweek. Even more impressively, 34% said productivity improved, and 15% said productivity significantly improved.

All of those benefits translate to more present employees (both literally and figuratively), with researchers finding a 65% reduction in sick days. There’s also a significant uptick in retention, with a 57% decrease in turnover for companies that tried a four-day workweek compared to the same period the previous year.

What are the disadvantages of a four-day workweek?

The merit of this schedule seems pretty straightforward if you focus on the benefits of working four days a week, but there are some distinct challenges associated with this model.

Scheduling difficulties are the biggest hurdle, particularly in industries or organizations that need to maintain staffing at least five days per week. Friday is the preferred day off for the majority of employees (56% of workers chose Friday compared to 30% who chose Monday in one recent study), which can make it challenging to balance schedules in a way that feels fair to everyone.

Additionally, a short workweek can trigger more stress for employees in organizations where leaders aren’t thoughtful about rolling it out.

Are workers expected to accomplish the same amount of work in fewer hours? That’s a tough (and potentially even unreasonable) demand. Will employees work the same amount of hours but in fewer days? That can present problems for employees who need childcare or have other scheduled obligations outside of work.

Finally, for companies that have hourly workers, there are labor regulations to contend with. Opting to have employees work fewer but longer days could mean paying more overtime – which increases costs for the company.

Will a four-day workweek become the new norm?

The shorter workweek has steadily picked up steam, with plenty of companies either experimenting with the model or rolling it out permanently. Some of the most notable and publicized include:

  • Buffer: Switched to a four-day workweek in May 2020 as a response to COVID-19 and made the shift permanent at the end of 2020.
  • Kickstarter: Piloted a four-day workweek in 2022 before deciding to stick with it for the foreseeable future.
  • ThredUp: Moved to a four-day workweek in 2021.

While this approach seems to be most popular among smaller companies, a few larger enterprises are testing it, too. Microsoft Japan ran a trial in 2019 and achieved impressive results. And after testing a four-day workweek for 18 months, Unilever New Zealand expanded it to Australia in 2022.

Companies that try the shorter schedule generally want to stick with it. In the study of U.K. companies, an impressive 92% of the 61 companies that participated said they planned to continue with the four-day workweek.

Does that mean it will soon dethrone the five-day workweek as the new standard? Is a four-day workweek coming down the pike for everybody? Time will tell, especially with the introduction of proposed legislation related to the workweek and advancing technologies like AI offering potential efficiency gains for employees.

But even so, it’s unlikely that the four-day schedule will become a workplace staple anytime soon. Mandating a schedule still has an element of rigidity, which can feel counterproductive to workers’ demands for increased flexibility. So, employers will likely prioritize flexibility in other ways, including remote or hybrid work arrangements or cultures that emphasize results over hours worked.

Are four-day workweeks in your company’s future?

There’s been no shortage of upheaval in the working world these past few years. And while a switch to a four-day workweek is largely a positive shift for employees, it’s still a major change worthy of careful consideration.

As with any other potential change or benefit, it’s worth surveying or talking to your employees to understand what’s most meaningful to them.

If your organization does decide to opt for the shorter workweek, keep in mind that a reduced schedule will likely need to be accompanied by other changes, such as fewer meetings, lighter workloads, or adjusted expectations.

After all, if you want to reap the key benefits of a four-day workweek, you need to empower workers to work four days—not squeeze five days' worth of work into four.

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