Four-Day Workweek: Pros and Cons

Countries across the world are experimenting with a four-day workweek. Will their findings work for facility managers?

By Stormy Friday, Contributing Writer  

Companies around the globe are assessing the results of studies conducted on the four-day work week. Over the last several years numerous experiments within large and small companies have studied the outcomes and implications associated with different iterations of a four-day workweek. The tested iterations ranged from no-work Fridays to innovative ways of structuring the traditional 40-hour work week into fewer days. Both positive and negative findings emerged from the experiments.  

There are those in the facility management industry who feel that the four-day workweek could be possible in this industry. For example, some authors at the “Facilities Management Journal (FMJ) UK” strongly support the premise that facility management organizations must constantly evolve and believe the four-day work week may be the ticket to achieve it. They feel there are many opportunities to select certain facility management roles that may be condensed. They see enough potential for facility managers to support the four-day workweek movement. 

Positive aspects  

Andrew Barnes, author of “The Four Day Work Week” says “the five-day workweek is a 19th century construct that is not fit for the purpose of the 21st century.” Many of his followers who want companies around the world to make this change were happy the results of shortened workweek experiments allowed the concept to gain traction. 

The pandemic aftermath afforded an opportunity to generate support for a four-day workweek. Companies struggle with ways to entice workers back to an office environment. Thus far, the most successful effort in this direction has been the hybrid work environment. Much to the dismay of corporate executives, however, feedback continues to point to the fact this is not an ideal situation and workers prefer working remotely instead of working on-site. This leads companies to experiment with various alternatives to find one that works for the company and its employees. 

The most positive reports about a four-day workweek come from a trial involving 2,900 workers from 61 companies in the United Kingdom. These workers took part in a four-day workweek trial from June to December 2022. According to the March 2023 issue of the “MIT Sloan Management Review” this four-day workweek trial was extremely successful and allowed researchers to conclude the following: 

  • Job satisfaction significantly improved. 
  • Work-life balance for workers improved. 
  • Employee stress was reduced. 
  • Product quality improved. 
  • Customer service improved. 
  • Absences and sick days were reduced. 

Of the 61 companies participating in the experiment, 92 percent decided to continue experimentation and 18 companies made the four-day workweek a permanent strategy. Ongoing research after the trial showed that 39 percent of employees experienced lower stress levels and 71 percent saw less burnout during the shorter week. Work-life balance improved as 54 percent of employees said they could balance their jobs with household responsibilities and there was greater financial stability and interpersonal relationships. 

To strengthen these statistics, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) cites 23 percent of organizations in their survey base have implemented a true four-day workweek where partial operations close for at least 72 hours per week, and 60 percent of those organizations expressed gains in employee satisfaction and productivity resulting from fewer meetings. 

Microsoft Japan recently evaluated the four-day workweek with 2,300 of its employees. The model used at Microsoft revolved around five Fridays off without decreasing any pay. The shorter workweek led to a 40 percent jump in productivity, 25 percent less time off and approval from 92 percent of the workforce. 

On a smaller scale, Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand based trust management firm, also ran an experiment by reducing the workweek for its 240 employees to 32 hours without any pay change. This small company saw a 20 percent jump in productivity. 

A plethora of other studies support the notion that at some point productivity decreases as the number of hours worked increases. In short, 40-hour workweeks may be wearing employees out and productivity suffers as a result. To support this premise the four-day workweek must cover 32 hours with no loss in productivity, pay or benefits. Depending on the company and the industry, employees might work Monday through Thursday and have Fridays off. Companies might also allow each employee to determine their own day off. Still another option is to have a company-wide policy of a different third day off such as a Monday or a Wednesday. 

Often a company featuring a four-day workweek can attract better talent than competitors offering the traditional five-day week. The new workforce is anxious to find flexibility in a work situation and searches for a prospective company that provides positive employee experience. 

Challenges of the shorter week 

The benefits of the four-day workweek have taken center stage in recent months, but the concept doesn’t work for every industry or business.  

It is easy for a company with jobs focused primarily on knowledge work where employees can utilize their skills in a compressed workweek. 

On the other side, jobs that rely on service work or consistency in availability have more difficulty converting to a workweek where staff are not always available. It is almost impossible for a hospital or a fire department that requires personnel to be fully engaged on a 24/7 basis to move to a four-day work week. Similarly, think about the impact of the four-day workweek on a full-service customer service industry that responds to technical calls and emails for the company’s customers. How successful would it be for a hot line to have a message that says we are on a four-day workweek schedule now and there will not be anyone to respond to your calls until next week? 

Sometimes even large companies with a robust workforce can’t stretch workers over a four-day workweek and accomplish the same level of productivity. There is a physical limit to how many delivery locations a UPS driver can hit in a day, or a Target warehouse employee can pick per hour. It may not be possible to increase productivity enough to achieve the same results in fewer hours even if employees learn to work smarter. 

Treehouse is an online coding school that implemented a four-day workweek as far back as 2013. The CEO praised the concept repeatedly throughout the ensuing years saying there was improved productivity and a more balanced work life for the employees. This strategy worked until 2016 when the company reinstated the five-day workweek and then had to lay off employees. The company found over time, the four-day workweek generated a lack of work ethic in senior leaders and the workforce in general. This malaise led to an eventual decline in overall productivity. 

A four-day workweek doesn’t necessarily equate with the goal of making employees happier and less stressed. Companies like the “LA Times” and Stanely Black and Decker used a four-day workweek as a cost saving measure. On a short-term trial basis, both companies were able to reduce 20 percent of payroll costs by reducing staff for the four days. Some companies, however, have attempted to implement a four-day workweek only to find it is incompatible with wage regulations in their area. In many companies the four-day workweek also ends up being too grueling for their staff.  

Not all employees desire a four-day workweek. Some workers enjoy their work so much they do not want to reduce the time spent on it. Others miss the social interaction associated with an in-office environment or even a hybrid environment. One segment of workers reports a constant pre-vacation atmosphere which detracts from the professionalism of their colleagues. SHRM indicates 39 percent of U.S. workers note a distaste for the four-day workweek. The most common reasons given are inability to maintain social aspects of work, limited productivity, and fear of distractions from their work. 

Fewer working days sometimes have trickle down effects on the supply chain flow. In a company that supplies goods to other companies and adopts the four-day workweek practice, but their customers maintain a five day a week work schedule, there have been reports of delays in product delivery that cause customers to select alternative supplier sources. 

Stormy Friday is founder and president of The Friday Group, an international facilities services consulting firm. She is a member of the ProFMI Commission, a governance body that serves as an advisory committee for the Professional Facility Management Institute's (ProFMI) activities.  

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  posted on 8/25/2023   Article Use Policy

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