October 2, 2023
7 min read
Most people used to work a six-day workweek, clocking in around 70 hours a week. That changed in the 1940s. But more than 80 years later, in the 2020s, companies are opening up to the idea of a four-day workweek.
There are tons of benefits to working four days per week instead of five, from increased productivity levels to a better work-life balance and decreased costs across the board.
We’ll tell you everything you need to know about the four-day workweek, including its history, how it works, who uses this type of workweek, and the benefits and drawbacks to working four days a week.
The four-day workweek is a concept for workplaces (or for schools and universities) that uses a four-day arrangement. So for example, with this model, students, teachers, professors, and employees would attend school, university, or work for only four days per week instead of the typical five-day workweek.
Some of the main benefits of a four-day workweek include decreased costs across the board and more flexible working hours for employees.
The four-day workweek is nice as you don’t work the typical 40 hours per week. Instead, employees work around 32 hours every week.
Although some mistakenly believe a four-day workweek will lead to decreased pay for employees, this is a misconception. Even though employees work for around 32 hours, their respective salary will remain the same.
The typical workweek common today — the five-day workweek — was actually a result of the same kind of transition the four-day workweek offers today.
For example, the five-day workweek is the norm in most places because of the advocacy to move from working six days a week to just five in the early 20th century.
Because the workweek was changed from six to five days, the concept of “weekends” emerged. Prior to this, weekends didn’t exist.
Many economists and famous faces — John Maynard Keynes, Benjamin Franklin, and Karl Marx, for example — predicted a continued decrease in work hours as time went on.
Typically, a four-day work week allows employees to continue to work 32 hours with the same pay, four days a week. However, there are a few variations worth mentioning.
Generally, a four-day workweek leads to shorter weeks on a fixed work schedule. That means an employee would work four 8-hour days per week.
Others use a compressed work schedule instead. With this schedule, instead of 32 hours, an employer spreads 40 hours across four days for 10-hour workdays.
There’s also an “in between” option, where employees have a four-day workweek every two weeks whereas they work five days during the other weeks.
Many of the businesses and organizations who use a four-day workweek are white collar workplaces.
There are a select number of countries and companies that have either experimented with four-day workweeks or currently offer them.
There are many countries who are experimenting with and use a four-day workweek. For example, after the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple countries’ governments offered a four-day workweek trial, including:
Iceland in particular had two very successful trials and as such, 86% of the country’s population negotiated for permanent reductions in work hours.
There are a great number of companies that currently offer a four-day workweek. Keep in mind though, not every single employee at these companies works four days a week; many employees still don’t have the option and work five days per week.
Companies that offer four-day workweeks in some capacity include brands such as:
There are tons of benefits to a four-day work week, from lower costs to improved work-life balance and increased productivity from employees. In fact, research shows four-day workweeks are beneficial for not only employees but also their employers.
Implementing a four-day work week allows companies to cut costs across the board. For example, some of the overhead expenses and costs that brands can decrease or eliminate entirely include:
Remote work options can also lower costs for companies, especially with less perks and salary adjustments.
Plus, employee retention rates are higher with both remote work and four-day workweek options, so this in turn saves the employer money by reducing turnover.
With a four-day workweek, employees are also more likely to have a better work-life balance as they get an extra 8 hours to take care of personal matters during the week.
This can, in turn, decrease both burnout and quiet quitting tendencies, leading to increased productivity levels as well.
A majority of companies who test four-day workweeks for their employees experience increased productivity levels.
For example, Microsoft Japan experimented with a four-day workweek and saw a 40% boost in productivity.
One explanation is that giving employees a more flexible schedule allows them to focus more when they’re working instead of being distracted about errands or personal matters they aren’t able to take care of.
Offering four-day workweeks is also a more sustainable option for companies. As the devastating results of climate change persists, lowering carbon footprints is especially important.
The 4 Day Week Campaign — a campaign group advocating for four-day workweeks on the national level in the UK — released a report in 2021 that showed that businesses with four-day workweeks could cut the country’s carbon footprint by 21.3%.
In the four-day workweek trials, such as the 4 Day Week Global campaign, the results showed much lower work stress levels in employees and employers.
The added personal time offered a whole host of positive mental health benefits, such as:
It’s a great way to promote DEIB too, since more disabled people are able to participate at work through flexible options like remote work or four-day workweeks.
There are some challenges of initiating a four-day workweek, particularly for blue collar workers.
For example, with blue collar work, it’s probable that these employees would have to significantly increase their work pace to keep up with the same level of productivity. This would inevitably lead to higher levels of stress. It could also make the workplace less safe, as employees rush to keep up with their normal productivity levels.
The concept of the four-day workweek is more popular now than it’s ever been. But is the future of the workplace the four-day workweek?
Some researchers say yes. This workplace movement has picked up significant speed in the past few years, and across the globe, more organizations and businesses are experimenting with this 32-hour work model.
However, a four-day workweek isn’t the only up-and-coming trend coming down the workplace pike. There are other future workplace trends worth exploring, too.
For example, many companies have begun to use AI in their everyday practices, on both a business level and an individual level. Tools like Yoodli — a free communication coach — use generative AI technology to help people:
Remote work and hybrid work are both future workplace trends that don’t appear to be going away, despite the push for returning to the office.
Eliminating the commute and offering more flexible hours are not only beneficial for the average person, but also for specific communities, like the disabled community. Over a million people with disabilities were able to join the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the remote work option.
In a similar vein, virtual education and team building opportunities will likely continue. To engage remote employees, some companies will offer things like virtual:
It’s a great option for people who have busy schedules, travel, having families, and those who are sick or have a disability. More people are able to participate virtually than in person.
Possibly in-part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s also been a stronger push for employee wellness initiatives at work. For example, today, some employers offer things like:
Some companies even provide financial literacy classes and other educational materials.
It doesn’t look like four-day workweeks are going away anytime soon. In fact, it looks like working one day less per week might just become the new normal in the next few years.
The benefits, especially in white collar work, overpower the challenges, though four-day workweeks aren’t a “one size fits all” method of work.
From working four days a week to using AI technology in the office, the latest labor and workplace trends are certainly worth considering.
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