Four-day workweek gains popularity around the world, as companies draw their after-Covid business plans. But what are the benefits and which are the hidden dangers?
Prior to the pandemic, a number of companies around the world have been experimenting with four-day workweeks, in the hope that a shortened week would increase their employees’ productivity and ultimately improve their bottom lines. But Spain’s recent decision to officially pilot a four-day week gives a whole new twist to this movement.
In spring 2018, four-day workweeks made headlines around the world, when Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand trust management company, announced that its decision to try paying employees their regular salary for working four days a week had lead to a 20% gain in their productivity and a 45% increase in employee work-life balance.
A year later, in summer 2019, Microsoft’s employees in Japan enjoyed an enviable perk: working four days a week, enjoying a three-day weekend, and getting their normal, five-day paycheck. According to the company, productivity grew and employees said they were happier.
SPAIN TO TRIAL A 4-DAY WORKWEEK
But until now, most experiments with four-day weeks have been motivated by corporate self-interest. The concept of four-day workweeks broke new ground last March, when Spain announced it will become the world’s first country to trial a four-day working week.
Under the plan, an estimated 200 to 400 Spanish companies will voluntarily take part in the project by reducing their employees’ working week to 32 hours while keeping their salaries the same. The government will compensate participating businesses for any higher costs incurred by the changes, such as the need to hire additional staff or to reorganize shift patterns.
The three-year, €50 million pilot project will launch in September 2021.
MORE COMPANIES REVIEWING THEIR WORKING PRACTICES
The outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis last year forced a very large portion of the global workforce to work from home, normalising remote work and changing the workplace culture – probably forever. Now that companies are drawing their after-Covid recovery plans, they have started to reconsider their working practices – including a ‘hybrid’ way of working and the 4-day workweeks.
In the U.K., Vice Media Group is reportedly considering a proposal from staff to implement a four-day working week with no reduction in pay. If the proposal is accepted, the media brand could become the first major UK news publisher to implement a four-day 32-hour working week, with more than 50 employees affected.
Last year, UK independent magazine company Target Publishing also introduced a four-day week, while tech firm Software Delsol last year became Spain’s first company to implement a four-day week.
THE BENEFITS OF 4-DAY WORKWEEKS
The benefits of shifting away from the Monday to Friday, 9-to-5 status quo could be profound and wide-ranging: improving employee well-being, raising productivity, reducing carbon emissions and increasing gender equality.
The available data are quite promising.
After Spain’s Software Delsol started a 4-day workweek:
- Absenteeism fell 28%
- Revenue grew at same rate as before
- 0 of 189 employees quit in a year
After the 4-day week at Microsoft Japan:
- Productivity grew 40%
- Electricity use fell 23%
- 92% of employees are happier
It should also be mentioned that between 2015 and 2017 Sweden conducted its own trial study into a shorter work week. Nurses at a care home worked only 6 hours for five days a week. Results were positive, with employees reporting better health and mental well-being and greater engagement with their patients.
ARE THERE ANY DANGERS?
While there are certainly many benefits to a four-day workweek – both for employees and employers – there are also a few dangers.
Implementing a four-day workweek can be difficult as it requires the right support, technology and workplace culture. And, if not implemented right, it may lead to the exact opposite results than those wished for.
An important factor to consider is that many confuse the concept of a four-day workweek with compressed hours of work. Employees who are expected to work the same amount of hours, but across 4 days, will eventually show decreased levels of productivity, engagement, and overall happiness.
Another thing is that a one-size approach will not work for every employee and every company. For example, ten-hour workdays Monday through Thursday will be unviable for those who have small children. Employers will have to consider whether and how employees can make up hours to prevent them from getting overly stressed.
Perhaps the key is flexibility. While some employees might prefer to have four days, others might prefer to spread their working hours across five days. What’s important is that the idea has been put on the political agenda.