Everything HR Managers Need to Know About the 4 Day Work Week
With a gained focus on the employee experience, Generation Z entering the workforce with a new approach to employment, and technology becoming more prominent in the workplace, there is no surprise that the 4-day workweek is becoming another hot discussion in human resources and is gaining ground across the world.
The idea is that employees work 4 days a week while having the same workload and getting salaried the same as before. Advocates argue that employees will become more efficient by working 32 hours per week instead of 40 and will be able to achieve the same results, if not better, all while working less.
What do people across different countries say about the 4-day work week? How can you adapt your workplace to facilitate a potential implementation of fewer working days per week? Continue reading as we take a deeper dive into the 4-day work week.
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Popularity of the 4 Day Work Week
The popularity of the 4-day work week grew during the pandemic. However, some countries have come further in the implantation of a shorter workweek. Below, we will discuss the responses to the 4-day work week in the most noteworthy countries across Europe and compare them to the response in the United States.
How is Europe Embracing the 4 Day Work Week?
Belgium is the first country in the European Union to take a federal lead on the four-day work week, by passing a bill in November 2022 that allows employees to decide whether they work four or five days a week. However, workers who opt out for the 4 workdays rather than 5, will not be working fewer hours a week. The bill will give employees flexible hours at work and allow them to organize their working weeks and how many hours they work per day themselves.
“The goal is to give people and companies the freedom to arrange their work time” – Alexander de Croo, Prime Minister of Belgium.
Iceland is considered one of the leading countries in the 4-day working week as they conducted the world’s largest program of a reduced working week between 2015 and 2019. The trial program involved over 2500 employees and allowed them to work 35 or 36 hours a week, without a reduction in salary. In a statement to the Washington Post, Will Strong, Director of Research at the think tank Autonomy, named the program an overwhelming success and encouraged others to follow:
“This study shows that the world’s largest ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success,”
adding that the program is a “landmark pilot” and grants a “precedent for other public authorities.”
As a result of the successful programs, trade unions have gotten involved in negotiations regarding longer weekends, and 86% of Iceland’s working population is now either implementing a work schedule of four days a week or gaining rights in the subject.
The United Kingdom followed the steps of Iceland and launched an even bigger test program for a four day week. In June 2022, 61 companies implemented a six-month trial program that allowed over 3000 employees to earn the same salary while working 80% of the time, with an expectation to produce the same results as before. In most cases, the employees were offered an extra day off, either on Monday or Friday, giving them a three-day weekend.
Many of the organizations saw the experiment to be extremely successful, and 92% of the companies that took part in the program decided to keep the four-day week policy after the trial period.
While companies are leading the way on a reduced working week in the UK, there is a movement toward making a change on a federal level. Scotland and Wales are both considering a governmental trial on the four-day workweek policy. In Scotland, a trial is due to start sometime in 2023.
How is the US Embracing the 4 Day Work Week?
With successful results backing up the concept of a 4 day work week across Europe and the rest of the world, the United States is starting to catch on. Specifically, a California bill was reintroduced in March 2023 that would adjust the definition of the workweek in the Fair Labor Standards Act by changing the workweek from 40 hours per week to only 32 hours per week.
The legislation, referred to as the Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act, is endorsed by various organizations in the US, including the Economic Policy Institute and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, and requires overtime pay for additional hours. The bill suggests a rate of pay of one and a half for employees who work more than 32 hours each week.
Research has also shown increased support from employees for the concept. A survey conducted by Qualtrics shows that 92% of US employees support their employer in implementing a four-day work week. However, there are some concerns regarding a reduced work schedule: 55% of US employees said that reduced labor hours would likely frustrate customers.
How to Adapt to the 4-Day Work Week?
There are certain actions HR professionals and supervisors can take to prepare and facilitate a change into a 4-day work week. Below, we list the most important actions you should focus on:
With smart and efficient work, it is possible to produce the same outcome in fewer working hours. Automation is a big contributor to efficiency in the workplace and getting work done. Look over your business processes and find functions that can be sped up with process automation. For example, PeopleSpheres reduce your HR workload by 30% simply by eliminating multiple data re-entry.
Increase in Communication
In order to successfully increase productivity at your workplace, you need to be aware of what your employees are doing. Communicate with your employees to find out more about their processes and to discover where they lose time.
If you have part-time workers, have open communication about the work scheduling and establish a working calendar week that leads to increased productivity. Look beyond the regular work hours and promote a flexible work schedule that optimizes your employees’ time spent at work.
Focus on Employees’ Mental Health
The 4 day work week puts work-life balance at the core of its policy. Without yet implementing a compressed schedule, you can take one step in the direction of a work-life balance by prioritizing job satisfaction and flexible work. Focus on your employees and what they value in their employee experience.
To find out what is best for your staff members you can execute employee experience surveys. This way, you get valuable insights from your employees on how to get more flexible work arrangements and a happier workplace.
Benefits of the 4 Day Work Week
There are several benefits associated with changing from five working days to four working days. Some of them include employee satisfaction, improved mental health, decreased carbon footprint, and decreased business expenses. Below, we discuss the benefits of a compressed work week:
With a smaller number of hours worked, your employee productivity will likely increase. This is due to the negative relationship between hours worked and productivity: as the hours worked increase, productivity decrease.
Along with increased productivity, your employee satisfaction is likely to increase as employees enjoy their job more when they are productive. A condensed work week also decreases employee turnover and absenteeism.
Employees’ Mental Health with Work-Life Balance
Numerous research shows that a shortened work week improves employees’ mental health by supporting a work-life balance. For example, a report done on the pilot program in the UK discloses reduced anxiety, stress levels, and burnout among the employees. The study also showed that increased leisure time improves individuals’ sleep. As all employees will have more time to spend outside of work, they will have the availability to do more activities that improve their well-being, such as hobbies or other pleasures.
Decrease Carbon Footprint
During the pandemic, we witnessed reports on reduced carbon footprint as employees were working from home. The same conclusion can be drawn for a 4-day work week. When employees work one day less per week, their number of miles traveled by car will decrease, hence reducing the company’s carbon footprint.
Decrease Business Expenses
Many companies have also found that a four-day work week reduces variable expenses and overhead. Similar to the reduced carbon footprint, when your employees have a shorter work week, you have less expenditure on variable expenses such as heating and energy costs. Employees who work less will also use up fewer office supplies and resource replenishment will be less regular.
The 4-day work week is becoming more relevant as several trial programs have been run across the world and reported successful results. Shorter working weeks have conveyed several benefits, including increased employee satisfaction, improved mental health and well-being, decreased carbon footprint, and decreased business expenses. There are various work arrangements your organization can establish to facilitate shorter workweeks. Most importantly, the focus should be on optimizing your business processes and increasing employee productivity.
This can be done through business automation and increased communication. By prioritizing the employee experience and focusing on your employees’ mental health, you are already taking one step in the right direction.