The 4-Day Work Week: How It's Possible
Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time it is given.
This is an integral motivator in cutting down the Monday to Friday 9 to 5; are we working these hours because the work takes that long? Or, does the work take that long because those are the hours we work?
In June 2022, the UK launched the largest ever trial of the 4-day work week. Bringing in 70 companies and over 3,300 employees, these businesses have given their staff 6 months of the adjusted schedule – with no change in pay – in an investigation to see if productivity was proportionally affected. Two months in, it seems people are loving it.
It’s easy to see the upsides of having all your Fridays free. Most would notice first that they now have a longer weekend, and the ratio of working days to non-working days becomes much more balanced.
But, this extra day isn’t necessarily just 24 hours of lounging about and catching up on TV (though if you like, it could be). Plenty of employees in the study have been using it to run the errands that waste their Saturday mornings, spend more time with family, or take up hobbies they’ve always wanted to try.
The impact on wellbeing has been notable, too, with participants reporting lower levels of anxiety and a significant reduction in feelings of burnout. Many are using those extra days to work on their physical wellbeing as well, doing far more exercise and even taking cooking classes.
On a business side, it goes without saying that being able to boast a shorter working week will do wonders for your recruitment and talent retention efforts!
Reducing your working hours by 20% is, unfortunately, sure to have some downsides, too (and in some professions it’s simply not possible). The most obvious among them is what seems a reasonable assumption: with only 80% of the hours, surely you only get 80% of the work done?
The interesting thing is, this doesn’t seem to be the case. As has been found in other 4-day work week trials, productivity hasn’t dropped at all. Participating companies have made efforts to ‘trim the fat’ as it were, increasing their efficiency so they can condense their work along with their hours.
Achieving this without forcing everyone to rush about with elevated stress levels, however, can be tricky.
Of course, there are also your clients and customers to think of. If you drop out of communication one day of the week, this could negatively impact your business’ reputation. People might see your company as lazy, or not as committed to the job.
How Can It Be Done?
Adopting a 4-day work week isn’t as easy as simply not coming in on Fridays. You have to change the way the day works in order to squeeze in those tasks. Fortunately, as most will admit, your average Friday isn’t usually spent working at 100% capacity, 100% of the day…
According to a survey from Asana, most people spend most of their day on ‘busywork’. Adopting a 4-day work week means cutting that out and finding ways to make the most of your time.
One simple but effective initiative brought in by participating business Unity involved giving each employee a small traffic light to put on their desk. If the worker was open to conversation, it was green. Yellow meant they were busy but available if needed. Red, naturally, meant they were not to be disturbed. Simple, wordless communication like this helps everything run smoother.
Sometimes, however, a distinct lack of communication can work wonders, too. Placing strict time limits on internal meetings can ensure people get to the point without wasting time on discussing things that could be put in an email. Some businesses have even put in place entire days without meetings each week so that workers can focus entirely on their own projects.
Icelandic company 5 Squirrels went even further. For two hours every morning and another two each afternoon, no one responds to emails, calls or messages, giving everyone four hours every day for pure concentration. While this, of course, may not work for more collaboratively focused companies, it’s worth considering.
Many companies have decided to shift their mindsets so that they are less input-focused and more output-focused. For example, instead of measuring how many hours an employee spends at their desk to measure their work, some have set small weekly targets and let employees work how and when they want in order to meet them.
Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to implementing a 4-day work week. There are, however, plenty of ways to explore how it could work for your business. There is also a wide range of amazing tech businesses whose tools and solutions make it easier to streamline your processes to achieve that uptick in productivity, and we’ll be hosting them at HR Technologies UK at ExCeL London next May!
Lots of people have predicted that the 4-day work week is the future of work. When the UK trial ends in November, perhaps we’ll have our answer…