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The 4-day workweek: can it work for your business?

Work-life balance is one of today’s most crucial drivers when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. The war for talent has ushered in a new era of workplace flexibility, leading to discussions about 4-day and reduced-hour workweeks. The results have been promising in some contexts, but is it really a feasible approach for your company?

    Two main approaches to the 4-day workweek

    Compressed hours

    Employees work the same number of hours per week as a 5-day workweek, but compressed into 4 days (e.g., 4 workdays of 10 hours).

    Reduced hours

    In some trials, a reduced-hour workweek at the same pay led to increased well-being at the same level of productivity – but results are varied.

      3 pros of a shorter workweek

      Based on the results of trials carried out across Europe, three key benefits emerge, with positive impacts on both employee and employer.

      #1 Pro: better employee attraction and retention

      According to a recent survey carried out by SD Worx, 44.7% of European employees state that working hours, working time and flexible working arrangements are the most important factors in the choice to stay with or leave employment. A schedule that allows for an extra day off each week, or fewer hours worked, may attract a broader pool of talent – and keep employees with organisations for longer.

      #2 Pro: more efficient operations

      A shorter workweek, e.g. one featuring 4 working days and a 3-day weekend, means fewer hours of operations, leading to lower costs through energy and resource efficiency. Reduced workweek trials resulted in more efficient work processes, potentially leading to higher time efficiency.

      #3 Pro: greater productivity and well-being

      Just because your people are on the clock for 8 or more hours a day doesn’t mean that they are continuously productive. Two recent trials carried out in Iceland offer evidence that a reduced workweek boosts employee satisfaction without having negative impacts on productivity, which even increased, in some cases. These trials also demonstrated closer collaboration between colleagues – an added bonus.

        Preparing your organisation for a shorter workweek

        A good starting point is to consider the following 3 cons of the abbreviated working week and proactively develop mitigation or adaptation strategies for each of them. It’s no surprise that these revolve around planning and communication.

        #1 Con: difficulties in balancing shift patterns

        In some workplaces, certain days are prized for on-premises work, while others – such as Fridays – are more likely to be taken off to create a longer weekend. The presence of too many or too few personnel in the office could throw a wrench in finely balanced processes.

        The solution: Ensure transparent, continuous discussions within teams – followed by careful workforce planning – regarding when employees are expected to be on site, off site, or working remotely.

        #2 Con: less time to get things done

        It’s a fact: in the reduced hours scenario, fewer hours in the work week necessarily means a shorter window for employees to accomplish their goals and objectives, potentially leading to productivity loss.

        The solution: Apply a concrete goal-setting framework, such as OKR or SMART, to break tasks into more easily manageable goals, fostering more efficient planning and clearer outlooks.

        #3 Con: unsuitable for some industries and roles

        Another fact: the human brain is limited when it comes to concentration time. An overbooked – or overlong – schedule may lead to reduced productivity, diminishing returns on effort applied, and even burnout, in the long run. In some settings, such as healthcare and education, it may be infeasible for parents or caregivers to accommodate 4-day workweeks or school weeks.

        The solution: if you’re unsure whether your sector and/or employee working patterns are compatible with reduced hours or a 4-day work week, launch a pilot project for a subset of employees, or implement a limited trial period of a handful of months. Carefully gather feedback from your employees about what works and what doesn’t – and why – and tweak your approach accordingly.

          The verdict: results depend on your situation, context and people

          It’s clear from trials and studies conducted across Europe and worldwide that culture, industry and work patterns play important roles in the success or failure of the compressed or reduced-hour working week. These approaches can offer attractive advantages, such as greater employee well-being, higher employer attractiveness, and efficiency improvements – which can’t be underestimated in today’s highly competitive business environment.

            Tony Swinnen - People Growth Expert at SD Worx
            The key to success with compressed or reduced-hour working week is to shape your approach to the needs and preferences of your industry, your people and their unique roles.
            Tony Swinnen - People Growth Expert at SD Worx
            Tony Swinnen, People Growth Expert at SD Worx

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