The Argument for a Four-Day Work Week

In last week’s blog, I wrote about new trends we can expect to see in 2023. One of the biggest trends that’s likely to continue is increasing flexibility in the workplace. This means that workplaces are likely to continue or begin offering options like flexible hours. One way to do that is to institute a four-day work week. If this sounds like a dream of the future, think again. The revolution is already underway. To understand it, it’s important to first find out how the five-day workweek became the standard.

How It Started

This Wikipedia article has some great information about the development of the work week. Once upon a time, it was common for people to work six days a week. They’d typically use the seventh to celebrate the Sabbath. However, that started shifting hundreds of years ago. In Britain in the early 1800s, employees began looking for a second day off. (Apparently, they started partying on their Sundays instead of praying, which led to some serious hangovers.) At the time, some employers started offering a two-day weekend. This was entirely voluntary. It wasn’t legally codified for a long time to come still.

Then, in the United States, the first shift to a two-day weekend actually started from diversity and inclusion. The first employer to offer Saturday and Sunday off did so to accommodate Jewish employees. Later on, Henry Ford became a notable figure who instituted the five-day work week. He believed this would make people work more productively. And it worked! In 1940, the implementation of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act finally mandated a 40-hour work week. That means working five days per week has been the legal standard for a bit less than a century.

It may sound like workers really won out with the five-day work week. It was certainly an improvement on six days. However, advocates for a four-day work week believe it’s time for another change. So how did the push to cut another workday begin?

Advocating for a Four-Day Work Week

It all started with Andrew Barnes, a successful entrepreneur with a history of innovative leadership. He decided to test out a four-day work week at his own company, located in New Zealand. And it worked! He was so successful that he gained international attention. This was the boost he needed to co-found 4 Day Week Global. I’m talking about the nonprofit international community dedicated to promoting a four-day work week.

In advocating for this idea, Barnes has written the book The 4 Day Week. In it, he explains the benefits of the shift he’s encouraging. He also brought in Charlotte Lockhart as a co-founder for his nonprofit. She’s an experienced speaker and business investor who acts as the managing director. As they’ve worked together, Barnes and Lockhart have spread their idea all over the globe.

The 4 Day Week Global website aims to be a resource for many kinds of people. This includes organizations, employees, researchers, and even governments. By providing information about the four-day work week, they hope to convert us all to believers. They share intended benefits, strategies to implement change, and results of trials all over the world. In short, they advocate for organizations to cut work time by 20% without reducing pay. They promise that productivity won’t decrease either. Let’s take a look at their argument.

Why Four Days?

The 4 Day Week Global website lists a litany of benefits that change will bring. First and foremost, they believe working fewer hours will boost productivity. They have data from trials in numerous countries to support this, by the way. Data also shows that cutting work hours improves  employee wellness and reduces stress. As a result, workers are more engaged and more satisfied with their jobs.

As you can imagine, this can translate to some big benefits for employers. For instance, it’s much easier to recruit and retain talent with a four-day work week. Engaged employees become more loyal, and new employees get excited at the opportunity. That’s important, as I spoke to the challenge in offering competitive compensation in last week’s post

chart shows upward trendThe four-day work week can also make a big impact on the triple bottom line: profits, people, and planet. This article from Business Insider reviewed data from a six-month trial in 2022 to reach this conclusion. That trial included 33 companies in six countries. At the end of the trial, they overwhelmingly reported success. Revenue increased, employees were healthier, and the environmental impact improved. The four-day work week also helps organizations make strides towards gender equity. Increasing flexibility in working hours helps more women stay in the workforce despite the pressures of home.

Navigating the Transition Effectively

Now, just because you’re excited to work four days a week, doesn’t mean your boss will agree. That’s why 4 Day Week Global developed a guide to persuading leadership. They suggest starting with education. Educate yourself about the impacts a four-day work week can have on an organization and its triple bottom line. Next, start conversations with your colleagues. Listen to their perspectives and document interest. For instance, you might decide to collect signatures for a petition.

Then, you’ll be ready to present your case to your manager or an organization executive. Be sure to implement these strategies for a great presentation when you do. For example, be sure you consider the perspective of your audience. Are they a reliable advocate for employee wellness? Speak to that value. However you approach the issue, remember these tips for persuasion in the workplace

If you’re a leader who’s already decided to make a change, here are some strategies to get started. First, look to other companies in your industry who’ve successfully switched to a four-day work week. See what worked for them and learn from their example. Next, plan a trial period. Identify your strategic objectives in advance. What targets will you aim for? You may want to involve an academic research partner. They can help you collect data and evaluate your results. Next, once you’ve started your trial, help employees focus better by introducing strategies for success. Consider sharing these productivity tips, information about multitasking, or these best practices for time management. Of course, employees should be mindful of the importance of taking breaks. When you’ve completed the trial, you’ll want to analyze your data to inform a data-driven assessment of your results. 

Jumping on the Bandwagon

If you’re hesitant to go the journey alone, you may consider joining an official 4 Day Week Global pilot program. On their website, you can find information about all its components, such as training. With support, you’re sure to see success. And in the meantime, think about what you can already do to help your employees work smart, not harder. For instance, it’s never a bad time to consider workflow automation software to move your work forward.