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Is a 4-day work week a great or terrible idea?

4 day work week
Nina Janza
Nina Janza
6 minute read

A quite popular workplace trend is the so called 4-day work week. There are two variations of the 4-day work week: one is a compressed work week, meaning an employee works for 10 hours a day, 4 days a week, the other one is a shortened work week with x4 8 hour working days.

In both cases the main idea is to have 3 days completely free, thus creating a better work-life balance. Nevertheless, there are quite mixed opinions as to whether the 4-day work week really brings the desired results for employees and employers. Let’s find out if a 4-day work week is a great or a terrible idea:

The two main types of 4-day work week

As mentioned, there are two variations for a 4-day work week that are quite different in terms of the number of hours an employee works per week. That already brings some differences regarding work-life balance.

A compressed 4-day work week

A compressed work week allows employees to work full-time hours (40 hours per week) over fewer days. The most common type of compressed schedule is a four-day work week in which employees work full-time hours in x4 10-hour days.

This allows employees to work longer hours on some days and accrue enough time for an additional day off. The five main advantages and disadvantages of a compressed work week are:

  • An additional day off affords employees a better work/life balance
  • The employee keeps full pay and benefits
  • Reduced commuting time and costs
  • Fewer interruptions and higher productivity in non-regular office hours
  • Extended hours of workplace operation

The compressed 4-day work week also comes with some disadvantages:

  • Some positions may not be suitable for longer hours (an increased risk of injury or errors)
  • It could cause understaffing in some time periods
  • It may create difficulties in scheduling meetings
  • Employees could be working unauthorized overtime
  • A longer schedule could cause lower productivity at the end of the day

A shortened 4-day work week

The other variation of a 4-day work week is for an employee to have 4 working days on and 3 days off, without the extended hours during the working days. That means more time off and less work, but it could also mean a pay and benefit reduction. The main advantages of working fewer hours are:

  • A better work/life balance and reduced stress
  • Better productivity and engagement because of having more recovery time
  • Better creativity
  • Reduced commuting time and costs (and a smaller carbon footprint)
  • Better job satisfaction
  • A greater talent pool for the employers

The main disadvantage is of course the loss of pay and benefits (in the case of hourly pay or the employers wanting to reduce gross pay because of fewer working days). And the main disadvantage for the employer might be more difficulty in staff scheduling (especially during peak months), if the employee works with customers, potential issues with clients due to slower response times and so on.

If the company permits both options, it is up to an employee whether they would like to get more free time overall, no matter the pay, or are prepared to work longer hours during the four working days to keep all the benefits.

A case study: Perpetual Guardian

Perpetual Guardian is a real-estate planning company from New Zealand with 240+ employees. In 2019 they decided to set everything up for the permanent implementation of a 4-day workweek.

As mentioned, a 4-day work week usually refers to compressed hours. This means working a 40-hour workweek over 4 days, 10 hours a day. But this New Zealand company took it a few steps further. They eliminated one workday completely and had their staff working an 8-hour schedule, 4 days a week.

This notable experiment has confirmed the positive effects of a shortened workweek on employee work-life balance, job satisfaction, creativity, efficiency, and more. Work did not suffer one bit and the company decided to keep this schedule.

Perpetual Guardian is just one of the companies that applied 4-day work weeks, you can find many others, especially in the most developed countries with high productivity like New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and Scandinavia.

Administrative issues with 4-day work weeks

When Perpetual Guardian decided to implement the 4-day work week, they ran into some legal difficulties regarding the implementation, even though New Zealand is one of the few countries which prides itself on a flexible work policy. This policy legally allows employees to ask their employers for changes in their work hours, workdays, or workplace.

The problem seems to be that under the New Zealand law, workers accrue vacation time based on time spent in the office. This calculation is one of the examples of how much the concept of work has changed. It has actually changed so much that work legislation in most countries has trouble keeping up.

Such outdated laws will need to be adjusted for new working arrangements, and of course, so will the rest of the work regulations infrastructure.

4-day work weeks and timesheets

Our company provides an employee-timesheet application. It is mandatory to keep timesheets in most countries. We work hard to keep up with trends, offering an app that supports a 4-day work week and most other flexible work arrangements. For instance, you can register hours when working remotely with our mobile app since remote work is becoming very common.

We are aware that there were times when going to work meant going to the workplace, from 9 to 5, 5 days a week. But nowadays flexible work in all forms is already doing wonders for many companies’ productivity and many employees’ wellbeing. We support this progress and expect state legislators around the world to simplify the adoption of flexible work arrangements. You can learn how to set up a 4-day work week in our time and attendance app, All Hours, here.

Should you adopt the 4-day work week?

First, it depends on whether your industry allows you to. There are some industries like hospitality, transport, health, law, etc. in which is much harder to implement a 4-day work week.

The second determining factor is definitely whether your company can afford such a model, namely how hard the competition is, how defendable the company’s advantage is on the market, how high the profit margins are and so on. It’s much easier to implement the shortened 4-day work week in innovative, highly profitable companies.

The last thing is the company culture. If the company’s culture is about hard work, long hours, being competitive, etc. it’s probably not the right fit. On the other hand, if the culture appreciates more work-life balance, flexible work arrangements and so on, the 4-day work week can bring an additional advantage to help you attract the best talent and get the best performance out of people.

If you decide to give the 4-day work week a test run (we definitely recommend a test on a smaller scale before implementing the new policy company-wide), make sure you follow these steps:

  • On a strategic level, define what you want to achieve with the 4-day work week
  • Create a flexible work policy with clear guidelines
  • Communicate the new policy clearly with all your employees
  • Make sure you use time & attendance software that supports the 4-day work week0
  • If it works on a smaller scale, make it an option for all the employees
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