The 4-Day Work Week, Explained

June 22, 2023

Contributor: Jordan Turner

It’s a promising solution to today’s challenges around talent attraction and retention.

The rapidly evolving talent market and evolution of employee expectations continue to push organizations to consider different working models, like the 4-day work week. But as more organizations explore the idea, many remain unfamiliar with the what, why and how.

What sparked the 4-day work week movement

It was once an idea that provoked skepticism, but is now gaining traction. In a 2022 4-day work week trial in the United Kingdom more than 60 companies across different industries reduced work hours in one of several ways — a coordinated extra day off, staggered days off, or an annualized 32-hour week for companies with seasonal demands — while maintaining pay. The results were promising. Worker stress decreased, and most employees found it easier to balance work and caregiving commitments. There are benefits for businesses, too: Talent retention improved with a 57% reduction in attrition, and revenue improved by 1.4% on average.

Why consider a 4-day work week for your organization

The 4-day work week emerges as a promising solution to major talent management issues. According to a recent Gartner poll, 54% of HR leaders expect an increase in talent competition, and the 4-day work week is a compelling employee benefit that may differentiate organizations in the talent marketplace. In fact, 63% of candidates rated a 4-day work week with the same pay as the top innovative benefit that would attract them to a job. It’s an option that offers flexibility for the frontline workforce who cannot work in a hybrid setup, and it provides a potential solution to burnout for location-agnostic workers.

How to structure a 4-day work week

A 32-hour work week is not the only option when considering a four-day work week. It is not a one-size fits all solution. There are many options that can still achieve promising results based on two decisions — working hours and working days. 

For working hours, you may choose a condensed or reduced work week:

  • Condensed work week. In this setup, organizations continue with the 40-hour week and condense the week to four days with 10-hour work shifts. The drawback? Implications for overtime payments and possible fatigue due to long shifts. 

  • Reduced work week. This is when organizations reduce the week to 32 hours — that’s 4 days of 8-hour shifts. This is less likely to cause fatigue, but there may be a risk around productivity. However, this risk did not pan out in the United Kingdom study.

For working days, you’ll have to choose the day that’s given off, which can depend on factors like business continuity, demand and flexibility:

  • Universal day off. This is when the entire organization suspends operations on a selected weekday, apart from existing days off. 

  • Distributed day off. This setup structures employees’ staggering days off to ensure coverage and when presence is crucial for business functions.

How to implement a 4-day work week

“The perception of different barriers such as leadership and managerial buy-in, as well as operational hurdles, are preventing organizations from fully understanding what is possible when it comes to implementing a 4-day work week program,” says Kaelyn Lowmaster, Research Director at Gartner.

While some leaders are skeptical about ensuring continuity of operations and fairness across the workforce, managers are concerned about the added responsibility of overseeing a reduced/condensed work schedule. However, similar to assumptions about hybrid work just a few years ago (before the pandemic forced us to adapt), assumptions about 4-day work weeks limit HR leaders’ ability to spot opportunities to adapt and innovate.

Instead of focusing on the reasons why you can’t implement a 4-day work week, widen the aperture on what is possible and note two key steps to avoid implementation failure:

  1. Select the 4-day work week structure that best aligns with your workforce. There’s no one-size-fits-all, so structure it based on your organization's workforce needs.

  2. Allow employees to voluntarily opt out of the program. Although an increasing number of employees prefer a 4-day work week as an innovative benefit, it may not be ideal for everyone.

Start with a crawl-walk-run approach

A slower, more gradual approach to implementation could allow organizations to experiment and react in real time to potential challenges, and address them before reaching a permanent end state. An example approach looks like this:

  • The “crawl” stage is an initial pilot to trial a 4-day work week, like a seasonal 4-day work week in one department.

  • The “walk” stage expands the scope of a pilot to allow for continuous improvements in the application across the organization, like a seasonal 4-day work week companywide.

  • The “run” stage is the final desired state, a year round 4-day work week across the organization.

Note: Each stage could look different for organizations across industries and of various sizes.

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