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These are the pitfalls of a 4-day workweek you haven’t thought about

Throwing water on the fire idea of a four-day work week

Ah, the four-day workweek. Take Friday off for an early weekend, Monday off for a long weekend, or Wednesday to break up the week. Sounds nice, right? While there are several advantages to a four-day workweek, it’s expected that employees put in the same amount of hours, deliver the same production, and often both. In other words, it ain’t all sunshine and lollipops.

Putting in too much time at work, even for shorter stints, can lead to stress, burnout, disconnect, scheduling conflicts, and bigger bills. In short, four-day work weeks might be sweet, but they can fail employees and organizations. So don’t quit your job yet. Here are some possible reasons why.

frustrated man on laptop

A 4-day workweek could lead to more stress

Going from two- to three-day weekends is a 50% increase in off time. Woohoo! This also means a 20% decrease from days required to work. Double plus. Companies and employees, however, have to be on guard for the negative that balances this positive (per Boston University). Reducing work days by one usually does not reduce the required productivity or hours required to work. Squeezing 40 hours into four days means a more intense schedule in addition to more disconnect. After three days off, it takes a bit to get back on the hamster wheel.

BU advises that everyone involved in a four-day change first be mindful about how much needs to get done, collaborate on schedule issues (how often people have to meet, connect, etc.), and watch for cracks in the camaraderie as stress threatens to spill over into burnout.

A 4-day workweek will require customer support solutions

Businesses (especially small businesses) grow, in part, through dedication to customer bases. Whether it be a food cart in front of a hardware store or an international service helping to scaffold infrastructure, four-day schedules and a one-fifth decrease in days worked can mean attending to customer needs is more difficult.

Buffer, a platform helping small businesses to level up and grow their social and digital presence, offered a unique solution through experimentation. Over six months, management determined what days people preferred to take off (usually Monday or Friday), measured how customer service response times and solutions changed, and then set corresponding goals. The mix works well for them, which goes to shows the importance of collecting data to analyze how the four-day workweek is affecting core processes like customer service. Businesses that have the time or the human capital to devote to examining how the switch affects output might suffer as a result.

A one-size schedule does not fit all

In moving to a more compact schedule, there needs to be team buy-in for an honest test and evaluation of the four-day workweek, according to Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research professor of economics, John Pencavel.

“My position on the four-day working week and, indeed, on changes in hours in general, is that firms and workers in each workplace need to determine what suits them best,” Pencavel said in an email. “In other words, I would like to see firms and workers experiment with different work time arrangements.  What suits one workplace may not suit another.”

Pencavel cites experiments where an employer instituted a shorter working week for one year. After this time, either party could choose to return to five days or remain on the new work schedule.

“My guess is that, if such experiments are conducted, at many firms, a shorter working week will suit both the management and the workers, but at other firms, the new schedule will not be preferred to the older one.  One arrangement will not apply to all workplaces.”

Management and the team need to agree on what works best, and those that don’t fit will need to find a way to adjust or move on.

How does a 4-day workweek apply to parents and teachers?

Working a four-day workweek requires flexibility, which is fine for folks without kids. What happens, though, when parents set in a five-day routine suddenly have to work more hours in the day shifting to a more “convenient” four-day week? For that matter, how would a universal adoption of the four-day workweek affect teachers and students? Does society move schools to four-day weeks? This certainly would not align to all schedules and could easily cause logistical nightmares for moms and dads. Do we simply require that children stay in school five days a week? How is that fair for teachers? Would this lead to animosity and collective bargaining for shorter work weeks? There are a lot of questions that communities will have to address if four-day workweeks become more ubiquitous.

Businesses could be required to accept higher costs for more well-adjusted employees

Cutting back on the number of days/hours worked might require businesses to hire more labor or pay daily overtime rates, thus increasing costs. More staff putting in time during peak utility hours also risks higher utility bills. Going to a four-day workweek could require cutting back on profits, which amounts to sacrilege for many U.S. companies.

Scandinavian switches to shorter hours have borne this costlier effect out to a positive return, improving service with a more well-adjusted workforce. In a study cited by Bamboo HR, for example, when the orthopedics wing of a Swedish healthcare institution switched to six-hour shifts for nurses, costs leapt for by about $123,000 a month. This wasn’t the only quantitative switch, though. Orthopedics was able to bring on 15 new employees, thus extending surgical hours, upping operations by 20%, and slicing surgical wait times from months to weeks.

Where transitioning to a four-day workweek represents a monumental shift in consideration for organizational staff, it cannot be achieved without serious scrutiny, reflection, and willingness to adapt. For most, the benefits outweigh the downsides, but that is no reason to ignore the obvious adjustments that need to be made.

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