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

While employees love the idea of a 4-day work week, employers need to give it some more thought

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 work week, employees are expected to deliver the same amount of production in the same number of hours. In other words, it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.

Putting in too much time at work, even for shorter stints, leads to stress, burnout, disconnect, scheduling conflicts, and bigger bills. In short, four-day work weeks might seem sweet, but they could fail employees and organizations. So, don’t quit your job yet. This is why a four-day workweek might not be as awesome as it sounds.

A person sitting at their desk working on the computer in an office.

It could lead to more stress

Going from two- to three-day weekends is an increase in time off. Woohoo! It also means a 20% decrease in the days required to work. Double plus.

However, according to Boston University Today, companies and employees should be aware of the negative that balances this positive. Reducing workdays by one usually doesn’t reduce the required productivity or hours required to work, and squeezing 40 hours into four days means a more intense schedule. 

BU Today advises that everyone involved in a four-day change first be mindful of 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 group having a meeting at work, using a whiteboard.

It could require additional customer support

Businesses (especially small businesses) grow, in part, due to a dedicated customer base. 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 make attending to customer needs more difficult.

A platform called Buffer helps small businesses level up and grow their social and digital presence. Through 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 shows the importance of collecting data to analyze how the four-day workweek affects core processes like customer service. Businesses that have the time or the human capital to devote to examining how the switch affects output should do so.

A big group all sitting at a large desk with people on their laptops in a large office room.

A one-size schedule does not fit all

According to Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research Professor of Economics John Pencavel, 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.

“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 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 entire team need to agree on what works best, and those that don’t feel the setup is right for them will need to find a way to adjust or move on.

People having a meeting while sitting down at a desk.

How it applies to parents and teachers

Working a four-day workweek requires flexibility, which is fine for folks without kids. But what happens when parents set in a five-day routine suddenly have to work more hours during the day due to shifting to a more “convenient” four-day week? How would a universal adoption of the four-day workweek affect teachers and students? Does society move schools to four-day weeks?

This wouldn’t work with all schedules and could easily cause logistical nightmares for parents. Do we 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 the norm.

Two people having a quick work meeting while sitting down.

Businesses could face 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, which increases 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 wouldn’t be popular 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, when the orthopedics wing of a Swedish healthcare institution switched to six-hour shifts for nurses, costs increased by about $123,000 a month.

This wasn’t the only quantitative switch, though. On the positive side, 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.

While transitioning to a four-day workweek will require a monumental shift for the staff, it shouldn’t be considered without a bit of scrutiny, reflection, and a willingness to adapt. For most, the benefits outweigh the downsides, but that’s no reason to ignore the adjustments that would need to be made. The balance between the pros and cons of the four-day work week still need to be weighed by each individual company to see if it will fit their culture.

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Dannielle Beardsley
Dannielle has written for various websites, online magazines, and blogs. She loves everything celebrity and her favorite…
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