It would be an understatement to call what has happened to the workforce an upheaval. When the pandemic sent millions of workers remote in March of 2020, businesses and employees quickly discovered that people could be productive from home. The pandemic’s mental health effects saw people re-evaluating the need for work-life balance and what they wanted from a job. As the country began opening back up, the Great Resignation and workforce shortages gave employees the upper hand in negotiating everything from higher wages to remote or hybrid work and even a 4 day workweek.
The idea of showing up to work 4 days a week — virtually or in-person — may sound so 2022. However, the concept was supposedly on the horizon in 1956, according to a New York Times article quoting then-Vice President Richard Nixon.
Generations later, the 4 day workweek may finally be catching on. Here’s why you should consider it and how to negotiate one.
The answer to this question isn’t black-and-white. It will vary based on the individual and industry. However, one case study by the New Zealand estate planning firm Perpetual Guardian from 2018 found numerous benefits, including:
- Better work-life balance
- Reduced stress
- Greater employee satisfaction
- Feeling more productive
- Turning in higher-quality work
- Taking more time to develop skills
What might that mean for employers? Businesses can’t function without employees — an obvious fact that some employers woke up to during the Great Resignation and workforce shortages in 2021. Companies that have implemented 4 day workweeks say it has helped with the following:
- Recruiting quality candidates
- Reducing business costs
Belgium, Iceland, and Japan have toyed with the idea. In 2022, the Belgium government signed a law giving employees the right to a four-day workweek without losing pay.
There are caveats, though. They have to spread the typical hours over the four-day workweek, and employers have the final say in whether or not a worker can exercise this right. In Iceland, where people are perpetually happy, about 90% of workers have access to four-day workweeks after a successful pilot of 2,500 workers from 2015-2019, and Microsoft and Panasonic are among the companies to experiment with it in Japan.
That said, it’s not for everyone. For example, successfully working 4 days a week may require you to stay later on those days to get every task completed. For some, spacing to-dos out over five days may be less stressful. Other industries with essential workers, such as healthcare and education, may be unable to pivot, at least as early adapters. As we saw with the pandemic and remote education, in-person K-12 is necessary for caregivers to work.
As the 4 day workweek continues to enter conversations, you may be interested in at least trialing the arrangement. However, getting your employer on board will take some savvy negotiating. Here’s how to approach the conversation with your boss.
Pick your moment
If you work in retail, October through the holidays likely isn’t the best time to discuss a 4 day workweek. Ditto for tax season for accountants. These times of year are the busiest, and the last conversation your boss probably wants to have is about reducing the number of days you are working. Choose a slower period when your boss has more time to consider your proposal carefully. Then, request a meeting if you don’t already have regular formal check-ins.
Emphasize the company
You likely have a laundry list of reasons you’d like to work 4 days a week, such as work-life balance. However, you’ll want to make the conversation about the company. For example, instead of, “I’ll have more time to relax and spend time with my family,” opt for, “I’ll be better able to produce quality work if I have an extra day to recharge.”
Discuss how you will get work done
Though the conversation around 4 day workweeks may be trending, it’s still an unconventional arrangement. Even if you are productive and efficient, your boss may have concerns about how you will get everything done. Come prepared to explain. For example, you may work later or take working lunches during your four days on duty.
Is day five an actual day off, or will you be available for specific tasks or answering e-mails? You’ll want to hammer out these decisions with your boss beforehand so no one is caught off-guard. For example, if everyone else is in the office, a task or question may arise. Who is responding to that? Define an “emergency” that requires immediate attention versus something that can wait until you are back in the office, in person, or remotely.
Even a good negotiation may go differently than you hoped. Here’s how and when to soften a hard “no.”
Suggest a trial period
If your boss is on the fence, suggest a trial period, such as 90 days. Then, you can talk over what worked, what didn’t, and if it’s something you’re both on board with making more permanent. During the trial (and even after), be sure to uphold your end of the bargain to increase the chances the arrangement can become official.
Re-evaluate during a review
You may have more luck negotiating during a progress review. At that point, all your accomplishments and efficiency will be top-of-mind for your boss. It will also be the time to negotiate pay increases. Consider trading a more minor increase for fewer days to work. However, be sure you’re still getting paid a competitive rate for the work you produce, regardless of how many days you take to do it.
Your current company’s culture may not be friendly to the 4 day workweek. At that point, you’ll need to decide how important it is to you. If other businesses in your industry have warmed up to the idea, consider applying there. If and when you receive an offer, you may have more leg to stand on with your current employer, and they may finally grant your request. Or, you can leave and enjoy an extra day off at a company whose culture better suits you.
The idea of the 4 day workweek is trending but has been around for a while. Back in the mid-1950s, it appeared to be on the horizon. Recent research has shown working four days per week improves employee satisfaction, productivity, and work-life balance. Businesses have also noticed it’s a cost-cutting measure. When negotiating a 4 day workweek, emphasize how the arrangement will help the company, such as better quality of work. Be clear about how you will get your work done and any applicable boundaries. If your boss isn’t keen on the idea, suggest a trial. Whether you’re granted a 4 day workweek as a trial or permanently, be sure to deliver on your end of the bargain by continuing to be efficient, productive, and communicative.
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