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Study: The evidence overwhelmingly says 4-day work weeks are good for everyone

Looking for work-life balance? The case for the four-day work week

Though the argument seems fresh, the idea of the four-day work week has been around for more than a hundred years.

Per Firmspace, the five-day workweek is a cultural norm only because of early 1900s union advocacy that led to Henry Ford reducing the six-day workweek in 1926 (and introducing the U.S. to the weekend). Since that time, further decreases were expected. Per The Conversation, in 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes prognosticated that technological progress and productivity increases would lead to 15-hour work weeks. In 1956, The New York Times quoted then Vice President Richard Nixon stating that the four-day work week was sitting “in the not too distant future.” And yet, in 2022 the idea still seems novel at the least and revolutionary at worst.

a coworking space in London.
Matt Buck

The arguments against four-day work weeks are obvious: if employees aren’t coming into work at least 70% of their daily lives, this means that businesses won’t be as efficient, productive, or successful. Or does it?

At the halfway point of a broad, six-month-long British study, research being gathered by 4 Day Week Global reveals a general tenor of positive experiences for organizations willing to alter decades of ingrained work cultures and systems to encourage employees to achieve better work-life balance. Along the way, going against the grain has led to challenges that reveal valuable lessons and actions businesses can take to improve the shift to shorter work weeks.

“While for most organizations the pilot prompts many pleasing discoveries and outcomes — a lot of businesses have more flexibility and nimbleness among their people and teams than leaders often know at the outset — there is friction for others, and this can be based on a variety of factors,” 4 Day Week Global CEO Joe O’Connor said.

As we’ve seen, the idea of four-day work weeks has been around for a long time. As such, there are also a plethora of studies examining its effects on employees and employers. Generally, as has been shown in 4 Day Week’s trial, a four-day work week can not only benefit employees’ physical and mental health, but create a more efficient, productive workplace.

Here’s why a four-day work week could be in all of our futures.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

4 day work weeks mean flexibility and an improved work-life balance

Many people have struggled with their mental health during the pandemic. The isolation and invasion of work while operating from home haven’t helped. A 2021 Bamboo HR survey found a full 79% of remote employees feeling burned out on a monthly basis, and more than 50% burned out every week. The top reasons for this fatigue were:

  • Remote work led to an “always-on” culture
  • Juggling home and personal responsibilities while connected to jobs
  • Bearing extra work responsibilities

The Great Resignation exemplifies the likely permanent evolution in work expectations. People expressed their dissatisfaction at work by leaving in epic droves. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics ‘Quits Rate’ has remained at historically high levels for over a year. If businesses want to retain workers, they need to look at what the research is showing them. A Bamboo HR survey of 2,000 American workers that 62% of people prioritize better pay, 43% an improved work-life balance, and 42% more flexibility at work.

While pay is a different story, a four-day work week helps to resolve two out of three of these concerns. An additional day off gives employees time to handle child and family care, run errands, tend to mental health, work out, and take part in communal activities like civic volunteers and pickleball groups. An example from the bottom side of the world shows how one extra day a week can help to ease employee lives.

When Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based estate planning company, switched to a four-day workweek in 2018, Auckland University of Technology was there to measure and collect the data collection. Results showed:

  • Better work-life balance. After the company switched to a four-day workweek, the number of employees who felt they were managing both work and personal roles rose from 54 to 78%.
  • Lower stress. Ironically, the number of employees who felt stressed at work dropped from 45 to 38% even though they had less time to do the same amount of work.
  • Higher satisfaction. Employees reported feeling more satisfied in several aspects of their personal lives. This included a 5% rise in “life in general,” 7% in personal health, 7% community involvement, and 11% leisure time.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

4-day work weeks help businesses to recruit and retain top talent

As should be anticipated by sharp readers, a four-day work week makes a business more attractive to current and potential employees. Many people are not satisfied when work dominates their lives. A 2022 Qualtrics survey, in fact, found that 92% of employees said they’d welcome a four-day workweek. As consequence, just over 80% reported that a four-day workweek would increase loyalty to their employer and likely help recruit talent.

In a Henley Business School white paper, 63% of UK businesses said that a four-day work week helps their organization attract and retain the right talent. Even better, the switch was helping them to recruit and retain a wider employee diversity of employees.

When the word hits the street about a company adopting a four-day workweek, the response can be overwhelming. Take The Wanderlust Group, a U.S. outdoor tech company, that embraced the change in 2021. Applications to job openings rose an astounding 800%, and its retention rate neared a near-perfect 98%, strong evidence that a four-day workweek is more than just an incentive to bring people on board. The policy also keeps them aboard the ship.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

4-day work weeks equal more productive employees and more efficient businesses

If you’re reading this at work, you’ll quickly notice how much time is spent wasting it than using this precious resource productively. Kronos Incorporated reported that in a 2018 global survey of nearly 3,000 employees across eight countries, The Workforce Institute of Kronos showed that nearly half (45%) of full-time workers said they could complete their job in less than five hours each day.

The numbers suggest that compressing time increases performance, at least according to the Henley white paper.

  • 64% of respondents said that they were more productive.
  • 63% said they maintain better quality work.
  • 59% reported more time developing skills.
  • 51% were able to save on business costs.

Researchers posited that a shorter workweek saved British businesses as much as $115 billion in annual operating costs, equal to about 2% of total revenue.

In its examination of business operations, The Wanderlust Group showed incredible growth and business success since flipping to a four-day workweek. This included 99% annual recurring revenue growth over a year, and 120% more nights booked — year to date.

Just having employees in the office less often had significant ancillary effects at some firms. During the summer of 2019, Microsoft Japan enjoyed working four days a week while earning their normal, five-day paycheck. Not only did Microsoft report a 40% productivity boost as the result, but the company also said it became more efficient. Electricity costs fell by 23% and printed pages fell by nearly 60% as its workers took Fridays off in August.

All signs point to yes

4 Day Week Global extended some eyebrow-raising numbers in its survey of over 3,300 employees at 70 different companies in the last three months. At this stage in the trial, 88% of respondents declared that the four-day week is working ‘well’ for their business. And 86% of participants said that they would be ‘extremely likely’ and or ‘likely’ to consider retaining the four-day work week policy after the trial period.

“The organizations in the United Kingdom pilot are contributing real-time data and knowledge that are worth their weight in gold,” CEO O’Connor said. “Essentially, they are laying the foundation for the future of work by putting a four-day week into practice, across every size of business and nearly every sector.”

Who knows? Maybe this groundwork will lead to an entirely new workweek structure for businesses everywhere.

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Matthew Denis
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Matt Denis is an on-the-go remote multimedia reporter, exploring arts, culture, and the existential in the Pacific Northwest…
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