What exactly do you get with a four-day work workweek?

A 40-hour, Monday through Friday, five-day workweek has been considered the norm in most parts of the world for some time now. Throughout the 20th century, however, scientists have predicted a reduction in the number of hours the average person spends at work as productivity increases. Other studies have even shown that a four-day workweek could have various benefits, such as preventing burnout and reducing gender inequality. However, in spite of more and more information pointing toward a four-day workweek, the idea has yet to be embraced by most corporations. 

But that doesn't mean some companies aren't trying. Microsoft is one of the latest companies testing out this new policy. Employees at Microsoft Japan were given the opportunity to work for four days a week while enjoying their normal, five-day paycheck. According to the company, this resulted in a productivity boost of 40 percent. Even business mogul Richard Branson advocates for the idea of a shorter workweek, stating in a blog post:

“By working more efficiently, there is no reason why people can't work less hours and be equally — if not more — effective. People will need to be paid more for working less time, so they can afford more leisure time. That's going to be a difficult balancing act to get right, but it can be done.”

The pros of a four-day workweek

There are many benefits to a shorter workweek, including: 

1. A boost in productivity 

When the number of working days is reduced, productivity during working hours increases to compensate for the lost day. Perpetual Guardian, the New Zealand company behind a landmark trial of the four-day workweek, declared an astounding success and adopted the new schedule permanently. 

Perpetual Guardian hired researchers to record the results of the trial quantitatively and found positive support for the four-day working week, with 24 percent more employees reporting that they felt they could successfully balance their work and personal lives with the new schedule. On top of that, stress decreased by seven percent among everyone involved while overall work satisfaction increased by five percent. Above all, their actual job performance didn't change despite losing a full workday. When given the benefit of an extra free day, employees were motivated to be productive and make full use of their work time, with the study reporting that employees were always on time and didn't take long breaks.

2. Higher employee satisfaction

A four-day workweek can lead to more satisfied and committed employees, while also decreasing the likelihood of employees burning out. With the extra time off, they will have plenty of time to rest and recharge before starting another week of work, thereby reducing their likelihood of taking sick leaves. 

For example, a study conducted in Sweden found that nurses who worked shorter workweeks logged less sick hours, reported better health, and enjoyed better mental well-being. They also showed greater engagement with their day-to-day tasks, as they were seen arranging 85 percent more activities for the patients in their care during the trial than before. 

3. A smaller carbon footprint

Reducing the workweek from five to four days could have significant environmental benefits, as well. A shorter workweek means that employees aren't commuting to their workplace as much and large office buildings are being used less, thereby cutting down their electricity usage. 

In 2007, the state of Utah experimented with a four-day workweek schedule for government employees. In the first 10 months, the trial saved over $1.8 million in energy costs and showed a reduction of at least 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from closing the office building on Fridays. Utah also estimated that it could save 12,000 metric tons of CO2 — the equivalent of removing 2,300 cars off the roads for one year — by working four days a week.

The cons of a four-day workweek

While there are plenty of benefits to a shorter workweek, there are also some negative takeaways to think about: 

1. Lower customer satisfaction

The Utah study, which demonstrated astounding environmental benefits of a shorter workweek, was eventually abandoned due to poor customer satisfaction, with residents complaining that they were unable to access government services on Fridays because of the office being closed one day early. 

It's evident from this experiment that this sort of change in the work schedule needs to come with a shift in our expectations; we would need to think of Fridays as the first day of the weekend, instead of a weekday without work. This issue could perhaps be resolved with the assistance of technology to provide another avenue for customers to access government services in the absence of office-based staff.

2. Increased fatigue

If the workweek becomes shorter, odds are the workday will become longer. This means the four-day workweek strategy might be difficult to adopt as employees find themselves feeling fatigued after exceeding their eighth hour of work. This is especially true for desktop jobs, as sitting down in front of the computer is straining on the back and eyes if done for long. Once employees start feeling fatigued, it is likely that they will start taking frequent breaks and start wasting their time just to reach the end of the workday. 

3. Difficulty in managing personal lives

A four-day workweek forces employees to work longer hours from Monday to Thursday, which can be challenging for parents with young children. These parents would have difficulty finding childcare for their kids that are open until late night and would have to pay more for the after-hour care Overall, a shorter working week might mean more drawbacks in managing one's personal life. 

How do you ask for a four-day workweek?

If you feel that you would benefit from a shorter workweek but happen to be in an organization that hasn't adopted this policy yet, don't fret. You can still approach your management and request for this flexibility. 

First, do your homework and list out the benefits that your employer gets by giving you a four-day workweek. Then, come up with a written proposal that outlines how you will complete your tasks, communicate with your team and clients, and improve your productivity on this proposed schedule. When making your case, it also helps to provide examples of companies that have adopted this change and benefited from it. Do anticipate your boss challenging your proposal and be prepared with supporting facts. 

If you can't convince your boss with your proposal, don't give up! As four-day workweeks become more common, the management team might just come around themselves. 

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