The 4-day work week: benefits, challenges, and how to run an experiment at your company
May 31, 2022
Most of us would probably like an extra day each week to spend with friends and family, taking long weekend excursions, resting, making the dreaded business-hours-only DMV visit, or just getting some things done around the house.
At Streak, we’ve always believed that people generally under-value their time – both in and out of work. We believe that giving our employees resources that help them make time for leisure, hobbies, personal responsibilities, and workplace productivity is one of the biggest ways we can improve their quality of life.
It’s why we offer benefits like a monthly “Convenience Credit” to pay for time-saving things like laundry services, ride shares, or meal delivery and an annual “Adventure Credit” to go skydiving, buy a ski pass, or go on a motorcycle trip. These benefits make sure our employees can recharge and fill their cups in their free time.
The next thing we’re trying out is more free time, itself.
We’ve committed to running a 4-day work week experiment from June through August. We're calling it “Summer Fridays.”
While we’ve identified the many advantages of a 4-day work week, we also want to make sure we maintain productivity and continue to meet our business needs.
This blog shares the advantages of a 4-day work week as well as the challenges and what an organization needs to do to successfully implement a 4-day work week.
Advantages of a 4-day work week
The 4-day work week is still fairly experimental in many countries and companies, but the reported benefits are many.
1. Improve mental health and avoid burnout
With a well-developed 4-day work week program, companies can avoid employee burnout by improving employee mental health and workplace efficacy at the same time.
Burnout has become a shadow looming over many employees and companies over the last several years. At its worst, it leaves employees feeling exhausted, cynical, less productive, and eager to ditch their current job.
In fact, the World Health Organization recently updated their definition of burnout to an “occupational phenomenon” and a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
If unmanaged, burnout can become a chronic health issue with negative impacts in employees’ personal lives and the workplace.
Fortunately, there are many ways to address burnout. Leadership development, allowing employees to help shape the scope of their job responsibilities, and focusing on resources that enable employees to effectively do their jobs have all been recommended as methods of preventing burnout.
Additionally, some studies show that a shortened work week or working hours can have a big impact on employee burnout.
Countries such as Iceland show strong data to suggest that reducing hours in the work week “improved workers’ wellbeing and work-life balance” while they also “maintained or increased productivity and service provision.”
Workers who participated in these trials “felt better, more energised, and less stressed, resulting in them having more energy for other activities, such as exercise, friends and hobbies. This then had a positive effect on their work.”
2. Increased productivity and better working habits
The Icelandic study, among other studies, found that not only were workers able to maintain their level of productivity, but increase it with a shorter work week. Microsoft Japan tried a 4-day work week and saw a 40% increase in productivity, measured by sales per person.
Some of this comes down to simple math: If you’re getting the same amount of work done in less time, that means you’re being more productive. But studies are showing that some employees are actually accomplishing more than they were during a longer work week.
Of course, accomplishing the same amount of work (or more) in less time requires planning, dedication, and discipline.
Luckily, a shorter work week can incentivize workers to be more focused and strategic about their time management during the week. In Iceland, one of the study participants described the newfound time off as the “‘carrot’ that kept them going.”
Later in this post we lay out how employees can continue producing at the same level with a shorter work week.
3. More time for childcare and caretaking
Reducing working hours during the week allows employees to spend more time with children or taking care of other family members, as well as maintaining responsibilities in their home lives.
One of the more touching outcomes of the Icelandic study was the reports of workers picking up their children earlier from preschool or being able to hang out after their kids got home from grade school. Single parents also benefited from the extra time with their kids and found it easier to get ready for school and work each day.
4. Bonus day for errands and appointments
Being able to get errands done during a weekday, when many other people are at work, is another major bonus to having a weekday off.
Instead of taking off one hour that inevitably turns into three to go to the DMV or a doctor’s appointment, employees can plan errands and appointments for their days off.
Grocery shopping becomes less of a nightmare when you’re not trying to cram it in on your way home from work and getting a haircut on your day off feels like a spa day, rather than another appointment to jam into your calendar.
5. Improved quality of life and employee retention
The beauty of the 4-day work week is that it allows each employee to decide how they want or need to spend their additional free hours – and this has real benefits for individuals and the workplace.
Many of the existing 4-day work week studies show a correlation between how employees spend their time outside of work with how productive and happy they are at work.
A study of over 500 business leaders and 2,000 employees found that the extra time off would benefit employees' family lives, physical health, and even the economy with some employees planning to eat out or go shopping in their extra free time.
Unsurprisingly, Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand company that implemented a 4-day work week, saw a 45% increase in employee work-life balance (along with a 20% increase in productivity).
6. Attracting new talent
Given the benefits, it’s no surprise that a 4-day work week is appealing to job searchers.
With so many companies now operating on a remote or hybrid basis, job searchers are looking for additional ways to improve work-life balance and maintain a more flexible schedule.
According to 4 Day Week Global, a non-profit that helps organizations pilot 4-day work weeks, 63% of companies found it easier to attract new talent when they offered a 4-day work week.
7. Reduced overhead costs
Shutting down the office for an extra day a week resulted in big savings for companies who tried 4-day work weeks.
Microsoft Japan saw over 20% reduction in energy consumption compared to the prior year after giving their employees Fridays off. They also decreased the number of pages printed by nearly 60%, which saved them more than one kind of paper.
How to maintain productivity with a 4-day work week
Many of the studies and articles around 4-day work weeks make it seem too good to be true.
At this point, we’ve focused on how working fewer days of the week increases productivity and work-life balance while decreasing stress, sick time, and burnout.
But the reality is, companies who have successfully implemented a 4-day work week or shortened hours don’t just work less – they work better.
Running a 4-day work week trial requires a critical evaluation of your organizational structure and some good old fashioned planning.
Some of the main concerns with 4-day work weeks are around how to:
Avoid increasing stress by trying to accomplish the same amount of work in less time
Below, we share how we’re structuring our 4-day work weeks and some of the ways we’re addressing these concerns to make our Summer Fridays 4-day work week experiment successful.
1. Use the 100-80-100 model
A 4-day work week or a shortened work week doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing at every organization.
Some companies implement what’s known as “4 10’s”, where you still work a 40-hour week, but cram it into four days. Others maintain a 5-day week but with shorter days.
At Streak, we’re implementing a 4-day work week by taking off Fridays, and we’re focusing on productivity and outcomes.
This follows what’s referred to as the 100-80-100 model. Basically, employees complete 100% of their work in 80% of the time, while still making 100% of their pay.
How is this possible?
First of all, we’ve never actually tracked the hours that our employees are sitting at their desks or logged on to their laptops. Instead, we trust (and prove) that each employee can work towards achieving their goals and objectives in five workdays. Now, we’re doing it in four.
We plan to accomplish this by improving time management, focusing on outcomes over volume, scrutinizing meetings, automating processes, and creating schedules to cover important roles like Customer Support.
2. Improve time management & prioritization
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Most of us have experienced this in some sense – perhaps you’ve procrastinated before a deadline and somehow still managed to get everything done at the last minute. Or maybe you finished something in 3 hours because you absolutely had to, when normally it would have taken a full day.
By shortening the work week, we’re leveraging Parkinson’s Law and betting that we can get the same amount of work done in fewer days.
Of course, this may require us to apply more effort and work more intensely during those four days, as the chart above shows. We think the trade-off is worth it.
One of the ways we can do this is by setting achievable daily and weekly goals, and relentlessly prioritizing our work to make sure we’re tracking towards those goals.
3. Measure outcomes, not volume
We’ve never tracked the number of hours our employees are sitting at their desk or logged into their computers, and we’re not going to start now.
In order to operate like this, we set specific and quantifiable goals and focus on outcomes as our measure of success.
The first step toward being outcome-oriented is knowing what you want your outcomes to be. Setting quantifiable goals for each team and employee helps you understand if you’re tracking towards those goals and how you’re performing.
Being able to quantify progress towards goals during a 4-day work week takes the guesswork out of productivity and helps you understand if your team is able to get their work done in fewer days.
Once you’re tracking outcomes, make sure you celebrate your wins – whether you’re working a 4-day week or not – to recognize great work and keep your employees motivated and engaged.
Similarly, schedule regular check-ins to allow you to course-correct for any misses.
4. Scrutinize your meetings
With your work condensed into a 4-day week, time is a precious resource and undisturbed blocks of time to focus are even more valuable.
According to a study of nearly 2,000 professionals, more than two-thirds of people say the amount of time spent in meetings prevents them from making an impact at work. Yet 35% still say they’d go to a meeting even if they knew it wasn’t going to be productive.
Switching to a 4-day work week is a great time to reevaluate meetings and calls, and make these 4 productivity-boosting changes:
1. Axe unnecessary meetings
Start by canceling unnecessary meetings, especially recurring meetings that often get cancelled or postponed. Keep an eye out for meetings where:
People just run through status updates and don’t need responses.
There’s no clear goal or intended outcome.
Nothing has changed since the last meeting.
The agenda and topics aren’t closely related to your goals.
These are great candidates for meetings that could be emails, tracked in a shared doc, or cancelled altogether.
2. Move Friday meetings
Before starting a 4-day work week, make sure you have a plan for eliminating meetings on your day off. At Streak everybody is taking Fridays off, so we’ll choose a new time for recurring meetings and reschedule any other calendar events.
If people are taking off various days of the week, coordinate your meeting schedules so everybody gets a true day off. While you’re at it, refer back to point 1 and see if any of those meetings can be permanently cleaned off your calendar.
3. Shorten existing meetings
Some meetings are here to stay – but they can still be improved to help you save time during your 4-day work week.
Can you cut out agenda items that aren’t providing value? How about reviewing information beforehand and using the meeting time to address responses or questions?
4. Block off your calendar
Blocking off your calendar to schedule time for deep focus or specific tasks is a great way to protect your time and get undisturbed portions of your day.
If you’re able, you can try closing out of email and chats during this time to make sure you’re not distracted or pulled into other conversations. Be sure to give your colleagues a heads up before doing this, though, and include a way to reach you if there’s a work emergency.
Don’t forget to also block your calendar on your day off, especially if you’re in a role that meets directly with customers or external partners. Google Calendar will even let you set Out of Office preferences and automatically decline meeting invitations while you’re out.
5. Automate your processes
One of the best ways to increase productivity is to automate your processes. Not only do automations save you time, but they often increase the quality of your work by eliminating human error.
Reporting and analytics
Customer Support processes
The time saved and peace of mind from knowing your processes are automated will allow you to focus on work that requires your attention and critical thinking.
6. Schedule coverage as needed
Most companies have some roles and responsibilities that need to be covered throughout “typical” business hours, even if you've implemented a 4-day work week.
Before beginning a 4-day work week, managers need to identify their teams' service requirements and work with their team members to create schedules for coverage needed during days off. This may mean some employees take off a different day of the week, or cover off-hours on a rotating basis.
As an organization, you may want to consider aligning your day off with a day that is less busy. For a B2B company, this tends to be Fridays, but it could vary by industry.
Some teams that may need coverage and special considerations include:
Most software engineering teams have a rotating on-call schedule so somebody can respond to bugs and outages around the clock. Team members usually share this responsibility and can continue following this schedule with a 4-day work week.
However, you may want to set the expectation that being on-call on a Friday may be slightly busier than on a Sunday.
Implementing a 4-day work week shouldn’t mean you’re missing out on sales and leaving money on the table. A few adjustments for your sales team can help you avoid this while still giving your team an extra day off.
First, automation can help sales teams complete their first sales touch for leads that come in on Fridays – and the rest of the week – so an interested lead always gets a quick response or point of contact.
For any really big deals that come in on your company’s day off, you may choose to have a sales rep on-call. This person would just need to be able to get to a laptop and phone if needed - so they’d still have their day off as long as they’re not on a desert island or remote mountain lodge.
You don’t want to leave your customers high and dry if they have a problem or something is broken on your day off. Support coverage may be the most active responsibility to cover during a 4-day work week.
However, if your company has chosen the least busy day of the week to take their day off, it could be as simple as having each support representative cover one or two rotating 4-hour shifts throughout the month.
How do you know if a 4-day work week works for you?
In the same way that we recommend measuring outcomes of your work, you should set objectives and measure outcomes of a 4-day work week at your organization.
You may want to measure things like:
Progress towards goals and objectives by each team and team member
Ability to meet coverage needs for roles like Customer Support, Engineering, and Sales
Employee stress, work-life-balance, and job satisfaction
At Streak, we’ll be running our 4-day work week experiment for 3 months during the Summer. We’ll plan to share a follow-up post on our experience, and you can follow along on Twitter for more about our Summer Fridays experiment!