Just a few years ago, nearly half of Americans considered themselves workaholics. But now, things are changing.
Across a range of industries long-defined by 12-hour workdays and late-night emails, a different trend is growing — one that’s introducing even the most cutthroat cultures to an alternative model: the four-day workweek.
While the concept of a four-day workweek isn’t new, recent momentum behind it is. One “future of work” study conducted in 2022 found that 40% of business leaders had either started using a four-day workweek or were in the process of implementing one. And that list keeps growing.
If you’re trying to determine whether a four-day workweek is right for your workforce, you’re far from alone. Here’s everything you need to know to make an informed decision.
What is a four-day workweek?
The four-day workweek, as the name suggests, is a work schedule that spans four days per week instead of the standard five. However, this does not involve increasing the number of hours worked per day. While some companies may choose to require four 10-hour days, the general concept is based on the theory that most 40-hour-a-week jobs can be just as easily accomplished in 32 hours once you eliminate distractions.
Sample companies with four-day workweeks
The full list of companies with four-day workweek policies is growing fast and ranges from businesses conducting trials to organizations where four-day schedules are fully ingrained and offered as an HR benefit. Some of the most notable examples include Buffer, Kickstarter, and Basecamp.
After reducing working hours for a month in 2020, Buffer found that on a scale of one to five:
- Stress levels decreased from 3.3 to 2.7
- Work happiness increased from 3.9 to 4.2
- Autonomy increased from 4.3 to 4.5
Based on these test results, the company decided to move to a four-day workweek for the rest of the year. Three years later, the policy is still going strong.
Kickstarter prides itself on “bringing creative projects to life,” and relies on a compressed schedule to help its own workforce do just that. One employee described the success of this policy on the company blog:
“Some of the most powerful data we’ve seen came from an unexpected source: comments posted by Kickstarter staff in our company’s Slack channels. The consensus is that the four-day workweek has enabled us all to live brighter, fuller lives and has allowed us to return to work refreshed — every Monday brings great new stories about projects and experiences that our staff members have finally had the time to pursue.”
As one of the first companies to embrace the concept of reduced working hours, Basecamp enforces a strict 32-hour workweek from May through August each year. In a 2017 interview with NBC, the company’s CEO explained why he’s so committed to the reduced hours:
“People are always surprised by that, and I tell them you can get plenty of stuff done in 32…hours if you cut out all the stuff that’s taking up your time.”
As an early adopter of the four-day workweek, Jason Fried has overcome many common remote work challenges simply by ensuring his employees have well-balanced lives. Best of all? It works. Basecamp’s unique approach has stood the test of time and helped make the company hugely successful.
Sample countries experimenting with a four-day workweek
Will more companies embrace the four-day workweek? Several studies from around the world offer clues on what to expect next.
1. The UK
After a six-month trial in the UK spanning 3,000 workers at 61 companies, employees and business leaders reported a range of benefits, from increased productivity and better team morale to improved mental health and stronger relationships.
The experiment was based on a 100-80-100 model, where workers received 100% of pay for working 80% of their standard time in exchange for delivering 100% of their usual output.
It was so successful that 92% of participating companies are continuing with the reduced work schedules permanently.
2. New Zealand
New Zealand is another country that has experimented with the four-day workweek for years.
In one eight-week trial, an estate planning company saw a 20% increase in commitment and empowerment among employees, as well as significant gains in work-life balance and a decrease in stress levels. After another 18-month pilot, Unilever Australia & New Zealand reported a 34% plunge in absenteeism and a 15% surge in feelings of strength and vigor at work.
A survey found that 4 in 10 employees across the country now believe the four-day workweek will become the norm within five years.
Iceland is known for leading the world’s largest four-day workweek experiment, a four-year pilot program started in 2015.
The program was deemed an overwhelming success when employees reported better work-life balance, less burnout and increased morale — all with zero impact on productivity and no reduction in pay.
Today, 90% of Iceland’s population enjoys flexible work benefits, including an extra day each weekend for many employees.
3 top benefits of a four-day workweek
The four-day workweek offers numerous health benefits positively impacting job satisfaction and well-being. One survey found that 92% of workers prefer a four-day workweek so much they’d be willing to put in longer days in exchange for three-day weekends. In addition, 37% said they’d choose a shorter workweek even if it meant taking a pay cut.
Some of the biggest benefits include less burnout, more productivity and higher engagement. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
1. Less burnout
Reducing the workweek to four days helps alleviate stress levels because employees have more time to rest, recharge and engage in activities outside of work. This additional time off allows employees to spend quality time with loved ones and participate in personal growth opportunities — all of which help prevent burnout.
One report tied a 71% reduction in burnout directly to the four-day workweek, and more than 40% of surveyed employees said their mental health also improved. The results were so significant that 15% of workers said no amount of money would convince them to go back to a standard five-day schedule.
2. Increased productivity
Contrary to some long-held assumptions, a shorter workweek does not hinder productivity. As the studies referenced above have shown, four-day workweeks can actually increase output.
By compressing the workweek, employees are motivated to optimize their time. The result is fewer distractions, improved focus and a stronger sense of work-life balance that together support a surge in productivity. Wharton professor and four-day workweek proponent Adam Grant described the productivity advantage this way:
“If I were a leader, I would be much more excited about 32 focused hours a week than 40 distracted hours.”
Still not convinced? Additional research shows that consistently working more than 40 hours a week is “useless.”
3. More engagement
Implementing a four-day workweek can also positively impact employee retention rates and job satisfaction. Offering this alternative work schedule not only demonstrates a company’s commitment to employee well-being and work-life balance, but can also play a strong role in recruitment strategies.
As stated above, organizations that embrace the four-day workweek frequently experience higher employee satisfaction, which in turn leads to increased retention rates and reduced turnover costs. In fact, the four-day workweek perk has become so desirable that there’s an entire job site dedicated to connecting candidates with companies.
Disadvantages of a four-day workweek
While the proven benefits of the four-day workweek are attractive, it’s important to consider the downsides.
Although a shorter workweek means more time off, some employees might feel pressure to work longer days to make up for lost time. This may not in itself be a problem if employees express a willingness to work four 10-hour days in exchange for a three-day weekend, but it’s still important to monitor your workforce for signs of burnout.
In addition, the four-day workweek may not be feasible for all industries or departments. For example, you may need to implement rotating schedules to make it work for customer service teams, where coverage five days a week is essential.
If you can’t implement a four-day workweek policy for everyone right now, consider waiting until non-peak seasons or other times when the majority of your workforce will benefit. Otherwise, a seemingly generous policy has the potential to backfire when part of your workforce feels short-changed.
The future of the four-day workweek
As work-life balance becomes a bigger priority across countries and companies, the four-day workweek is expected to gain further traction. While many U.S. employers are already considering the four-day workweek on their own initiative, several states are considering legislation that could incentivize or even mandate four-day schedules.
If your organization isn’t already at least considering this fast-growing trend, now’s the time. Organizations that adapt to the changing landscape will be better positioned to attract and retain top talent while fostering a happier and more productive workforce.
How to conduct a four-day workweek trial with ActivTrak
The four-day workweek offers numerous benefits for both employees and organizations. But before you rush to roll out a new policy, it’s important to test and measure what works best for your workforce.
We’ve outlined a step-by-step process to help you do just that.