4 Day Work Week
You may have recently heard about the 4 day work week. Big companies like Microsoft and Amazon are trialing a 4 day work week with their employees and the results are impressive. Microsoft, for instance, reported a 40% increase in productivity after giving its employees a 4 day work week without a reduction in pay. By focusing on the things that matter, the company was able to increase output. Microsoft put a 5-person limit on the number of employees that could attend a meeting and limited the length of meetings to 30 minutes. In addition to the increased productivity, the company significantly reduced its electricity bill and the number of pages printed per week which reduces costs but also reduces the company's carbon footprint. On top of these benefits, the improvement to employee health, happiness, and morale is immeasurable and also benefits the company.
In 2018, Perpetual Guardian conducted a 2 month trial wherein all of its employees worked 4 days per week without a reduction in pay. The company engaged researchers at the University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology to measure the outcomes of the experiment. The research found that employee engagement increased about 20%, stress levels decreased around 7%, and work-life balance increased by about 24%. In fact, the trial was so successful that the company moved to a 4 day work week permanently without a reduction in pay. The company reports a 20% increase in productivity after moving to a 4 day work week and, in addition, its employees are happier and more creative.
What is a 4 day work week?
Quite simply a 4 day work week is one in which employees work 4 days instead of 5. There are several ways to organize a 4 day work week – for instance, some companies offer permanent 4 day weeks without a reduction in pay to all employees, while other companies offer 4 day weeks to a subset of staff with a proportional reduction in pay. Some companies also offer the "4x10" work schedule where employees work the same number of hours per week but in four 10 hour days instead of five 8 hour days. As mentioned above, the 4 day work week has many measurable benefits.
While some companies such as Perpetual Guardian and Wildbit work permanently on a 4 day week schedule, other companies such as Basecamp work "Summer Hours" in which they work 4 day per week during the May through August months.
What about employee productivity and output?
There is evidence that employee productivity and output is not reduced at all by reducing from 5 days to 4 days per week; in fact, in the data we have, it is common that employee output increases when reducing to a 4 day week.
How is this possible? If we consider knowledge workers with cognitively demanding jobs, the number of productive hours per day may be much shorter than you think. One study showed that workers were only productive for about 3 hours per day on average. Other time was spent socializing, eating, and reading (among other things). It is reasonable to expect workers to spend some amount of their work day collaborating – which is a social activity – but this still leaves a lot of time of the work day spent in non-productive ways. If we acknowledge that humans simply can't sit focused for 40 hours per week, then perhaps by giving workers an extra day away from work, they will be able to come to the workplace more refreshed and able to perform more efficiently when they are working.
Parkinson's law states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." If workers are given 5 days to complete a set of tasks, the work will take 5 days. Whereas if the workers are given 4 days to complete the same set of tasks, the tasks will take 4 days. One might argue that the workers should then simply be given more work to do; however, there are still limits to the amount of work that can be accomplished by a person in a time frame. If we have hit a limit of the amount of work that can be accomplished, and the same amount of work can be accomplished in a 4 day week, then employees should only work 4 days per week so that they are more rested and engaged at the workplace.
Why you should offer 4 day work weeks
Besides the stated benefits of increased productivity, cost savings, and employee health and morale, there are still arguments in favour of a 4 day work week.
In 1930, well-known economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that we would be working 15 hours per week due to increased automation which would replace the needed jobs of the time. Now, we very much have increased automation displacing jobs yet working hours seemed to have increased in the last century with 40 hour weeks becoming 50 to 60 hour weeks. And in our always-on society, even when we've left the workplace we're still on-call via instant message and thinking about work.
Keynes' prediction has come true. Automation and technology has drastically increased the wealth generated by existing corporations and lowered the bar to entry for new startups and small companies. However, wealth distribution is out of balance. Since 1978, average CEO pay has risen nearly 1000% while worker wages have only risen by about 10%. If we consider this disparity in wealth distribution, then it's fair to say that employees deserve a 4 day work week.