Busting the Myths Surrounding the 4 Day Work Week

Busting the Myths Surrounding the 4 Day Work Week feature image

Most employees, if offered the option, would like the flexibility and freedom associated with a 4 day work week. So why are there fewer 4 day work weeks than 5 day work weeks in many sectors of the economy? While some businesses have very reasonable concerns with scheduling their employees for fewer days, a lot of the resistance to the 4 day work week comes from myths about what the change would look like. Here are just a few of the myths that you can overcome when discussing the 4 day work week by looking at experiments and case study literature.

Myth: 4 Day Work Weeks Make Employees Less Available to Clients

Fact: Organization and Communication Keep Clients Happy, No Matter the Work Week

If you resist the idea of a 4 day work week because it changes the standard "Monday to Friday" business work schedule, you may be missing out. In general, employees aren't instantly available all the time - they have other meetings, vacation, and sick leave, all of which result in interruptions in the flow of projects and communication. What is key with a 4 day work week is that your team and your clients have excellent communication pathways. By making sure clients know why they didn't receive a response on Friday, or why they speak to a different representative on Mondays than on other days, they see that your company takes productivity and communication seriously.

Many companies solve the problem with an A-schedule and a B-schedule (one group takes Monday off and the other takes Friday, for instance), so they have the coverage they need but everyone works a reasonable shift. For work that goes on 7 days a week, the two shifts may only overlap on the biggest day of the week, or everyone's shift is staggered.

Myth: If Your Employees are Busy, You Can't Scale Back to a 4 Day Work Week

Fact: Busy Behaviors Don't Predict Productivity

Most workers learn that they should appear constantly engaged at work, and many offices assume that if they have stressed, busy workers, scaling back to 4 days a week will make them even more stressed and busy. However, it is important to consider how having that extra day away from the office might bring renewed insight and inspiration to the workers. Many companies in the process of taking current workers from 5 days a week to 4 go through a discernment process, figuring out what will need to change immediately and what could be more organized and easy to use so that productivity won't take a hit. This shift is an invitation for the whole office to grow through the transition.

The studies don't lie: companies see a per-hour productivity increase when they go to 4 days a week. You can be overt about this: if you make it clear that part of the deal with your change to 4 days a week is that per-hour productivity needs to remain high or grow, employees will find the downtime they had before and work to eliminate it. The key is to make this an incentive structure: by offering this benefit, you help employees who know the work best to find the time-saving solutions they need most.

Myth: Work-Life Balance Only Benefits the Employee, Not the Employer

Fact: Employers Benefit From Well-Rested, Alert, and Engaged Workers

It is short-sighted indeed to assume that there are only benefits for employees when it comes to offering perks that boost work-life balance. While most people acknowledge that there is some general, vague benefit to work-life balance, there are concrete benefits that directly impact the bottom line at work:

  • Burnout, or overwork that results in a reduction in work quality or a stoppage of work entirely, is much more common in those who work extremely long weeks than in other workers. Burnout often results in employees choosing to move to other jobs or entirely other fields, meaning that you've lost your investment of training time in a great employee.
  • People who have the time and space in their schedules to accomplish all their outside-of-work tasks get more sleep, and sleeping is key to both creativity and alertness at work. The benefits spread throughout the week, not just on the days off.
  • Getting sick happens to everyone, but people do get sick less when they are rested and less stressed; having that one day a week off during the work week can make it easier to see a doctor quickly, sleep all day and kick a cold, or simply stay away from the office and avoid spreading germs.

Myth: We Can't Implement a 4 Day Work Week Until More People Do It

Fact: You Get the Biggest Retention Gains By Being an Early Adopter

One of the biggest objections that seems to come across is simply that, well, other people aren't doing it. Yes, there are plenty of companies that don't do a 4 day work week, but now that prospective employees are more versed in the idea of the 4 day work week and its benefits, they are started to seek out these more flexible jobs with better work-life balance. When attempting to secure a talented new employee, offering more money hurts your bottom line and may, ultimately, not be enough to help them stay. However, if you can offer them the flexibility to do what they want on that 5th day of the week, be it caring for family or pursuing a hobby, they aren't likely to find that perk again easily. Yes, the wave of the future is better work-life balance, but you'll see big gains by getting on board now, when there are fewer employers offering this option. Employees who love this schedule will weather the hard days in your industry in order to continue experiencing that excellent quality of life.

Overall, the positive outcomes of a 4 day work week are large, and choosing to offer 4-day-per-week jobs is a benefit to the employer and the employee. If you are ready to move beyond the myths, take advantage of the opportunity to post a job and showcase the value of your 4 day work week.

Nicholas Rempel

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