The 4-Day Workweek – A Global Conversation

What is a workweek? Is it 5 days? 4 days? And how many hours in a work day? 8 hours? 10 hours? These are some of the questions being posed in the global conversation about the evolving workplace. The Covid pandemic pushed workers out of the office, and in its wake, in person/remote hybrid has become the “new normal.” This paradigm has called into question other parameters such as the number of days and hours which define a workweek.

Increasing Preference for Fewer Days

Even before the pandemic, workers expressed a preference for a shorter workweek. According to IZA Institute of Labor Economics, from 1973 to 2018, the 4-day workweek became 3X more common around the world. In a 2017 poll by YouGov America of 36,000 working Americans, 36% said they would prefer working 4-days/10-hours per day. By 2019 that number had nearly doubled to 67%. And among higher income workers (those making $80K+) it reached 76%.

Quality of Life Drives Shift, Demographic Differences Emerge

The movement toward a shortened workweek appears to be part of the larger reevaluation of workplace norms, including health and wellness and work-life balance. Flexible work schedules level the playing field, offering more options for workers who have personal responsibilities which place demands on their time, such as child and/or elder care. The most preferred days to eliminate are Fridays (63%) followed by Mondays (26%), both of which create a 3-day weekend and more concentrated family and personal time.

Interestingly, preference for a shorter workweek increases with age. According to 7/13/2021, 53% of Boomers and 49% of Gen X want a 4-day workweek vs. Millenials and Gen Z at 31% and 34%, respectively. Differences can also be seen for gender – 49% of female employees vs. 34% of male workers, as well as for location – 49% of suburban dwellers vs. 29% urban dwellers. Female workers tend to have more familial duties, while suburban dwellers have longer commutes.

Experiments Underway

Iceland embarked on a 4-day workweek trial of 2,500 public sector workers between 2015 and 2019. Results showed the same or improved productivity and service in the majority of workplaces, as well as increased health, decreased stress/burnout, and better work-life balance. Now 86% of Iceland’s workforce chooses a 4-day workweek. In Belgium employees can choose a 4 or 5-day work schedule without loss of salary. And 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit dedicated to furthering the shorter workweek internationally, has championed pilots in Ireland, Spain, and Japan, with more in the pipeline.

In the UK, 3,300 employees in 73 companies are participating in a 6-month pilot of the 4-day workweek. Pay and productivity goals are being maintained. Nay-sayers point to industry sectors where a reduced workweek is not practical, such as emergency services, public transportation, and logistics. But supporters expect equal to increased productivity, improved moral, fewer absences, less burnout. At the halfway point in the trial, 35 of 41 companies indicated they were “likely” or “extremely likely” to consider continuing the 4-day workweek when the pilot is over.

“It will be interesting to see if other companies follow this policy assuming the results turn out to be increased productivity and happier employees. The pandemic has left many employees experiencing burn-out and the 4-day workweek could be part of a solution,” states Phillip Price, Managing Partner of IMSA Search Global Partners UK and Murray Price Executive Search. He added: “However, with so many other adverse factors creating economic and societal headwinds at the current time, this may well turn out to be a desirable initiative whose time is not now.”

Topic at Davos 2022, Benefit for Talent Recruitment and Retention

At this year’s World Economic Forum at Davos, the 4-day workweek was on the agenda in a panel entitled, “The Four-Day Week: Necessity or Luxury?” Overall, panelists stressed the positive impact on employee wellbeing, efficiency/productivity, and engagement. Yet, they also acknowledged that the goal is well-being and flexibility and the 4-day workweek may be a tool, along with others.

In a tight talent market, candidates are seeking greater choice. Reduced-hour, output-focused companies that provide options will have the competitive advantage in attracting and keeping top talent. Providing flexibility with benefits will be key to recruiting and maintaining the best and the brightest.

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