The pros and cons of the four-day workweek are of great interest among Human Resources professionals and the talent they manage. After all, the four-day workweek is the one topic on which employees around the world can agree. In fact, it’s all anyone wants to talk about when it comes to workplace transformation.
These discussions come on the heels of recent news that a majority of employers participating in a pilot program in the United Kingdom were adopting the four-day week because of the benefits they experienced during the first six months of the test. The preliminary results showed that the four-day workweek showed benefits to workers’ health and productivity, according to NPR.
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Should You Switch to a Four-Day Workweek?
This adoption fits with global concerns regarding work-life balance and shifting ideas about people’s relationships with their jobs in the post-pandemic era. In the latest State of HR report, the majority (23%) of HR professionals who responded to the survey listed burnout as the biggest challenge of employee engagement. The second biggest challenge they listed, with 20% of the vote, was the blurring of work and personal life.
Retention is another top priority of respondents to the annual survey. The most common word they listed when asked what will define HR in 2023 was “employee.” Clearly, employers are trying to find ways to address employees feeling overworked, underappreciated, and unmotivated.
Obviously, employers cannot simply jump into adopting a four-day workweek. Each organization must assess the possibility, and it will work better for some than for others. Also, there are different ways to adopt this system. Some have everyone in the company take off on Friday or Monday.
Others rotate days off, so there is always someone covering the phones and available to customers and colleagues. Some require workers to take on more hours during the four days at work, while others reduce the workweek to 32 hours, which is what the UK pilot program did. The point is that it requires careful consideration and planning.
Here are the pros and cons for those whose work permits consideration of four-day workweek:
Pros of the Four-Day Workweek
Increased employee satisfaction – employees are looking for ways to relieve some of the stress and burdens that work has caused since the start of the pandemic. It seems like one crisis after another. A labor shortage and layoffs in some industries mean that many workers are wearing more than one hat at their organization. Burnout and low morale are genuine problems. Four-day workweeks have the potential to alleviate some of these burdens.
Improved productivity – People are eager to try working only four days. If they are relieved of some stress, get some additional rest or focus on something outside of work, they are more likely to recharge and gain energy. This can make a worker more productive.
Attract and retain talent – Employers that activate four-day workweeks will undoubtedly gain attention from job candidates and could win over employees, too. It demonstrates that the employer cares about work-life balance and the mental health and wellness of employees. The four-day workweek certainly is a great tool in building employer brand.
Cost savings – If everyone is out of the office on the same day, employers can save money on overhead costs and utilities. But many are saving money on these costs because of remote and hybrid work options.
Health benefits – Getting an a day away from work can help people tend to their health, reduce stress, and improve mental health.
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Cons of the Four-Day Workweek
Reduced availability – If the organization shuts down for the fifth day of the week, then customers and partners will have a hard time reaching people. Depending on the type of business, this could cause significant challenges. Some organizations are adopting the four-day workweek and having employees take different days off, so there is always someone available during the workweek.
Burnout risk – The four-day workweek does not change the amount of work on people’s plates. They still must complete the same tasks and projects. For some, reducing the workweek will mean condensing work into fewer days, which could be stressful and overwhelming. The increased workload increases the chance of burnout, the problem that four-day workweeks are meant to solve.
Impact on communication – This issue can be a real challenge. If people are out of the office one day per week every week, colleagues, customers, and partners might have a hard time reaching them. They could face a breakdown in communication, which is a grave consequence for any business.
Will This Ever Happen in the United States?
Four-day workweeks are a long way from becoming the norm in the United States. Tradition, concerns about productivity, legal requirements, fear of reduced profits, and resistance from clients are still standing in the way now.
Still, Democrat Rep. Mark Takano of California is sponsoring the “Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act,” which would amend the definition of teh workweek in the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, according to USA Today. The bill has little chance of passing in the Republican-led House of Representatives. But Microsoft, Shake Shack, and Unilever are experimenting with four-day weeks. Other countries, including the Netherlands, Spain, and New Zealand have turned to the four-day workweek.
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