Exploring the Realities of the Four-Day Work Week

In America, the 5-day, 40-hour work week (at minimum) is such a contemporary standard that to do less can make some professionals begin to feel uncomfortable. After all, how can you land that next promotion or capitalize on that new opportunity if you aren’t demonstrating your commitment to the company (and your own career) by putting in the hours? Setting that one aside for the moment, we have to reevaluate the scenario as a whole, and pose this question: Are the amount of hours you’re physically in the office really representative of your professional capacity? The honest answer here is: Not particularly, no.

Now, there are already some career paths that incorporate a four, or even three, day work week; primarily, the medical field. Nurses and technicians often work 12-hour shifts, and so fall under what is defined as a ‘compressed work week’, which only partially falls under the definitional purview of this topic, acting as a composite example more than anything else.

Weekly goals and objectives


We are particularly fond of the turn of phrase Barbara Wankoff (Director of Workplace Solutions at KPMG) utilizes, which rephrases the concept into one of strategic flexibility; a design and approach that demonstrates near across-the-board positive returns in all metrics that executives care about; such as increased productivity, retention rates, and so on. In considering the concept, she makes special note that a step away from a 5-day work week isn’t some “special accommodation, or something out of the norm [but is rather] a method that allows us to accomplish our business goals and become more successful”.

So, we can see that while to those not familiarized with it, a shorter work week can seem to collate a slew of lesser habits or work ethics; the truth however, is quite the opposite. At present, we see the most common occurrence of this model arising from tech and startup companies, though there is a definite trend toward opening up the practice to the wider industries.

The Details

Now we can start to talk specifics and proof-of-concept.

First, we’ll take a look at some direct benefits for employees. Balancing a work/life ratio can be profoundly difficult, especially for a single-parent single-earner. Add a desire to advance one’s career into the mix and the scenario quickly reaches unsustainable levels. More time to an individual’s private and family life invariably means better performance and morale in the workplace. There is also a marked increase in convenience; even paring down to a four-day work week allows more time for an individual to attend to life’s occasional issues, such as doctor appointments and home maintenance. When we break it down to base numbers, eliminating Friday’s (everybody’s favorite day to work, granted) for the flow, people get an extra 52 days off per year; and the open-ended freedom of that number does a great deal of good for most employees.

Related:  Work/Life Balance Questionnaire

So then, what do employers care about and how can this benefit them? Given that upwards of 43 percent of companies are moving toward the trend, there must be some significant impacts. Let’s take one of the big ones: productivity. Let’s take one of the most famous examples: France. France has long-standing commitments to a 35-hour work week and consistently ranks well above the U.S. in overall productivity (to say nothing of employee contentment).

Portrait of smart business partners networking at meeting


In summation, we would be remiss not to include a few noted drawbacks, most of which, however, are theoretical. One of the major issues underlying all this is that Americans are already pretty horribly overworked; to condense 40 hours into 4 days means 10 hour workdays and even a two hour addition to the daily grind is bound to affect some by dramatically increasing stress. Suppose, however, that those hours aren’t made up. Shorter days in all, on the dark token, mean less income, which leads to concerns of underemployment which is most often managed by the employee seeking multiple jobs to compensate, but which really just compounds the problem by adding yet more hours to their overall load.

Now, the above factors still mean a general, short-term bonus to a given company’s bottom line, but the long term effects bear some serious consideration.

In all, the trend is stark and seemingly inevitable, but a sharp business leader will always seek ways to mitigate the negatives and expound the positives. What mixture of progressive solutions will work best for your enterprise? Getting into such specifics takes time and effort and often outside sources to help make up that bandwidth. Never hesitate to reach out and utilize all of your resources.

Further Reading:  Increasing Your Own Productivity At Work


Fred Coon, CEO

Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200