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How to Implement a Four-Day Work Week

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7 min read
The benefits of a four-day work week and how to implement it

Businesses have seen a significant transformation in how they operate in recent years. The pandemic, rising inflation, and scarce, expensive talent have led to half of HR leaders seeing an increase in recruitment competition.

Since your people are your greatest asset and critical to business success, offering a four-day working week can help attract and retain the right people. It’s why almost half (46%) of larger enterprises and public sector employers believe offering a four-day working week will be essential for future business success.

This article will help you understand the principles of a four-day work week. Learn about the many benefits your organisation can gain from the global stage, and discover how to implement a four-day week with our step-by-step guide.

The Benefits of a Four-Day Work Week

Remodelling employee working patterns is an opportunity business leaders must use wisely. That said, for a four-day work week to be successful, employees need to feel confident they won’t be disadvantaged in prioritising work-life balance, for example, employees who set healthy boundaries around their existing working hours.

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1. Improved work-life balance

The pandemic gave many overworked employees time to reassess and reconsider what they wanted out of their work situations. Most people didn’t leave their job because of low pay or limited benefits; they quit for greater job flexibility and workplace happiness.

A four-day week helps workers balance their work with family and social commitments. Nonetheless, recent research suggests work-life balance is a cycle–not an achievement. Employees who seek a continual harmonious relationship between work and personal life are more fulfilled and content. And that’s a win for everyone.

2. Increased productivity and employee satisfaction

Employees spend, on average, almost 90 minutes of their working day unproductive, costing British businesses an average of £4,467 per employee every year.

Adopting a four-day working week can improve productivity and employee satisfaction by:

  • Creating a positive work culture. A survey by Westfield Health found 86% of employees say they’re more productive at work if there’s a good culture.
  • Increasing employee engagement. Only 21% of employees are engaged at work, meaning there’s room for improvement. Increase involvement at work by valuing your workforce with a four-day working week.
  • Retaining top talent. Real wages continue to be pressed by high inflation–making attracting and keeping the best talent challenging as workers seek better pay deals. Boost employee loyalty by offering flexible four-day working patterns that suit individual needs alongside competitive wages.
  • Building a well-rounded team. If you have different team members working on projects from multiple time zones, offer a four-day week and plan workloads with individuals from the same time zone and hours worked.

3. Reduced stress and burnout

According to research by Gallup, employee stress levels are at an all-time high. In fact, work-related stress is the most common type of stress in the United Kingdom, followed by financial stress.

A four-day work week gives people more free time to spend outside of work. Having a three-day weekend, for example, gives employees more time with family and friends, spending on hobbies and interests, and much-needed downtime.

Offer flexible working patterns, such as compressed hours or annualised working patterns, to meet business demands and balance the needs of employees.

The benefits of a four-day work week and how to implement it

4. Positive environmental impact

UK-based researchers found that, by adopting a four-day work week, British carbon emissions will reduce by nearly a fifth by 2025, contributing to the climate crisis.

Let’s put that into perspective. A 20% reduction is similar to removing all private cars from the roads across the UK!

Environmental Consultancy Tyler Grange measured the impact of the shorter work week on the company’s carbon footprint. The four-day work week resulted in a 21% reduction in the miles their employees travelled by car to and from their work base and attending meetings.

Secondly, businesses can reduce operational costs, such as office rent, electricity, and heating, by opening up workplaces over four days rather than the usual five.

Reducing energy consumption by a fifth can save money and have a positive environmental impact–helping protect the environment for years to come.

The Global Impact of the Four-Day Work Week

Countries across the globe have trialled a four day week and have responded to the results in different ways.

Germany

German start-ups and large enterprises have experimented with a shorter working week successfully. As a result, more than 150 companies in Germany have now switched to a four-day week on a permanent basis, with 71% of German companies preferring it.

Plus, Germany now has the least number of working hours per year per employee of all countries worldwide–ranked first out of 46 countries.

Iceland

One of the world leaders in the four-day working week, Iceland carried out two trials of a 35-36 hour work week involving 2500 public sector employees between 2015 and 2019.

The trials showed a shorter work week reduced stress and burnout without affecting service provision or productivity. Hence participating businesses in Iceland reduced their working hours, and the vast majority, almost 90% of the working population, have reduced hours or other flexible working patterns to reduce perceived stress.

Japan

Japan’s employees work an average of 1607 hours per year. Compare that to Mexico at 2128 hours and Costa Rica at 2073 hours per year, and you can see how Japan offers much shorter working hours than other countries.

Big corporations, like Panasonic Holdings Corporation, now provide a four day week to their workforce to encourage a healthier work life balance. Their new model gives employees a third day off each week during the year, and are encouraged to relax, pursue hobbies, or volunteer.

New Zealand

Unilever trialled the shorter work week by paying its employees five days while working just four.

The New Zealand-based trial lasted 18 months and showed an improvement in staff well-being. The results showed employees took fewer sick days, stress levels were reduced by 33%, and work life conflict fell by 67%.

Belgium

Recent legislation in Belgium now allows workers to work a four-day work week. Although employees are still expected to maintain their contracted hours with the same pay, workers now have the option to work flexibly–extending working hours each day while working fewer days.

Company Success Stories

If you’re still not convinced how adopting a four day work week can boost productivity, here are a few businesses across different sectors seeing incredible results.

  • Technology company Bolt introduced the four day week in 2021. According to an interview with its founder, 94% of workers and 91% of managers wanted to continue after the three-month trial. Bolt have embraced change on a permanent basis and adopted the four-day work week for all employees–improving work/life balance for its workforce.
  • US-based Buffer increased productivity and employee well-being by implementing a four-day working week. It saw a staggering increase in productivity and happiness among 91% of its team members.
  • Project management software company, Basecamp has been well ahead of other businesses and implemented a four-day working week policy in 2008. Its four-day work week during the summer months every year allows employees to take advantage of lighter evenings and warmer weather–improving mood and productivity.

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The Results of the UK Four-Day Work Week

A separate trial took place in the United Kingdom (UK) and included 70 companies and more than 3,000 workers.

The Four-Day Week experiment was a major breakthrough moment for UK businesses. Results showed shorter work weeks reduce employee burnout, stress, anxiety, fatigue, and sleep problems.

Secondly, the UK pilot employee showed work-life harmony improved. Some 54% of employees found it easier to balance their work with family and social commitments. Positive results showed employees were also happier with how they manage their time, household finances, and their relationships.

Aside from the results of the UK trial, campaigners support the four-day working week. According to The Big Issue, shorter working hours can help tackle unemployment by giving more people access to flexible working patterns, for example, a compressed work schedule.

Implement Your Four-Day Work Week with Factorial

Follow our step-by-step guide and implement the four day work week at your company:

  1. Consult with your people. Find out employee thoughts and aspirations about their existing five day week and working patterns. An internal communication tool from Factorial can simplify the consultation process and provide transparency.
  2. Role model best practices. A top-down, bottom-up approach shows your people you are excited about new working patterns. Show your workforce how excited you are about new ways of working, such as sharing how you will spend your day off.
  3. Keep salaries the same. Just because people will be working fewer hours does not mean reducing their wages. Base outcomes on productivity levels, not working hours, and communicate this regularly.
  4. Start small. Test out your four-day week processes to measure success. Use customisable reports and metrics from employee satisfaction surveys or time-tracking software to gather accurate insights and make future decisions based on fact, not a hunch. Configure the different types of absences and get complete visibility of everyone’s working patterns at the touch of a button.
  5. Create and track employee performance. Find out if your new four-day working patterns positively impact individuals with performance reviews. Tackle any difficulties with new ways of working and reduce the potential for staff quitting for reasons you can resolve together, such as issues with childcare arrangements.
  6. Document procedures. Store your new four day work week policies safely in Factorial’s encrypted document management system. Securely upload, share, and organise all your company’s documents for new and existing employees to access when needed.

While you transition, don’t forget to consider these elements:

  • Use cloud-based HR software to reduce traditional paper-based HR records and improve data security. Automate routine tasks and make sure employees stick to their agreed hours, supporting a better work life balance.
  • Since one in three people doesn’t trust their employer, build confidence for reasons for change by keeping the whole workforce well-informed of progress and developments.
  • Communicate your goals and empower your people to take ownership of new working practices by involving them in decision-making. Why not invite an employee representative to your next HR strategy meeting? They can give feedback on vital information to colleagues–saving you time to spend on other business priorities.

The benefits of a four-day work week and how to implement it

How to Overcome the Challenges of Implementing a Four-Day Work Week

Offering a four-day working week is no mean feat. Bear in mind that a 20% weekly reduction in staff hours can be offset by decreasing recruitment, retention, and sickness costs. 

Shifting people’s mindset from the traditional nine-to-five working pattern can be challenging. Support people by offering change management training programs and monitoring employees’ feelings through formal and informal discussions.

Working longer hours over four days can cause some employees problems with caring responsibilities. Empower staff to choose their working pattern to suit their individual needs.

Start Implementing Your Four-Day Work Week

There’s no doubt adopting a four-day work week is a growing movement. Given that workplace norms, such as the traditional nine-to-five working patterns, have significantly shifted in recent years, businesses have the chance to remodel practices for the better.

New technology, like Factorial, can help you meet future of work demands and adopt a four-day work week. Streamline new processes with a range of integrated productivity and automation tools.

Get started with Factorial today.

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Tracy Rawlinson is a freelance HR and tech writer at Rawlinson Writes. She has 30 years of HR and leadership experience and worked across local government, NHS, and the voluntary sector. She uses her experience to create content that truly resonates with a wide range of HR and tech audiences.

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