When the Four-Day Week Doesn’t Work Out

Lisa Ardill

Content Editor at Workvivo

13 Oct 2022

Turns out the right company culture needs to be in place for a four-day week to work – and for Robert Smith to live his best life.

Robert Smith of The Cure – one of the best bands of all time (fact, not opinion) – falls in love every Friday. He’s so consumed with thoughts of Friday that he spends the rest of his week not doing a whole lot else.

If someone had given our pal Rob every Friday off to do as he pleased, maybe he would have been more motivated to get some work done in the lead-up. But that all depends on how he’s treated when he actually takes them up on their offer.

For a long time, the four-day week was but a pipe dream for many workers. But now, with employers being pushed to give their people greater flexibility, workplaces across the world are giving it a go with varying degrees of success.

Spanish company Telefónica recently hopped aboard the four-day-week bandwagon, but things didn’t exactly go to plan. Employees have been rejecting the company’s offer of a shorter week because they’re worried they’ll seem less ambitious and passionate about their work, make less money, and their pensions could suffer.

One employee said: “Among my colleagues, it was seen as contradictory to want to grow within the company and to take advantage of this flexible working day.

“If I were 40 years old and knew that I no longer had the possibility of career growth, I would have taken it 100%.”

They’d also risk losing out on key benefits, like the company’s incentivized leaving plan that allows employees to take early retirement at 65 while keeping 68% of their salary. To avail of this, Telefónica employees need to have worked in the company for 38.5 years. Working a day less each week would set them back and mean they have to work more years to reach that quota.

The result? Telefónica budgeted for 1,800 employees to take part in its first four-day week trial, but only 200 – 1% of its workforce – signed up.

The Cure to a broken four-day week

So, without going all corny-ending-of-every-Scrubs-episode-ever, what’s the teachable moment here?

If companies want to implement new ways of working, they need to nail a few things about their culture first:

  • Cultivate an environment of trust where employees aren’t worried about being passed over for promotions if they work fewer days
  • They need senior colleagues in the company to lead by example
  • Ideally, either ease employee workloads or pay the same salary as before

If you lay the groundwork, your employees are bound to be Robert-Smith-on-a-Friday levels of refreshed about their newfound freedom for one extra day a week. The payoff for your business is higher staff retention, more efficiency, and greater productivity.

And even better, there will be far fewer Mondays spent holding your head, Tuesdays and Wednesdays staying in bed, and Thursdays watching the walls instead.

This article was originally a thumbstopper in Vivowire, our expertly curated weekly newsletterSign up to get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox!