How to Successfully Transition to a Four-Day Week
Content Editor at Workvivo
21 Jun 2023
Wondering what steps you need to take to successfully transition to a four-day week? We’re here to help.
The mere concept of a four-day workweek elicits strong, divided reactions. Many are fervent supporters of the idea, emboldened by mounting data and a recent surge in popularity. But there are also skeptics and naysayers who presume that a company cannot remain competitive if it does not uphold the traditional full-time schedule.
To be fair, it’s logical to surmise that a 20% reduction in working hours would result in a 20% reduction in productivity. But, fascinatingly, that’s far from the truth – and companies around the world are discovering the benefits of four-day weeks.
Trials and rollouts are gaining momentum in the UK, Ireland, Spain, and Japan – and shorter weeks are even becoming normalized in a handful of countries, such as Iceland and Belgium. So far, the results have been very promising.
In light of this, many organizations are now eager to join the four-day movement. The question is how. So, in this article, we’ll be exploring five key elements of a successful transition to a four-day week. But first…
The true definition of ‘four-day week’
It sounds straightforward, but a ‘four-day week’ can refer to fundamentally different schedules depending on who you ask. Two main camps have emerged: the 4/10 schedule and the 100:80:100 model. So, let’s take a closer look at both of those approaches.
In a 4/10 schedule – also known as a ‘compressed workweek’ – there is no actual reduction in working hours. Rather, the standard 40-hour week is compressed into four 10-hour days. Proponents of the 4/10 schedule cite benefits such as improved work-life balance and enhanced productivity. But, again, there is no difference in total hours worked.
By contrast, a true four-day week – also known as the 100:80:100 model – does not attempt to squeeze five days of work into four days. Instead, weekly hours are reduced from 40 to 32, but pay and productivity remain the same. In other words: 100% of salary, 80% of the time, 100% productivity.
Although there’s yet to be a consensus on what a four-day week actually entails, a growing body of research (which we’ll explore below) favors the 100:80:100 model – and many experts in the field agree. According to 4 Day Week Global, “The four-day week is a reduction in the work week from a standard 40 hours to 32 hours for the same pay and benefits.”
Benefits of a transition to a four-day week
It’s tempting to think that a four-day week primarily benefits employees. On the surface, it may appear that they’re just receiving an extended weekend.
But you have to remember that happy employees are more engaged, and engaged employees are more productive. And when that dynamic is taken into account, it becomes easier to see how four-day weeks benefit both employees and employers.
In 2022, Autonomy and 4 Day Week Global conducted one of the largest four-day week pilots to date. The results of the pilot – which analyzed data from 2,900 UK workers at 61 companies – were resoundingly positive. Below are some of the most notable advantages that were confirmed by the study.
1) Equal or increased productivity and performance
Despite the reduction in work time, companies in the Autonomy pilot saw a 1.4% average lift in revenue during the trial period. And, when compared to prior years, revenue was up by 35% on average – demonstrating that companies were able to maintain their growth trajectory even after a four-day week was implemented.
This supports the notion that employees can be just as productive working four days as opposed to five. But how could that be? It largely boils down to human psychology. People aren’t machines: our ability to concentrate fluctuates based on our mental state. So, if employees are given an additional day off to rejuvenate, this can yield more optimal performance during the workweek.
2) Improved employee health and wellbeing
Unsurprisingly, the research has shown that four-day weeks can have a profound effect on employees’ mental health. In the Autonomy pilot, 39% of employees reported feeling less stressed – and a whopping 71% felt less burnt out by the end of the trial period. There was also a significant drop in anxiety, fatigue, and sleep problems.
And, needless to say, when employees feel better, they’re more likely to be engaged at work. An unhealthy work-life balance is one of the main reasons behind employee disengagement. So, when work-life balance improves, employee engagement naturally follows – and this helps explain the equal and increased performance levels described above.
3) Increased talent attraction and retention
Along with boosting employee wellbeing, a four-day week also strengthens retention and recruitment. During the Autonomy pilot, organizations saw a 57% reduction in turnover. And, on top of that, 15% of employees said that no amount of money could convince them to go back to a five-day schedule – illustrating that four-day weeks can be a substantial factor in the competition for talent.
Given the steep financial cost of employee turnover – not to mention less tangible costs like the loss of knowledge and expertise – anything that improves retention is intrinsically valuable to an organization. So, in that sense, a four-day week can be considered a boon to a company’s operational success.
The aforementioned stats are certainly noteworthy. But, of all the study’s findings, the following metric speaks the loudest: 92% of the companies opted to continue with a four-day schedule after the pilot concluded. In other words, the benefits were so apparent that nearly every leadership team wanted to keep the policy in place for further evaluation. And nearly one-third of the companies declared that the change was permanent.
“This is a major breakthrough moment for the movement towards a four-day working week… Across a wide variety of different sectors of the economy, these incredible results show that the four-day week with no loss of pay really works.” – Joe Ryle, Director of the 4 Day Week Campaign.
How to successfully transition to a four-day week
To reap the advantages, many leaders are now wondering how to successfully implement a four-day week. If you’ve been mulling that question over in your organization, here are five tips to help guide you through the process.
1. Embrace the mindset
A four-day week isn’t an employment perk – it’s a paradigm shift. So, for a four-day week to be successful, leaders need to fully understand and buy into the underlying philosophy. But what does that involve?
At its core, the four-day week is about prioritizing outputs and value, rather than the number of hours that are being put in. There has been a longstanding culture of overworking that praises the employees who spend the most time at the office. But this is an unhealthy mentality, which is why one of the main tenets of the four-day movement is to flip the script and actively oppose burnout culture.
2. Define and communicate objectives
Initially, companies should roll out a four-day week on a trial basis – and the parameters of the trial should be made clear from the start. That is to say, leadership should clearly communicate which KPIs need to be upheld in order for the four-day schedule to continue.
Generally speaking, two of the most fundamental KPIs that need to be maintained are customer satisfaction and productivity. Neither of those metrics should decline during the trial period – and this is a very feasible expectation. Numerous four-day trials have demonstrated that, when employees are collectively aligned and motivated to reach certain performance goals, they’re able to hit their targets.
3. Cultivate an environment of trust
A four-day schedule can only succeed within a high-trust environment – and trust is a two-way street. Leaders need to trust employees to maintain productivity levels, and employees need to trust that leadership won’t judge or penalize them behind closed doors.
In low-trust organizations, employees may view a four-day rollout with skepticism and wariness, thus undermining the positive intentions of the policy. Similarly, a low-trust leadership team will constantly look over employees’ shoulders to make sure they aren’t slacking – and this hypervigilance can quickly become toxic. So, when trialing a four-day week, it’s essential to foster mutual trust throughout the company.
4. Reduce meetings and fix broken processes
To bolster productivity amid the 20% reduction in working hours, teams should search for ways to maximize focus and efficiency. So, across the organization, both managers and ICs should be asking, ‘Which meetings are essential and which are unnecessary? Which processes are broken and need to be fixed?’.
The reality is that many meetings are ineffective and, ultimately, a waste of time. So, by canceling those meetings, managers can free up precious time and allow staff to concentrate on vital tasks. On a similar note, most employees can instantly identify which processes are broken – the problem is that there hasn’t been a unified push toward improvement. And therein lies the solution: ensuring that teams are united in their pursuit of optimization.
5. Leaders should lead by example
Too often, leaders will enact new policies, but then they don’t adopt the policies themselves. This is especially liable to occur during a four-day rollout. Leaders may grant a four-day option to employees, but then continue to work five days a week. This is problematic because, if leadership is working a five-day schedule, many employees will feel subtly pressured to follow suit.
So, to properly conduct a four-day trial, leaders need to demonstrate that they’re fully on board by applying the policy to their own schedules. Otherwise, the whole initiative will falter. As Gillian French, our Chief People Strategist, explains, “Leaders are the role models – they’re the ones setting the tone. Employees will only do it if they see that leaders are doing it. Role modeling in leadership is crucial.”
Are four-day weeks the future of work?
With proven benefits and strong momentum, the shift to a four-day week is showing no signs of slowing down. And, as four-day weeks become increasingly prevalent and normalized, reluctant companies will eventually have to reconsider their stance if they want to attract top talent.
The truth is that working long hours, commuting – the typical ‘grind’ that people are subjected to – it’s too much. But, during COVID, we had an opportunity to take a step back and reflect. And now, in the post-COVID era, people’s perspectives have changed. We prize work-life balance and we understand how detrimental burnout culture is. And that’s why the four-day week can be viewed as a huge step forward.
Gillian added, “I think the four-day week will create a better balance for society. You’ll have people that are able to eat better and spend more time with their children. They’ll have more time with their families, and they’ll be more grounded and happier. And I think great work will come out of that.”