How to weigh and implement the 4-day workweek
Thursday, February 06, 2020
The four-day, 40-hour workweek is common in the U.S. — although according to a Gallup poll, half of full-time workers say they actually work more than 40 hours weekly. Among respondents, 11% work 41 to 49 hours, 21% work 50 to 59 hours, and 18% work 60 or more hours each week.
In Japan, workers tend to toil even longer. According to CNBC, in almost one quarter of Japanese companies, employees are expected to work more than 80 hours of overtime monthly.
But in August 2019, Microsoft Japan launched a pilot program consisting of a four-day workweek — with employees off on Fridays. Most meetings were replaced with in-office messaging, and the meetings that were held could not last longer than 30 minutes.
Microsoft said the company had a 40% increase in productivity compared to a year prior.
But can this strategy work for any company?
“The four-day workweek requires that companies establish a set of core values and guiding principles as a framework to help supervisors and managers enhance their decision-making regarding the equitable distribution of work,” says J. Gerald Suarez, Ph.D., Professor of the Practice in Systems Thinking and Design; Fellow in the Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business; and author of “Leader of One: Shaping Your Future Through Imagination and Design.”
While it’s beneficial in theory, he says a four-day workweek must make sense in terms of a company’s operations and environment. “I think that companies who are exploring these options need to be very careful, because it’s not a one-size-fits-all.”
He admits that it is a one-size-fits-most approach, but that it is not meant for every industry. “There might be some industries that need to maintain that 24-hour cycle,” Suarez explains. “In weaker economies, the four-day workweek might not deliver the same benefits to workers,” he adds. And for employees who struggle financially, Suarez says they might actually get a second job. “This could potentially lead to faster burnout and negate the advantages of time off.
The key to making a four-day workweek successful
Remember that Microsoft Japan reduced meetings and meeting times. If you’re considering a four-day workweek, don’t expect the company to continue operating as normal. Changes will have to be made. “Deadlines need to be adjusted to this new schedule, so that the workforce does not feel that they need to maintain the same level of expectations — otherwise this may lead to added stress,” Suarez says.
He also believes that processes need to be streamlined to prevent an accumulation of work.
“Therefore, there needs to be continuity of operations,” Suarez says. “Motivated employees eager to contribute and move up the corporate ladder may feel that a four-day workweek would delay their professional aspirations.”
Intended and unintended outcomes
There are many benefits to implementing a four-day workweek. It helps to restore work-life balance to employees at every level. A shortened workweek means that there’s one less day to commute to work, worry about lunch, coordinate schedules with spouses and kids, etc.
It can also save companies in overhead costs, since there’s no need to light, heat/cool, power equipment, or run water in an empty building.
But on the other hand, it can also produce unintended negative effects. “The four-day workweek may diminish the social interactions in the workplace, because people will recognize that less time in the office requires more focus on tasks and responsibilities,” Suarez warns. “This may reduce the networking and social aspects of the workplace and contribute to more socially isolated employees.”
“It’s important for managers to know their employees, understand their stories, and know their context to determine if a four-day workweek is a welcome incentive by them,” Suarez says.
Also, if companies expect their employees to work from home and respond to phone calls, email and text messages, that’s defeating the purpose of a four-day workweek.
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