Is it time for your company to go to a 4-day workweek?
Friday, June 26, 2020
The world of work may never be the same after the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. One casualty of the pandemic could be the structured five-day, in-the-office workweek. According to a survey conducted before the pandemic, over 40% of organizations offer some form of telecommuting and an even greater 57% offer some form of flexible work hours arrangement.
Since the pandemic began, far more employees have been required to have reduced hours in the workplace and/or have been allowed to work at home or remotely. What we learned in just a few months is that today’s technology of video conferencing, email, productivity software and even artificial intelligence can effectively accommodate work outside the traditional office and outside of the traditional five-day work schedule. Employees adjusted rapidly to remote work and with a remarkable degree of success.
This article examines some of the advantages of going to four-day or flexible workweek, along with some of the disadvantages and challenges to implementing a shortened or compressed schedule.
Potential Advantages of a 4-Day or Flexible Workweek
The four-day workweek typically exists in two variations, among others, either the 4-10 workweek, which redistributes the 40-hour workweek over four days, or the 4-8 workweek, which simply cuts a day and makes the workweek 32 hours. Those who implemented one of these types of four-day workweek schedules primarily identify some or all of the advantages of such schedules.
The four-day or flexible workweek may help to address one of the major problems that modern employers face: employee turnover.
A recent Gallup Report estimated that millennial turnover costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually. According to that same report, millennials rank work-life-balance high on their list of priorities when considering employment options. Because of this, an alternate schedule which allows one (or more) additional day a week of remote work or no work at all may be attractive to your workers.
Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based financial services company, reinvigorated the four-day workweek debate when its CEO announced that the company was moving to a four-day, 30-hour workweek. Guardian made the decision to permanently alter employees’ schedules after test results demonstrated that employees were performing the same amount of work in the shortened week and reported significant improvements in work-life-balance.
Similarly, in Colorado, Adams County became the first school district in a major metropolitan area to institute a four-day workweek. The change was made to attract and retain teachers to the school district. And it worked. The district, which compensates teachers at the lowest rate of any district in the Denver area, experienced increased applicants and lower staff turnover during the pilot year of the program.
Some case studies suggest that instituting a four-day workweek can actually boost employee productivity. Indeed, that was the experience of many employers who reduced work schedules and sent workers home to deal with the pandemic.
For example, in Japan, Microsoft reported that implementing a four-day workweek led to a 40% boost in productivity compared to the previous year. Notably, Microsoft Japan’s model included other modifications to the workplace, including limiting meetings to 30 minutes and encouraging online discussions instead of face-to-face encounters with coworkers.
Less Commuting Means Less Stress and Helps the Environment
Implementing a four-day workweek in the office eliminates one day a week or 20% of commuting. As a result, employees spend less time commuting, less time under the stress of commuting and their commuting expenses also decline.
It also saves the environment. According to the University of California, the two largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. are transportation (29%) and electricity production (28%). When employees commute to work one less day per week, that also saves 20% of the associated emissions.
The 4-Day Workweek Does Have Some Disadvantages
Despite the potential advantages of a four-day workweek, you need to consider some of the possible disadvantages.
No Guarantee of Success
When not in the office, workers are not in the presence of supervision, their work environment is probably less structured, and it may have other distractions that may interfere with their effectiveness.
As an example, the Utah state legislature scrapped the four-day workweek in 2011 for all non-emergency state workers after a three-year test run. The decision was made to return employees to a five-day workweek after reports concluded that the expected benefits of the program, including reduced operational costs and increased employee productivity, never materialized.
Conflicting or Rigid Compensation Laws
Some states have rigid compensation rules, which could affect the pay scale of employees on a four-day workweek schedule. This is especially true for employers considering a 4-10 workweek.
For example, in California, with some limited exceptions, employees receive overtime compensation for shifts over eight hours long. This has obvious implications for the 4-10 workweek. Employees working the same total hours a week would be entitled to more compensation under a 4-10 schedule because they would be entitled to two hours of overtime compensation per day.
California has established a mechanism for employers to institute a 4-10 workweek without paying overtime wages. However, the process involves proposing the modified schedule to all affected employees and holding a secret ballot election to approve the modification. Failure to correctly follow this procedure before instituting a 4-10 workweek could lead to considerable wage and hour exposure for the employer.
At this point, going to a four-day workweek would still be outside of the norm. While employers utilizing the four-day workweek will almost certainly attract millennials, increased productivity or reduced operational costs are not guaranteed. And, in the wrong jurisdiction, incorrect implementation of a 4-10 workweek could expose you to significant wage and hour penalties.
Ultimately, employers need to consider their own workplaces and determine whether the four-day week or some flexible work schedule is a good fit. When making this decision, it would also be helpful for you to consult your employment attorney before making any changes.
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