Work-life balance: the buzzword that every employee and applicant looks for in a job description. According to Forbes, 75 percent of the workforce will be made up of Millennials by 2025. That means the term work-life balance is shifting from needing more PTO to needing a more flexible work schedule in general.
A ton of creative solutions to the flexible schedule problem have come to fruition in recent years, including ideas like Summer Fridays- where employees get to end the week with a half-day during the warmest time of the year. However, smarter companies have pushed even further.
Enter the four-day workweek.
What’s a four-day workweek?
Glad you asked, because we know it sounds obvious.
There are two kinds of four-day workweeks: the compressed workweek, where employees still work their 40 hours, but they condense their week into four days – or the regular four-day workweek, where employees simply do their 32 hours of work in four days and return refreshed and ready to work super hard the following Monday.
Right now, 17 percent of companies offer the compressed four-day workweek to at least some employees, according to a recent survey by the staffing firm Robert Half. This number is up by 67 percent from last year, following a 65 percent jump last year and 51 percent in 2017- according to the number of ZipRecruiter job posts mentioning the four-day workweek. (The Netherlands already has a four-day standard workweek as a country, but they’re an anomaly.)
In a trial, the shortened workweek boosts productivity by 40 percent. When Microsoft Japan reduced its workweek by a day, it dramatically increased production compared with the previous year.
So if the Netherlands and Japan can do it, why isn’t every company doing it? And more importantly: should you incorporate it into your business model?
Designing a faster track to Friday:
While this four-day week would work much better if the entire country were on board, we’re simply not there yet. If you’re thinking about incorporating the four-day workweek into your company, you’ve got a lot to consider. For example, there are some structural changes you’re going to have to make- like when meetings happen.
Can you condense them so they all occur when everyone’s in the office? Are the meetings taking too much time out of the day? Perhaps consider that some meetings could be combined or broken down into an email or handled via a Slack thread.
That train of thought should spark another notion: maybe not everyone in your office should be given the option of a four day week. You might have to consider basing the four day week privilege on the needs of your business.
Do employees want a shorter workweek?
New surveys by the staffing firm Robert Half and The Workforce Institute found that 34 percent of global workers want a four-day workweek. That’s compared with 28 percent who are satisfied with the standard 5-day workweek.
This is evidenced by the fact that when employers advertise the four-day workweek schedule on ZipRecruiter, they receive an average of 13 percent more applications. Since unemployment is incredibly low (at a 50-year-low in fact), it’s a very difficult time to recruit and maintain talent.
Offering the shortened workweek is one way to do that.
Paying for the four-day week:
This is where it really gets tricky. If your employees are eligible for overtime pay (regardless of whether they’re salaried or hourly), then you’ll have to learn the laws as they apply to the shortened workweek.
In California (and a few other places) you’ll have to give overtime to your employees any time they work more than eight hours in a single day even if their workweek is shorter than 40 hours. If your company is in a state that doesn’t comply with these specific overtime rules, then you can do the shortened condensed week without paying overtime on a daily basis. Minimum wage workers could still take advantage of the four-day workweek, but they’d need to do the condensed schedule to make sure they receive all their hours and income (unless there are minimum wage hikes again).
What about vacation time?
You may want to re-think your vacation day policy if your employees will only be working four days a week. A more comparable vacation time would be eight days per year as opposed to the typical 10, although that seems a bit paltry. Also, some of your employees might be sticking with a traditional schedule. Would they remain on the 10 days off per year, while everyone else goes to eight days off annually?
One way to make vacation time work for everyone would be to organize it by hours. So rather than offering 10 days of vacation off per year, you can allow 40 hours of vacation off per employees as long as some are doing the condensed 40-hour workweek. While federal law allows companies to design their own vacation plans, you must follow the rules in the handbook that you design. So put everything in writing before it’s instituted.
The shortened workweek won’t work for every company.
Before you jump on the four-day workweek bandwagon, consider those who’ve gone before you- and ended up right back where you are. Treehouse, an online education company based in Oregon, implemented the 32-hour workweek in 2014. They returned, however, to the 40-hour workweek when they realized that their employees weren’t able to get all their work done within the 32 hours.
You also have to consider that if you’re a client-based company, then your clients may not be happy with losing a day of support and communication. Would it be feasible economically to hire additional employees to staff your office during the day that the majority are off? Or can you rotate the day that people are off so there are always employees available to your clients? In the end the answer is probably already in your mind: probably not.
And it might not change anything significantly
Yes, there have been glowing reviews of the four-day workweek from employees (because who doesn’t want a three day weekend). However, there are a few studies that found the four-day workweek didn’t significantly change anything. A University of Auckland business professor reported that many businesses were disappointed because they thought they’d see even better feedback from the change.
Don’t get us wrong- some businesses will be happier and will boost their productivity. But if you’re expecting an insane increase in productivity or overly eager employees, maybe wait to crack open the bottle.
If you’re looking for an alternative to the standard 40-hour five-day workweek, you don’t have to jump directly to the four-day workweek if you don’t feel like it’s a good fit for your company. Work-life balance means a lot of different things, like we said at the very beginning.
When it comes to flexible schedules, the best thing you can do is offer options that work best with your workers. Employees could have the option of working 40 hours per week as they see fit, making the hours work for them in their own day. Or, they can skip the 40-hour requirement altogether, working as needed as long as they get everything done.
Not sure? Try Flexible Fridays: if employees feel like they can take Fridays off and still get the work done, they’re allowed to do it. If not, they’re welcome to stay. It’s a win-win.