Want Fridays off? Some companies are experimenting with the four-day workweek, with early success. That seems counterintuitive when workers are in such short supply and demand is up, but they just may be onto something.
Ask employers big or small and you’ll hear a list of grievances about how much harder it’s become for companies of all sizes to attract and keep workers, who increasingly expect not only higher wages, but more perks. Offering a three-day weekend — without reducing pay — could help.
In Iceland four-day workweek trials were an overwhelming success 2015 to 2019, according to a July 6, 2021, BBC report. Icelanders in a city-run trial got the same pay for four days of work each week, an experiment including 2,500 workers in various environments from schools to offices and a hospital. Both workers and employers reported satisfaction with the arrangement, and now more than 80% of Iceland’s workforce is on a reduced workweek.
The 100-80-100 model
Back in North America, a nonprofit called 4 Day Week Global associated with Oxford University is conducting a multinational, six-month experiment including 38 companies in the U.S. and Canada. The pilot program, which begins with a workshop to guide businesses through implementation, began in April and runs through September (see 4dayweek.com).
While a few are trying to keep close to a 40-hour workweek with four longer days, most aren’t. The vast majority of companies in the experiment are reducing the week’s work hours to around 32, banking on 4 Day Week Global’s 100-80-100 model: Workers receive 100% of their previous pay for 80% of the previous time productively doing 100% of the previous work.
The experiment also promotes a shift in mindset, away from the top-down approach and toward a more collaborative model where workers and managers figure out how to get the job done together as they go. This, say hiring experts, encourages more buy-in from employees. It also emphasizes communication of priorities and expectations, so there is less ambiguity. Insufficient training, feedback lacking in specificity, and unclear expectations reduce effectiveness and increase worker frustration.
Workers want time
Surveys and interviews strongly suggest that workers want a four-day workweek. A January Qualmetrics survey of 1,021 American adults working full-time found 92% want a four-day workweek, with 78% saying it would improve their mental health, and 82% saying it would make them more productive (89% also want paid mental health days). Most also said a four-day workweek would influence them to stay longer in the job, even more than unlimited vacation or paid mental health days.
Those seem to be cross-cultural sentiments. The Iceland experiment’s workers reported less stress, less burnout, and higher work satisfaction with more time to spend at home and with families.
“What employees really want and expect is the flexibility to adjust their work schedules to fit the demands of their lives. In today’s new world of work, successful companies will set aside antiquated assumptions about what productivity looks like and listen to employees, so they can offer the flexibility that meets their individual needs,” said Benjamin Granger, Ph.D., head of employee experience advisory services at Qualtrics in a statement at Qualtrics.com.
“While there is increasing momentum around the idea of working four days a week, employees are willing to acknowledge the associated tradeoffs — like working longer hours or potentially frustrating customers.”
A pre-start vacation?
Some employers are getting the message, offering time off even before any work is done. Consider SevenRooms, a hospitality management software company that offers a two-week, paid vacation to new hires before their first day. The company came up with this “Fresh Start” policy after observing how workers are increasingly burned out after little time on the job, with higher demand for their services and scanter staffing levels.
Balance has become elusive in modern society.
These creative employer re-thinks imply that time off work may be more important than time spent on it, while counting on the idea that productivity will be higher if workers are more satisfied with the arrangement.
Time, apropos of the experiment, will tell.
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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email email@example.com.