By Joe Evans
Accounting Student at the Marriott School of Business
Little innovation has taken place in the work schedule of employees in the past century. This could be because many companies fear the idea of the four-day workweek. Here are five reasons why the four-day workweek can benefit both companies and employees and make the switch less terrifying.
In the past century, the world has seen unprecedented levels of innovation. Phones, which once had to be shared between entire neighborhoods, can now accurately predict your daily routines and set reminders for you. Thermostats, which were once a miracle in their own right, can adjust temperature based on the current weather conditions to maximize your energy efficiency. Today, you can even toss your dog a treat from across the planet. With all this innovation, why are companies still adhering to a workweek model implemented over a century ago?
How did we get here?
In 1908, a mill put in place the five-day workweek to allow its Jewish employees to observe their Sabbath. Other companies, such as Ford Motor Company, followed suit.[i] The trend continued through the following decades until it cemented itself into the American tradition with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.[ii] Americans and much of the world began working 40-hour workweeks—eight hours a day, five days a week.
John Maynard Keynes predicted that by the year 2030, individuals would only be working as little as 15 hours per week.[iii] Now it is 2020, and that prediction is as far from reality now as it was when he made it.
Recently, a new trend has taken hold in the world and the American work psyche—the four-day workweek. It’s been heralded as a boon for workers and decried as a killer of productivity. Nevertheless, as the idea gains traction, it can no longer be ignored. The time may be here to let the five-day workweek follow the example of other long-time employees and retire. Change can be scary—especially for large companies. To ease the fright, here’s a list of five reasons why companies should implement the four-day workweek.
- The four-day workweek decreases worker burnout.
Worker burnout is a growing problem and is now considered a diagnosable issue by the World Health Organization.[iv] A recent Gallup poll found that 23% of employees either always or often feel burned out at work, and an additional 44% felt burned out sometimes.[v]
Burnout in workers, while detrimental to the individual, can have dire consequences for the organizations for which those who are affected work. Researchers have found that employees working excessive hours experience a “deterioration in cognitive performance, including impaired grammatical reasoning and alertness.”[vi]
Such a decline in cognitive performance can lead to serious issues and additional costs in any industry. For those in the service industry, it could mean the difference between obtaining or retaining a client. For those in manufacturing, it could mean increased worker-caused accidents and safety protocol breaches. Alleviating burnout could cut down on those costs and promote a safer work environment both physically and mentally.
- The four-day workweek improves employee retention and recruitment.
Kronos, a world leader in workforce management, surveyed over 600 human resource leaders and found that “burnout is the reason behind up to half of their yearly workforce turnover.”[vii] With a shorter workweek and the resulting decreased levels of burnout among employees, companies could reduce a large amount of employee recruitment costs.
These recruitment costs are not negligible. Some estimate the costs of hiring new employees to be at entry level, “50 percent of salary; mid-level at 125 percent of salary; and senior executive over 200 percent of salary.”[viii] Trimming down these costs could leave companies with increased flexibility and profitability.
Aside from decreasing worker burnout, the four-day workweek can be sold as a major benefit in hiring and retaining employees. As Gen Z-ers and Millennials make up the greater part of the workforce, they are increasingly looking at work-life balance as a key factor in deciding where they work. They are “not about jumping up titles, but moving into better work environments.”[ix]
Companies that have implemented the four-day workweek have seen an improvement of 45% in perceived work-life balance in employees.[x] Employers who take work-life balance seriously and show that to potential employees will have the advantage going forward.
- The four-day workweek increases employee productivity and output.
Many believe that the loss of one day in the traditional workweek would hamper productivity. The reality of the situation is that the current method may already be hampering productivity. A recent report states that under the current model, the average employee only spends approximately three hours a day performing substantive work.[xi] Employees often have excess time at work that’s spent socializing or is simply wasted.
Less time at work, it seems, is the way to increase the amount of work that’s completed in the office. Two examples are regularly cited in discussing the four-day workweek, Perpetual Guardian and Microsoft Japan. Their results paint this counterintuitive picture about workplace productivity.
Perpetual Guardian ran a test run of the four-day workweek back in March and April of 2018 and their results were staggering. They reported an increase in productivity of 20%.[xii] This was while employees had 20% less time to complete their work and with employees reporting an improvement of 24% in their work-life balance. Microsoft Japan saw similar results in August of 2019. Microsoft reported seeing a productivity increase of up to 40% while operating under a four-day workweek schedule.
Compelling studies demonstrate that companies leveraging the four-day workweek can expect to see similar productivity results.[xiii]
- The four-day workweek saves monthly overhead expenditures.
With less time spent in the office, less money is required to keep the office running. Oftentimes, to maintain regular operations under the four-day workweek, the days employees come into the office are staggered, or the entire company doesn’t come into the office for one additional day. This has led companies that have implemented the four-day workweek to see decreases in electricity expenditures and even paper usage.
Returning back to the experiments of Perpetual Guardian and Microsoft Japan, upon implementing the four-day workweek, Perpetual Guardian saw substantial decreases in electricity costs by having 20% fewer employees in the office on any given day.[xiv]
Microsoft Japan was able to quantify its energy savings, which ended up decreasing by 23.1%.[xv]
Microsoft Japan’s savings went beyond just its electricity. Because of the fewer hours in the workweek, meetings were capped at 30 minutes and other secondary activities were pared back. These changes, at least to some degree, led to a decrease in paper usage of 58.7%.[xvi]
Because of the four-day workweek, not only was employees’ time being used more efficiently, but company resources were as well.
- The four-day workweek benefits the environment and surrounding community.
In recent years, customers and companies alike have taken to attacking the issue of climate change and air quality. Reducing the commute of employees by one day a week can do wonders in improving local air quality, decreasing carbon emissions, and preventing congestion during peak commuting times.
A recent study found that if companies were to cut 10% out of employee worktime, its carbon footprint would decrease by 14.6%. That ratio only gets better as more time is cut out of the workweek. With a 25% cut from the workweek, the carbon footprint is slashed by 36.6%.[xvii]
Additionally, with fewer hours spent in the office, less energy will be consumed by generally large office buildings. Researchers have found that “state-level carbon emissions and average working hours have a strong, positive relationship.”[xviii] Essentially, the more hours employees work, the greater the carbon footprint of the company. Some research has quantified the decrease due to the four-day workweek to be about 20%.[xix]
A common method of implementing the four-day workweek is to stagger the additional day off that employees receive. As fewer employees commute to work on any given day, a substantial decrease in the amount of congestion during peak travel time occurs. This benefits not only the employees of the company, but the entire community as well.
No “one-size-fits-all” solution exists to implement the four-day workweek. One method for the compressed workweek may succeed for one company and fail entirely in another. Successfully implementing of the four-day workweek will depend on management and employees working together in cooperation to find the best solution to fit the company.
It’s time to innovate and let the five-day workweek enjoy its retirement. Companies that implement the four-day workweek can expect to see similar results to those that have already attempted it. The benefits are far-reaching and substantial.
Business leaders, please speak with your human resources leaders and brainstorm ways you can implement the four-day workweek and reap its benefits. Students, employees, and future employees, speak with your managers and express your support for the four-day work week. Together, we can implement the next great innovation and all enjoy its benefits to our lives, company, and environment.
For tips on how to implement the four-day workweek at your company, check out the recently published article “5 Steps for Adopting a Four-Day Workweek” by Lin Grensing-Pophal at shrm.org.
[i] Niraj Chokshi, “What If You Had a Four-Day Week? Why Don’t You?” New York Times, November 8, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/08/business/four-day-work-week.html, accessed March 2020.
[ii] The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended. [Washington, D.C.]: U.S. Dept. of Labor, Wage and Hour Division.
[iii] Niraj Chokshi, “What If You Had a Four-Day Week? Why Don’t You?”
[iv] Shira Feder, “What a 4-Day Workweek Could Do to Your Brain and Body,” Insider, January 8, 2020, https://www.insider.com/how-4-day-workweek-could-benefit-your-brain-body#the-four-day-workweek, accessed March 2020.
[v] Lisa Eadicicco, “Companies from Microsoft to Shake Shack Have Experimented with a Shorter, 4-Day Workweek – and Most of the Time, It’s Had Incredible Results,” Business Insider, November 10, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/microsoft-shake-shack-4-day-work-week-productivity-life-balance-2019-11, accessed March 2020.
[vi] Marianna Virtanen, Archana Singh-Manoux, Jane E. Ferrie, David Gimeno, Michael G. Marmot, Marko Elovainio, Markus Jokela, Jussi Vahtera, Mika Kivimäki, “Long Working Hours and Cognitive Function: The Whitehall II Study,” American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 169, Issue 5, 1 March 2009, Pages 596–605, https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwn382, accessed March 2020.
[vii] Niraj Chokshi, “What If You Had a Four-Day Week? Why Don’t You?”
[viii] Bill Conerly, “Companies Need To Know The Dollar Cost Of Employee Turnover,” Forbes, August 12, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/billconerly/2018/08/12/companies-need-to-know-the-dollar-cost-of-employee-turnover/#1c06e6fbd590, accessed March 2020.
[ix] Claire Cain Miller, and Yar Sanam, “Young People Are Going to Save Us All From Office Life,” New York Times, September 17, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/17/style/generation-z-millennials-work-life-balance.html, accessed March 2020.
[x] Bill Chappell, “4-Day Workweek Boosted Workers’ Productivity By 40%, Microsoft Japan Says,” NPR, November 4, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/11/04/776163853/microsoft-japan-says-4-day-workweek-boosted-workers-productivity-by-40, accessed March 2020.
[xi] Chris Weller, “Research Suggests There’s a Case for the 3-Hour Workday,” Business Insider Australia, Business Insider Australia, September 27, 2017, https://www.businessinsider.com.au/8-hour-workday-may-be-5-hours-too-long-research-suggests-2017-9?r=US&IR=T, accessed March 2020.
[xii] Charlotte Graham-McLay, “A 4-Day Workweek? A Test Run Shows a Surprising Result,” New York Times, July 19, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/19/world/asia/four-day-workweek-new-zealand.html, accessed March 2020.
[xiii] Lisa Eadicicco, “Companies from Microsoft to Shake Shack Have Experimented with a Shorter, 4-Day Workweek – and Most of the Time, It’s Had Incredible Results.”
[xiv] Charlotte Graham-McLay, “A 4-Day Workweek? A Test Run Shows a Surprising Result.”
[xv] Lisa Eadicicco, “Microsoft Experimented with a 4-Day Workweek, and Productivity Jumped by 40%,” Business Insider, November 4, 2019. https://www.businessinsider.com/microsoft-4-day-work-week-boosts-productivity-2019-11, accessed March 2020.
[xvii] André Spicer, “Paper Straws Won’t Save the Planet – We Need a Four-Day Week,” The Guardian, June 21, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/21/help-the-planet-work-a-four-day-week, accessed March 2020.
[xviii] Jared B Fitzgerald, Juliet B Schor, Andrew K Jorgenson, “Working Hours and Carbon Dioxide Emissions in the United States,” 2007–2013, Social Forces, Volume 96, Issue 4, June 2018, Pages 1851–1874, https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/soy014, accessed March 2020.
[xix] André Spicer, “Paper Straws Won’t Save the Planet – We Need a Four-Day Week”