Is a four-day work week all it’s cracked up to be?

Weekly Plan | Davis Joe

Operation strategies will need to be streamlined to implement it, but it’s also not the only way to retain talent.

By Chelsea Clarke

Talks of the four-day work week have been making the rounds on social media and company blog posts, with CEOs singing its praises for the employee trust and freedom implications the scheduling can build, and job seekers competing for employment with the companies that adhere to it.

And statistics from trials are backing up those feelings. Earlier this year, 4 Day Week Global released data from its pilot program showing that 90% of employees said they’d like that schedule to continue, with 71% of employees reporting less burnout and 73% of employees were more generally satisfied in their lives. Retention also saw a boost, with the number of staff leaving companies during the pilot falling 57%.

This setup sounds like paradise, but is it really as easy as nixing a day on the weekly schedule? Not so fast, say experts.

Lexi Pathak, president of Faulhaber Communications, has some questions about how to keep meeting clients’ needs. “As an agency we are a service provider, and there are concerns around having a different work schedule than our clients,” she says. “We prioritize being there for our clients and always showing up as a true partner, but if the client is working and needs something on a Friday and doesn’t have access to their account team, it could cause friction.”

Additionally, there’s no way around losing out on potentially billable time, and squeezing more hours of productivity into a tighter schedule. “When we discussed launching a pilot at Faulhaber Communications, some of the concerns addressed by our management team included fitting the work into less time and the associated stress on our team because of that,” she says. “Creativity and collaboration could also take a hit with people forced to do the same output of work in less hours.”

For an initiative that aims to reduce burnout, the elephant in the room is how to cram all those work hours into a shorter timeframe – and what that’ll mean for profits. “The drawbacks include less productivity and profitability,” says David Joe, business consultant and author of It’s Not Business, It’s Personal: On Seeing Your People and What They Need. “Despite what research in other countries tells us, and how some business owners are all for this approach, the numbers just don’t pan out for the businesses.”

He continues, “To be successful as a business owner, you have to have three things working for you: cash flow, profitability and ease of operations. If you lose 20 percent of the work, it will be very difficult to recoup that productivity time. Depending on the business, you may not get employees’ full focus on their work when they’re on the job for the typical 40 hours. We’re a distracted society. The thought is that employees will be thankful for the extra time off the job and be more efficient with their 32 hours of work, but I don’t believe it will pan out that way and the bottom line suffers,” he says.

Admittedly, this sounds bleak. But there are important benefits to consider that may set a business apart. “A four-day work week allows people more time with their friends, family and/or personal time, which results in a more engaged team,” says Pathak. “There are countless studies that show that personal relationships drive happiness and health, and that engagement increases when people are happy.” Pathak and Joe both note that there are HR benefits such as team retention and satisfaction, as well as creating a boosted labour force and competition for jobs.

So how can companies implement this scheduling and reap the benefits without harming the bottom line? Strategically, according to our experts.

“A company would need to increase efficiencies across all non-billable time to dramatically reduce the hours spent on non-billable work each week, digitize more processes and reduce time spent in meetings,” says Pathak.

Joe agrees. “There would have to be more systems, processes, policies, procedures, benchmarks and accountability in place,” he says, also noting that standards of performance would need to be raised.

But if it’s not the right time to introduce the four-day work week, there are still ways to entice and retain talent outside of it. “Our company and industry already do a lot to entice and retain talent, from robust vacation packages, flexible work schedules, to fun culture and team building activities,” says Pathak. “One of the best ways to retain talent is to drive loyalty. Building interpersonal relationships through mutual trust, providing stretch opportunities, and celebrating the work, should all be a priority. One thing I could see more companies exploring is employee-wide profit sharing as financial rewards will always have an impact.”

Aiming to give back and reward employees is a sound strategy – whether financially or otherwise, according to Joe. “Incentive programs work well to attract and retain employees,” he says. “Plus, with the new generation of workers, we know they are motivated by companies that match their value systems. Being public and upfront about what you stand for and holding to those values can keep workers feeling good about the work they are doing.”

He also notes that there’s always room to inspire when it comes to how upper management conducts themselves. “Having leaders who are visible and take their work personally, who are invested in their employees and create a culture of caring about their people, will retain talent. People want to be heard.”

As for Pathak, she says Faulhaber Communications has not yet decided on the four-day work week, but that it is something she is personally an advocate for and hopes to pilot in the future.

Is a four-day work week all it’s cracked up to be?