Flexible work is a hot trend in the world of work right now. Remote work and flex schedules have been widely adopted throughout the pandemic and it’s clear workers want those programs to stay. In fact, 25 percent of people say the main reason they would consider leaving their jobs is for better work-life balance (second only to compensation). These sentiments have made employers consider other non-traditional perks including the four day workweek.
One Sapling customer implemented a four day workweek a couple of months ago as an experiment. With team members based across the United States and Canada, the 50 person company in the Design industry lets all team members now work four days a week for the same rate of pay instead of the usual 5 day workweek. The result of this experiment so far includes increased productivity and happier team members.
If you’re considering a similar move, here’s what you need to know about getting started.
Find the right structure for your organization
There are many different ways to structure a four day work week in order to meet your organization’s and team’s needs. Carefully consider your options to determine which, if any, is right for your organization.
Here are some of the most common approaches:
1. Compressed work week
Some companies offer a compressed, or condensed, work week in which team members have four, 10 hour workdays.
Boulder County Clerk and Recorder uses this structure to offer expanded public access hours between 7:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. With this schedule, they can enable residents to come into their office before heading to work themselves. They can also allot time for team members to handle email and phone communications outside of public access hours.
Other companies may stagger team member schedules to ensure coverage, perhaps with some team members working Monday through Thursday and others working Tuesday through Friday.
2. Reduced hours
Rather than maintaining a 40-hour workweek across four days, some organizations allow team members to work eight or nine hour days. This may be associated with a pay reduction—though many companies choose not to change compensation at all.
Iceland ran two large-scale trials where they reduced the workweek to 35-36 hours without reducing pay. They found that productivity and service provision was maintained or improved, and team members’ wellbeing and work-life balance improved.
This can be a great model for knowledge workers, who may lose focus throughout a longer workday. But it can be less than ideal for employers who need a certain amount of coverage. For example, a 24-hour call center would need to hire additional people if they reduced their team members’ work hours.
Another common approach is to offer a four day workweek every other week with a 9/80 schedule. This may also be called a 5/4/9 schedule. With this structure, team members work 80 hours over nine days, and get an extra day off. This typically entails working eight nine-hour days and one eight-hour day in each pay period.
4. Summer Fridays
The “Summer Fridays” approach became popular in New York City, where many people get out of town on the weekends in summer to escape the heat. It’s now growing in popularity, and many American companies offer four day workweeks in the summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Basecamp is one such company, offering Fridays off for all team members between May 1 and August 31 each year.
Of course, this policy can extend to any season. For example, a winter sports company might offer “Winter Fridays” to allow team members to get ahead of weekend crowds and traffic on the mountain. Or a tax accounting company may offer four day workweeks only outside of their busy tax season.
5. Part-time work
Many team members struggling with work-life balance could benefit from shorter work days and workweeks. Consider allowing part-time work or job sharing, while still offering benefits and opportunities for advancement. This could help you keep team members in the workforce who might otherwise leave, such as parents with young children or those close to retirement age.
Update your policies
There’s much to consider when implementing a four day workweek, so make sure to think through how to make it work at your organization. Then update your documented policies to ensure it can be clearly communicated and consistently applied.
You may want to include these key details about your four day workweek program:
- Schedule. Outline your mandated schedule, or the options available. For example, you may allow team members to choose between a 40-hour, five day workweek or a compressed schedule. And you may decide that team members taking advantage of a compressed schedule can only take Fridays or Mondays off.
- Eligibility. Clearly define whether every team member is eligible, or only some people. If the latter, specify which team members are eligible, and when. For example, eligibility may be based on job function, tenure, or worksite. Also note whether a four day workweek must be approved, and how.
- Compensation. Let team members know if a four day workweek will impact their compensation, and how.
- Timeline. Note the timeline for your trial period or seasonal four day workweek, if applicable. Also note if there is any variability in which days can be taken off, and whether they can be changed from week to week.
- Holiday and paid time off. Be clear about how holidays and other paid time off affect four day workweeks. For example, what happens if a holiday falls on a Monday but your team members usually get Fridays off work? Or if an employee takes two consecutive weeks off work, should they include eight or 10 days in their vacation pay?
- Credit hours. Note whether unused time off under this policy can accrue. For example, if a team member works five days in a given week to meet a deadline, can they work three days the following week? Can days be saved over time and used all at once?
Consider running a trial
Even with a tremendous amount of foresight, you may find you need to make adjustments to your four day workweek over time to get it right. A trial is a great way to work out the kinks before you commit to your structure and policy.
For example, Buffer ran a month-long experiment in May 2020, that they later extended to a pilot through the end of the year. The initial goal was to improve employee wellbeing, and they found that the experiment resulted in higher autonomy, lower stress levels, and higher work happiness. The pilot was designed to focus on Buffer’s long-term success and gather more data on how the program would impact productivity and well-being over a longer period of time. The pilot revealed the need to further define their reduced-hours work week, determine how to handle holidays, and figure out how to make the program work for their customer advocacy team. They’ve since made some necessary adjustments and have decided to continue the program.
A longer trial may help you uncover important insights of your own, and build a stronger program that’s set up to succeed. For example, you may find you need to make a more concerted effort to encourage team bonding events, minimize meetings, or automate manual processes.
The four day workweek has many benefits to team members and employers. Employees with a four day workweek are happier, healthier, and less stressed. Employers say productivity has improved, they see fewer sick days, they’re saving costs, and they’re able to attract and retain the right talent. With so much upside, and the potential for little to no downside, this perk may continue to become more popular in our new world of work.