A few decades ago, when my son was born, I asked my manager if I could alter my schedule for a while to put in four 10-hour days each week and get an extra day off. She said she’d give it a try, and we agreed to keep it on the down-low; after all, there was no company policy allowing stressed-out new parents such a perk.
I can say that third day off each week saved my sanity over those first few months of parenthood, and the experiment may have become my new norm. Unfortunately, one Friday afternoon a division president called looking for me. Our department assistant said, “Oh, Friday is his day off.” Screeeeech. End of the four-day workweek experiment.
Here we are 27 years later, and the four-day workweek may now become the next big thing. A recent study in the United Kingdom followed the experiences of 2,500 workers in 61 organizations across various industries who changed their schedules to work four days a week versus five. The researchers found that the change increased team members’ happiness, reduced stress and burnout, and did not hurt productivity. Employees reported feeling less stressed and overwhelmed and said they were better able to manage their workloads. Stress, of course, is a major contributor to poor mental health and can lead to physical health problems.
For organizations looking for ways to increase employee commitment and morale while also maintaining the value created by their team members, the researchers found some interesting results. Most of the companies taking part said they were happy with their teams’ productivity and performance. Some 23 provided financial revenue data, and those showed financials had remained strong over the six months of the trial.
The study was organized by 4 Day Week Global and research organization Autonomy, and conducted by researchers from Boston College and the University of Cambridge. Said Juliet Schor from Boston College, “We know that on a variety of metrics, whether we’re talking about revenue, [workforce] attrition, self-reports of productivity, employee well-being and costs, we had really good results.”
For workers, the experiment produced positive outcomes as well. People reported being better able to concentrate while at work and having more energy to complete tasks. They said the increased time off allowed them to rest and recharge, leading to increased motivation and creativity when they returned to work. A compressed workweek also improved work-life harmony. Employees reported feeling more able to spend time with family and friends, were pursuing more hobbies and outside interests, and enjoyed life outside work more. These are all reasons why more employees are keen to try out this way of working. In a separate survey of 2,000 US employees conducted by The Workforce Institute, 82 percent said they would be interested in a four-day workweek.
While there may be concerns about the practicalities of implementing this new way of working based on industry and customer needs, more leaders may become more open to giving the idea a shot after seeing the results of the UK study as well as other recent findings. A study by the New Economics Foundation found a shorter workweek can lead to a range of benefits including lower greenhouse gas emissions, increased gender equality, and improved mental health. And a report by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions found that workers in Denmark, which has one of the shortest workweeks in Europe, reported higher levels of life satisfaction and work-life harmony.
While the challenges of offering more flexibility in scheduling may mean this idea might not be easily implemented in every industry, there is growing evidence that rethinking the 9-to-5, five-day workweek in creative ways might become a wave of the future—one that just might benefit employees and employers.