All companies can implement the four-day workweek. Here’s how.
Plus, Vimcal, the fastest calendar you’ll ever use.
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The four-day workweek: Can all companies implement it?
COVID is changing our lives in ways we previously thought unimaginable. For many, the thought of putting our health and lives at risk is enough to make us rethink our relationship with work, and some people are now fighting to regain their personal time.
The idea of having a job that allows you to live your life instead of having your job be your whole life is definitely catching on amongst the workforce. According to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), at least 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in September 2021, and we are facing what is known as “The Great Resignation.”
While the idea of a four-day workweek is not necessarily new, it has become trendy since quarantine. There are some countries, city governments, and both large and small companies trying out 4-day workweeks.
But is it feasible for all types of businesses? Let’s see!
What is a four-day workweek?
As the name suggests, it means limiting the number of days people work without reducing their salaries. And in return, companies get benefits like productivity, morale, and retention boosts. The technicalities can vary depending on the business, like working ten, eight, or even six hours a day, four days per week.
Centuries ago, work was almost completely manual. People needed to be at factories operating machinery, connecting cables so customers could call each other, or writing the news that was going to be shared in the next day’s paper by hand. Eventually, technology improved, and the need for manual work progressively reduced.
In the 1920s, Henry Ford made the decision to give his employees Saturdays and Sundays off, and the idea caught on.
At the time, there was a correlation between manpower and productivity. That is, how many things/products/widgets workers could produce in a certain amount of time. Today, we no longer need people manually operating machinery or connecting calls, so productivity should be measured differently. Instead of how many humans are needed to produce a certain amount of things in a period of time, we should be measuring the quality and efficiency of a worker completing a certain task?
Technology has evolved enormously but we’re still expecting everyone to work forty hours a week. And with automation of labor, it’s starting not to make sense anymore.
In the early twentieth century, economist John Maynard Keynes believed that technology would be so advanced in the future that people would only need to work for three hours a day, five days a week. Keynes wrote in his 1930 essay “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”:
We shall do more things for ourselves than is usual with the rich today, only too glad to have small duties and tasks and routines. But beyond this, we shall endeavor to spread the bread thin on the butter-to make what work there is still to be done to be as widely shared as possible. Three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the problem for a great while.
Keynes’s idea might still be too revolutionary but the prospect of a reduced workweek has already benefited many companies. The world is changing, and we need to start treating the four-day workweek like a real possibility. Let’s explore what it would mean to implement it.
The benefits and drawbacks of a reduced work schedule.
As with every meaningful decision we make in life, it has its tradeoffs. The four-day workweek is no exception.
Among the benefits of a reduced schedule, studies have shown that working fewer days per week:
Reduces stress levels. Iceland launched a trial of shortened working hours for 1% of its working population from 2015 to 2017. The study concluded that “Symptoms of stress were reduced for workers at Icelandic Government workplaces that cut hours of work, while control workplaces saw no change.”
Boosts productivity or leaves it unharmed. The recruitment firm MRL Consulting Group tested this out for six months starting in March 2019. The results showed that they “saw productivity levels increase by one-quarter (25%).”
Pushes employee retention. MRL Consulting firm also reported that they had “seen 95% staff retention since piloting a four-day working week.”
Furthers innovation. Some studies show that employees found ways to innovate in their roles (fewer meetings, process automation, etc.) when given the opportunity to switch to a four-day workweek. “By encouraging new time-saving methods, employees are more likely to think up newer and better productivity hacks,” explains Fast Company.
Increases morale. Since employees have more time for themselves and find ways to be more productive, they feel happier and more engaged at work, explains India Times's Basit Aijaz.
Reduces facilities costs. If you’re back at the office, either partly or full time, your bills for electricity, water, and supplies (coffee, snacks, etc.) might be reduced by almost 20% a month.
Increases perception of work-life balance. The Perpetual Guardian is a financial and estate management firm based in New Zealand that tested out the idea of a four-day workweek in 2018. They concluded that “24% more employees felt they could successfully balance their work and personal lives,” as reported by Fast Company.
The disadvantages of this novel concept have more to do with the type of company or business that you run, more than the idea itself.
Adjusting shifts and schedules. If you have a business that’s open from Monday to Friday, you may not want to change your operating hours, but you’ll likely need to reorganize your team’s schedules.
Reduced work hours. If your employees are already swamped with work, a four-day workweek will only make matters worse. If you’re willing to implement a reduced schedule, you need to make sure your organization is well structured to handle it or be willing to rearrange deadlines and priorities accordingly.
People may want to work more hours. Workers may ignore the new reduced schedule and continue working the same amount of hours.
As you can see, the disadvantages often relate to the type of business you run, and the success will depend mostly on the effort you’re willing to put in to make it work. Also, there’s a common misconception that the four-day workweek only applies to software companies or startups, and that’s not necessarily true.
What type of companies can have a four-day workweek?
I’ve heard many people say that they wish their company would implement a four-day workweek, but they have the belief that this new work schedule is only applicable to software companies or startups. That simply does not hold true.
Galyn Bernard, Primary’s co-founder, told The New York Times, “I definitely think everyone could do it. No question.” Primary is a clothing brand for kids, pups, and grownups that recently announced they were formalizing the four-day workweek. They tested it out during quarantine and discovered their employees came back energized from the weekend and saw their attrition rate levels drop by 7%.
I reviewed over thirty companies that implemented a four-day workweek, either as a trial, for a season (e.g., summer hours), or as a permanent change. While the majority of those companies are indeed software startups, there are all types of businesses that have tested this out and found successful results.
Grocery stores, fine dining and fast-food restaurants, and client-facing companies have also implemented four-day workweeks. Maaemo (a Michelin star restaurant in Oslo), Shake Shack (the American fast-food chain), and Morrisons (a UK-based grocery store) are some of the examples.
My takeaway is that the implementation depends solely on how much money and time a business is willing to invest to make this experiment work. You’ll probably need to hire more people, bring on an external advisor, rethink your strategy a few times, and take time to work on the culture shift.
Studies have shown that moving to a four-day workweek will help you improve your employee retention, which often correlates to spending less money and time on training new hires. And that’s no small amount. According to the Training Industry Report, in 2020, companies spent an average of $1,111 training each employee.
According to the JOLTS, the average attrition rate for the nondurable goods industry in 2020 was 48.3%. Let’s use Primary as an example here. According to Craft, they have 55 employees. So, if we assume they have the average attrition rate of their industry, and that they spend an average amount of money training employees, in 2020, they would have spent around $30,000 training new employees. If their attrition rate dropped by 7% this year, they’d be saving around $5,000 in training costs.
It may sound like a small amount, but that’s just because they’re a small company. A recent Gallup report estimated that millennial turnover costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually. Reducing attrition by previously mentioned 7% would reduce turnover costs by approximately $2.1 billion.
As mentioned, all kinds of industries can implement this reduced work schedule. However, here are some considerations to take into account:
Having your employees work four days a week doesn’t necessarily mean that your business/company needs to operate on a reduced schedule as well. You can work with management to set personal schedules for your employees without changing your open hours.
Give yourself the liberty to test it out. Nothing is written in stone. Run a trial, see how it goes, fix the mistakes, and try it out again until you find a formula that works for you.
Embrace the mindset shift. It’s normal to enjoy well-known things and to be fixated with the way it’s always been, but this new way of work is changing the industry, and you can be part of the change if you allow yourself to think differently.
Make sure your leadership is engaged. One of the key things that will make the four-day workweek successful in your company is having your leadership team completely sold on the idea. For the four-day workweek to succeed, leadership should push for the culture change. They should set the tone and expressly say that they don’t expect people to work or send work-related messages on their days off..
Be clear on expectations, work guidelines, and processes. The clearer you can be, the better your employees will feel about the change, and the smoother the transition will be.
If you still need a little more inspiration, these are some companies that either tested or announced that they’re permanently adopting a four-day workweek.
How to implement a four-day workweek?
The magic of this new way of working lies in its novelty. There are no written rules to follow or norms to abide by. As such, we have the ability to write the rules as we go. Guidelines based on how other companies have done it are available, but we also have the freedom to choose how we want to implement change. And all massive change requires time, research, trials, edits, and relaunches.
In fact, if you review the infographic I shared above, you’ll see that some companies implementing a shorter workweek changed their working hours to 32 or even to 45 a week — I know it sounds weird to increase working hours, but as mentioned, there are no hard rules. Your decision will need to make sense within the context of your business.
Prior to implementation, it’s important that the entire leadership team is committed to making this happen and that everyone can assess the different areas that will be impacted by the change.
For a four-day workweek to be successful, leaders must shift their mindsets to value actual productivity, not just hours worked. They must ensure that employees aren’t worried they will be penalized for prioritizing work-life balance, and that starts with modeling a healthier work-life balance themselves.
The pandemic has shown us that people can get their work done while simultaneously prioritizing their personal lives and well-being. To this end, evaluating your team upon objectives is a great mindset shift when it comes to implementing a four-day workweek.
Whillans and Lockhart also share some questions that employees will naturally have when transitioning to a reduced workweek. It is crucial to think of the answers before running a trial or implementing any permanent changes:
How many hours will they work in a day? How many days?
Which days or hours are they going to take off? Will everyone have the same days off? How will that impact communication and synergy?
What things do they need to do to avoid impacting their clients, stakeholders, and customers negatively?
How will they be measured for productivity?
How long will they test this out? (If it’s a trial)
Will their salary or benefits be impacted?
Make sure you have all of the answers beforehand. You do not want people working extra hours or reducing their lunch breaks just to comply with the new policy. If that happens, you might need to have conversations about how to reduce individual workloads or change the priority on their tasks so they can comply with the new work schedule.
Reducing the amount of time we spend at work seems inevitable for the future. Are you ready to get on the bandwagon?
Edited by: Lauren Maslen.
The frustration with productivity culture - We all need to get things done, but somehow the word “productivity” has become a trigger word for many. The expectation that we need to be productive no matter what can be frustrating. Cal Newport proposes a different way to approach productivity in this article in The New Yorker.
The 10 commandments of salary negotiation - I don’t know who told us that talking about money was something to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about, but times are changing. Nowadays, you can (and should) always negotiate your salary. In this issue of Lenny’s Newsletter, Niya Dragova shares 10 commandments to follow when negotiating your salary.
Do You Feel a Lack of Meaning at Work? You Could be Languishing - Languishing can make you feel numb, as if nothing is exciting enough to make you enjoy your life or work. If this feeling sounds familiar, check out this article by the Harvard Business Review which shares three steps to evolve from languishing to flourishing.
Hundreds of Ways to Get S#!+ Done—and We Still Don’t - Google “to-do list app” and you’ll find tons of products. Most apps have a free version ready for you to use, organize your tasks and improve your productivity levels. But the truth is that they rarely work as great as you want them to. WIRED contributor Clive Thompson brings up an intriguing argument in this article: we’re not good at assessing how much time we have left, and we commit ourselves to several tasks that we’ll never get to. It’s an interesting and introspective read.
Vimcal is a calendar app that claims to be the fastest and most streamlined calendar you’ll ever use. Its fully-integrated interface allows you to sync booking links with your calendar, send invites with converted time zones and more. Watch the Product Hunt review here.
We’ve all probably suffered from imposter syndrome at least once in our lives. This tweet is a great example of how pervasive the feeling can be. Even if we don’t believe it at the time, we are more valuable than what our minds are telling us. A great way to combat imposter syndrome is to objectively review all the things you’ve accomplished to try and feel better about where you are right now.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
How hustle culture can crush your soul, and how to fix it. - Burnout, or generalized exhaustion, is often caused by hustling or working excessively. Read this issue to know how to recover from it without quitting your job and how to help others prevent it.
Performance management systems: a beginner’s guide. - Managing your employees’ performance is crucial to having an engaged and results-oriented company. Learn about Management by Objectives (MBO), Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) from ProductiveGrowth’s September issue.
Is Life Better When You’re Busy? - We love the idea of being busy. While we often use it as an excuse, many of us actually love having several things to do at all times. That said, being too busy can lead to burnout, so we need to understand how to navigate busyness throughout our lives. In this piece, author Scott Young explains why it feels so good to be busy and how to make the most of our busy lives.
FOOD CURIOSITIES & ADVENTURES
If you’re used to melons being just another inexpensive fruit to buy at the grocery store, you may have never heard of the Yubari King melon. While reminiscent of a cantaloupe, this Japanese melon can be as expensive as a car and is not easy to find. It’s known for its characteristic sweetness and perfectly round and smooth skin.
The Yubari King melon is graded according to four different levels of sweetness, and according to Taste Atlas, “some melons can even be rejected if they are too sweet or not sweet enough.”
The melons are planted in February and are usually “grown in volcanic ash soil in greenhouses.” They can be sold for over $25,000.
If it weren’t for the price, I’d think this was the cantaloupe Kramer was going crazy for in this Seinfeld episode.
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