Companies have flirted with the idea of a four-day workweek for years. While the pandemic and Great Resignation have brought the concept back into the limelight, we still know very few US organizations that have successfully tested this concept. For decades, Europeans have realized the promise of midday siestas, espresso breaks and higher happiness rates.
We have managed to achieve a different type of work-life balance by implementing a four-day workweek, which I introduced to the company in 2015. That is a 32-hour week compensated at the market value of 40-hour weeks – not 40 hours crammed into four, 10-hour days. The goals for doing this were twofold: protecting work-life balance for employees while maximizing productivity during working hours.
Drivers behind implementation
Get ahead of burnout – The tech sector, specifically the Software-as-a-Service industry, is known for rapidly growing startups. These environments attract employees with high commitment and high-performing skills. However, this environment’s pace and pressure contribute to burnout among these talented employees. This churn renders a high personal cost for those who experience burnout while high turnover delivers a serious blow to the organization, squashing momentum. A four-day workweek addresses the high-stress environment of a startup, with ample downtime for personal renewal, so that an individual’s drive is sustained over time.
Address the Great Resignation – Employees have the upper hand in this labor market and they know it. Our four-day workweek is appealing to any candidate and we’re happy to use it to capture the best talent.
Category innovation – When we started the company, we knew that we were building something new, filling a gap to help enterprises uncover opportunities they don’t know exist. A four-day work week was necessary to support this lofty ambition because it sustains the rapid speed that our team must work to fulfill this goal. A new product category can take 10 to 15 years to build out, so we wanted to ensure we were also developing a work culture that could go the distance. Our focus was to foster a sustainable, supercharged work environment.
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Here’s the proof that our 4-day workweek boosts performance
It’s been seven years now that we have worked on the four-day model, and our experience is that this approach is highly effective in driving productivity. Our research shows that employees don’t waste time, that higher productivity means more significant business growth, and that being human-centric leads to retention.
Employees don’t waste time – Everything works better because everyone is committed. People are not wasting time on social media. We avoid unnecessary, unproductive meetings. (Yes, it’s true! Most meetings can just be an email.) The shorter workweek creates a clarifying urgency to the four working days, which makes productivity extremely high.
High productivity means bigger business – In a four-day workweek, aggressive business goals do not change; they just get done differently. Achieving this requires the entire team to work differently, but the high value of knowing you have three days off can be a self-sustaining motivator and contribute to a high-value, high-retention culture. As a result, we’ve evolved our capabilities and now work with some of the world’s largest enterprises.
Human-centric means retention and growth – We believe that in order to create a platform that serves humans well, we need to live and work as ourselves humans. We’re living longer, working time is longer and with retirement ages getting pushed out, people need to be taken care of if we want to go the distance and get the best from everyone. This means placing more focus on our employees’ mental and physical well-being. Many organizations provide for the physical health of employees, but investment in the mental well-being of employees has lagged. Our organization maintains a full-time therapist and a professional coach on staff, available to all employees at no cost, in an effort to remove the stigma of mental health needs and encourage holistic human wellness.
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How your organization can make this permanent
How can companies adopt this model? Making a four-day workweek make financial sense for the business relies heavily on the following practices:
Involve your people in the decision-making process – To really make this work, your people need to buy in to what you’re trying to achieve. It takes a combined effort and a continuous improvement attitude to embed this kind of change in an organization.
Hire well – This model is high-paced, requires discipline and is not for everyone. There is no time for micromanagement.
Invest organizational in protocols and tools – Synchronous platforms like Slack can serve you well but they can also take up time and be distracting. Invest in effective communication tools and create norms of engagement for them. Employees set organizational protocols for what to communicate where, and which tools are crucial to remaining aligned, efficient and productive.
Create thoughtful four-day schedules – Some teams/employees may work a different four days. Determine which teams need to work which days, according to the needs of your business.
Celebrate the value of the 5th day – This encourages the cultural value around the practice, and serves as an organic enforcement to remain highly productive during the workweek to conserve the value of that fifth day. We frequently celebrate individual interests, personal events, community service and more.
Five-day weeks do (rarely) happen, but if the four-day week fails consistently, that’s a management failure. There will be times when a five-day workweek is unavoidable, but this should be a rare exception. If it isn’t, you will lose the value of employee commitment and buy-in. And if those five days are needed, figure out a proper reward, such as comp time, once the business need has been met.
Two years ago, virtually overnight, companies around the world switched to accommodate home working – something many of them will have told their employees for years that they couldn’t accommodate. Now, people’s eyes are open to what’s possible in terms of different ways of working. While others are wrestling with how to accommodate hybrid models and return to work, the rhythm of production our four-day workweek affords is simply better suited to allow for the level of work-life balance that workers everywhere are now demanding.