The pros, cons, and potential best practices of a 4-day work week


It’s just one of the many ways companies are trying to get creative to attract top talent without a wage bidding war.

For millions of Americans, the past two years have represented an opportunity to realize a long-held dream: remote work. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced skeptical companies to shift to widespread work-from-home arrangements in a bid to stem the spread of the disease among co-workers huddled together for 8 or more hours a day.

While some companies are eager to bring staff back to the office, others have announced permanent or at least indefinite remote, hybrid and flexible working arrangements.

Remote work is a great option for some employees or organizations, but not necessarily all. There are still plenty of workers who prefer to go to the office, and full-time employees still have to work 5 days a week, even if it’s from the comfort of their home office, couch, or even bed.

Movement towards a 4-day work week?

But working life has the potential to become even more idyllic for employees in America’s largest state economy. Like Katherine Bindley written for The Wall Street Journal, California is considering shortening the length of the workweek for large employers. “A proposal from the California State Legislature would set the state workweek at 32 hours, not 40, for large corporations,” she wrote. According to JD Suprathe applicable legislation, Assembly Bill 2932, has stalled in the California State Legislature, reportedly due to lawmakers’ desire to spend more time studying the impacts of the proposal, which could affect more than 2 000 companies.

The mere fact that California is seriously considering such a significant bill has surely caught the attention of business leaders and observers. We reached out to industry experts to gauge their opinion on the potential impact of a 4-day work week on employees, employers and the economy in general.

Well rested staff

One of the main arguments in favor of a 4-day work week is that such a change will lead to more relaxed, happy and well-rested employees. Well-rested employees are happy employees, they say. And happy employees work harder, show more initiative, and are less likely to leave than unhappy employees.

“Happy employees will work harder, but not in the way that means physically demanding,” says Andrei Vasilescu, co-founder and CEO of DontPayFull. “They’ll probably be more creative and resourceful because they go to work happy. Disgruntled employees work hard to stay under the radar. They work as little as possible, but just enough to meet their expectations. This is not the team that an employer wants to have in his company. An extra day off will result in more rested, recharged and happy staff. »

Better efficiency?

The first thing many employers think of when they hear proposals for a 4-day work week is that they expect productivity to drop by 20%. After all, employees who work 32 hours a week instead of 40 hours a week work 20% less.

Is the boost in morale and initiative foreseen by Vasilescu likely to materialize and, if so, will it translate into an increase in productivity that can compensate for the drop in the number of hours worked?

It is really impossible to give a definitive answer to this question that will be valid for all companies. Some organizations may find that the increased productivity of employees delighted with the shorter workweek more than offsets the drop in hours worked, some may find that productivity has remained essentially the same and fewer hours means fewer of work, and others may even find that their workers slack off more in a shorter week and are actually less productive on an hourly basis than when they worked longer hours.

“Because no two companies are the same, there’s no right answer to determining if a four-day workweek is a good fit for your business,” says AJ Silberman Moffitt, managing editor for Tandem Buzz. “Think about your employees, your customers and your product or service. Do you need people available five days a week? Do you have enough staff to ensure that there is always at least one person in the office during the work week? Do your teams have to work together on the same days, or can they work independently of each other, or whether one person is in the office and another is out? You need to think about all the scenarios and situations to determine if this type of work schedule might work for your business.

Each company will have to determine for itself how feasible such an arrangement is for its own company. The uncertainty surrounding these impacts is a key reason California’s legislative proposal has stalled so far.

Restructuring schedules

Aside from concerns about total productivity, perhaps the biggest downside of moving to a 4-day workweek is logistics. “The downside of a four-day work week is that it could take a lot of operational restructuring to ensure that all weekly projects and tasks are completed in four days instead of five,” says Ray Blakney, CEO and co-founder of Live language. “Another downside is that one of your customers may need help with something on a day when your business is no longer open for business, which can frustrate them.”

Companies have internally developed complex schedules based on a 5-day work week. Some teams have meetings every Monday, while others may have cross-functional meetings every other Wednesday. Companies may also have recurring meetings with external stakeholders, such as partners, suppliers, and customers. Even agreeing on staff 32 hours or 4 days can be tricky if they need to be there at the same time, but they have different preferences at the moment.

Despite the existence of this potential logistical challenge, it is unlikely to be an insurmountable obstacle. Companies update schedules continuously in response to scheduling conflicts for key personnel, employee vacations, and corporate holidays. To the extent that logistics would be an issue in a 4-day work week, it would likely be temporary as organizations adjust to the new reality.

Everything about the labor market

Less than 15 years ago, it would have been laughable to suggest a mandatory 4-day work week. Back then, in the midst of the Great Recession, employers had many desperate job seekers to choose from. But, the tables have completely changed over the past year, and now the employees have the power.

Whether or not California or any other state, local, or federal government mandates a shorter workweek, many companies are already experimenting with 4-day working weeks. It’s just one of the many ways companies are trying to get creative to attract top talent without a wage bidding war.

Even in California’s state of the art labor law, skepticism and hesitation remains about the impact of moving to a 4-day work week. It seems unlikely that other states will take the plunge before the Golden State. However, the current bargaining power of employees relative to employers could force the hand of some companies with or without a government mandate.

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