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Is the United States close to following several other countries around the world in embracing the idea of a four-day workweek? Maybe. 

The American work culture has revolved around the 40-hour, five-day workweek for decades. For many, that culture has nurtured the concept that  your career defines who you are as a person. This focus on professional life supports the workaholic view of the U.S. that much of the world believes to be true.  

However, the pandemic has changed the employment landscape. Employees have been able to move away from their traditional work schedules and instead work from home with more flexible hours. Now could be the time – employment experts say – to introduce the four-day workweek to the U.S.

Momentum for the change is coming from several directions: progressive legislators, wellness experts, trade unions, and millennial business owners. Brooklyn-based company, Kickstarter, is initiating a pilot program that would allow its staff to work 32 hours a week, at no reduction in pay. Several other U.S. companies are developing similar pilot programs, ranging in workforce size from a couple of dozen to several hundred.

Their efforts are supported by numerous studies done abroad that show a four-day week doesn’t hurt worker productivity and actually improves worker wellness and job satisfaction. 

  • In Iceland, researchers tracked 2,500 workers over a four-year period who reduced their work hours to 35-36 hours a week and found that productivity remained the same or was improved, and employees had less stress and more work-life balance. In a recent article posted by USA Today, researchers said by the time the study was published in June 2021, more than 80 percent of Iceland’s workers were in jobs where the hours were shortened or were going to be shortened in the future. 
  • In Scotland, the country’s largest trade union is pushing government officials to help employees work fewer hours or go to a four-day workweek. A recent article by the Change Recruitment Group indicated several Scotland-based companies are joining Ireland in developing pilot programs.
  • According to the Baltimore Sun, New Zealand’s Prime Minister last year announced support for a four-day workweek, reasoning that the move would boost domestic tourism by giving workers more free time with family.

While the pandemic is fueling much of the shorter workweek discussion, technology is also playing a critical role in the argument. Zoom has transformed the concept of staff meetings so much over the last two years that, according to The Washington Post, many workers are finding that returning to the office isn’t much different than working from home. 

Employees say they stay on Zoom most of the day for business meetings. The proliferation of project management software has also improved productivity; fewer hours are devoted to major projects because employee teams work more efficiently.

Mathew Xavier, KGO’s Director of Innovation and Change, recently wrote that a four day work week would lead to tremendous benefits for employees, such as more flexibility, greater work/life balance, and greater trust in their organization. “Businesses can work into their consideration of how the 4 day work week can convert to an ROI to strengthen their brand and intellectual capital they are known for – thus making it a win-win for both the company and employees,” he said.

Despite the positive results from other countries and worker surveys and the encouraging perspective from employment experts, many believe the transition to a four-day workweek in the U.S. faces an uphill battle. 

Harvard Business School Professor David Yoffie, who has been on the board of several corporations including Intel Corp., said the concept won’t necessarily work for large companies. “For large corporate America, it wouldn’t fit the culture of expecting everyone to be available at any given point of time in highly competitive businesses where decisions need to be made quickly,” Yoffie told the paper. “Would it work at any company I’ve been on the board of, I don’t see it. It certainly doesn’t work for the senior executive team.”

The concept works best, he said, for small businesses or service industries.

So, what are the important factors to consider before taking your organization to a four-day workweek?

  • Set parameters for work hours. Will your employees work 32 hours in four days, or will they be expected to continue to work 40 hours, just 10 hours over four days?
  • One size doesn’t necessarily fit all, so your work schedule policy may need to reflect that. Employers will need to consider issues like how a new schedule will impact workers with small children in daycare, or employees who are going to school in their off-hours.
  • Help employees learn to be more focused as they work. A four-day week succeeds when workers remain focused and productive. Look for technological assistance in managing projects.
  • Corporate culture is important in any organization. But it is key when making such a significant change in how employees work. A culture of trust and accountability can be bolstered by utilizing key influencers in the organization and internal communities.
  • Don’t forget to determine the impact on customers. 
  • Business continuity is key. Keep the lines of communication open when talking about deadlines and deliverables.
  • Finally, be sure to talk through the changes with your employees and team members before final decisions are made. Let them ask questions and get feedback.

Would shorter hours work for your organization? What impact would it have on your employees, their productivity, and their work-life balance? It’s not a decision to be made lightly. KGO can provide the resources to not only help you make that change but help your organization navigate the process and come out the other side a stronger, more efficient business.