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Ready for a 4-Day Workweek?

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Did you know that up until 1926, the typical American workweek included 53 hours and six days of work? Henry Ford was the first to announce a shift to a five-day, 40-hour workweek and claimed the change increased productivity. “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege,” Ford said about his decision.

Thanks to technology, worker productivity has increased exponentially since Ford’s time. Perhaps that’s why four-day workweeks are starting to trend. Most of the companies jumping onboard are outside the U.S., but it’s catching on slowly and surely here, too.

Early adopters of the practice report lowered stress levels, a 20% increase in work-life balance, and a 20% increase in engagement among workers. As a result, they’ve seen improved employee retention, morale, and productivity. Even facility and operating costs can be reduced when fewer workdays are on the calendar. The state of Utah saved $1 million in operating costs when it gave a four-day workweek a try.

But beware of the pitfalls. Many employers choose a “crunch mode” option, fitting the same 40 hours into four days. These 10-hour workdays can lead to employee attrition when the decision isn’t balanced against factors like the need for extended childcare for employees with children and the increased risk of errors and mistakes being made because of exhaustion and stress due to overly long days.

Before choosing “crunch mode,” take a good, hard look at productivity in your workplace. A 2018 study reveals that more than half of full-time workers believe they can do their job in five hours a day if they didn’t have any interruptions.  Several studies back this up, showing that workers can’t effectively focus on a task for more than four or five hours at a time anyway. So how productive would 10-hour days be? Perhaps the length of time in the office can be effectively reduced as long as the quality of that time is protected. 

Among employers who allow work hours to also drop to 32 hours per week, some offer less pay to justify fewer hours. This can cause noticeable attrition, too, since employees are no longer making a full-time salary. Among U.S. workers, only 24% would gladly take a pay cut to work one less day each week. For most, the loss of income just isn’t worth it.

Weigh the pros against the cons when it comes to switching to a condensed workweek. It’s tricky to get it right but, if you do, you might be surprised at how much more your employees can do in less time.


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