Who doesn’t love a three-day weekend? For a majority of people, taking a long weekend every single week is a dream come true, with 66% of workers saying they’d like to work a shortened workweek.
Employers, meanwhile, are less enthusiastic. Even as the coronavirus pandemic upends many aspects of work-life, the traditional five-day workweek continues its stronghold. In 2020, just 69 out of every 10,000 job listings offered a condensed work week as a perk.
But just as the pandemic alleviated any reservations about remote work productivity, so too did it prove the case for the four-day workweek. In fact, by shrinking the workweek down to four days, employers might see greater upside than they would assume.
The 4-day work week in action
Though companies with four-day workweek policies are indeed still outliers, a closer look at the performance of those that have this perk is an exercise in busting misconceptions.
If you think less time at work equals less work getting done, consider what happened when Microsoft Japan tried closing its offices on Fridays. Not only did the shortened week not result in lower productivity, but work output actually surged. Compared with the same time period a year earlier, productivity actually increased by a whopping 40%. (If you’re doing the math, that’s the equivalent of two extra workdays each week.)
At Perpetual Guardian, a financial services company in New Zealand, productivity also increased, and so did employees’ feelings of having a good work-life balance. Meanwhile, work stress decreased by 27%.
Why 4 days doesn’t mean less work
It’s not difficult to understand employers’ resistance to a shorter workweek. After all, less time in the office (or working from home) logically should mean that less gets done. But as the above examples demonstrate, that’s not what happens when many businesses switch to shorter weeks.
If this seems like an impossible conundrum, consider the following: over the course of a typical workday, the average employee doesn’t even clock a full three hours of work (according to one survey, the average employee only achieves two hours and 53 minutes of productive time each day).
What happens to the rest of the day? Lots of wasted time: coffee breaks, trips to the bathroom, chats with coworkers, and so on. While some of this waste is difficult to eliminate—employees need the occasional break—some of it can be reduced or even eliminated thanks to better technology, tools, and innovations such as automation.
For example, the average employee loses an hour each day simply switching between essential business apps, lost time that could be reduced with better tech integrations. By eliminating low-value tasks, employers can quickly gain back valuable time. And these gains add up to much more than just minutes and hours.
Four key benefits of a 4-day work week
If ever there was a natural win-win scenario, the four-day workweek is it. While the appeal to employees is pretty obvious, a tightened workweek offers major benefits for employers too.
1. Increased productivity: As the Microsoft and Perpetual Guardian examples reveal, shortening the workweek can actually boost employee productivity.
Though this may seem paradoxical, consider that it’s the workweek—and not the workload—that’s being reduced. In order to enjoy more time off, employees still have to fit all of the requirements of their job into a four-day week, often via increased efficiency. As well, an extra day off each week gives employees more time to recharge, so they’ll have more energy and motivation when they are on the job.
2. Talent attraction: Flexible and compressed workweeks rank as the top two employee perks that are attractive to workers, according to a survey by recruitment firm Robert Half. But there’s a significant gap in the number of employees who want these benefits and the rate of employers who offer them. Until the four-day workweek becomes the norm, companies that are early to adopt abbreviated workweeks may see an edge against the competition when it comes to recruiting top talent.
3. Lower employee turnover: Another paradox of shorter workweeks? They result in higher employee engagement. This in turn paves the way to other key benefits for employers. Namely, their workforce may experience lower rates of absenteeism and up to 59% less turnover. Not only can companies that enact four-day workweeks better retain talent, but in doing so, they’ll also save money on recruitment and onboarding costs.
4. Lower costs: The cost of losing and replacing employees (between 50% and 250% of a worker’s total salary) is just one of the ways traditional five-day workweeks can tax businesses. The cost of simply keeping the lights on (and the office clean and well-stocked) an extra day each week adds up to 52 extra days, or 10.5 extra work weeks, per year. For many businesses looking to cut operating budgets without impacting productivity, switching to a four-day workweek could be low-hanging fruit.
Are shorter workweeks the future of work?
While it’s hard to know whether compressed workweeks will ever truly take hold across the modern workplace, there are clear upsides for businesses willing to give the notion a try. When it comes to the four-day work week, both employees and employers can see clear and fast benefits. There’s also a middle ground for companies not yet ready to commit to doing away with five-day weeks—whether it’s allowing remote work one day a week or other types of flexibility, such scenarios can be a win for all.
No matter what work arrangement business leaders choose in the future of work, unified communications play a pivotal role in its success. Remote and flexible work is accelerating fast (compounded by COVID-19), and employees need to access collaboration essentials wherever they choose to work from.
Unified communications solutions combine team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone into a single platform, giving employees a central hub for all collaboration. By keeping technology stacks integrated, simple, and accessible, employers have everything they need to usher in a new era of productivity.
Learn more about unified communications in the post, “How unified communications prepares you for the future of remote work.”
Originally published Sep 01, 2020