Six businesses that have moved to a four-day working week (and what they found)
We have all read the HR headlines when yet another press release announces the introduction of a four-day week. What we never get to see if how things really worked out. Why did they do it, and was it a success?
There is overwhelming evidence that the key to attracting and retaining talent today is through greater benefits and a guaranteed enhanced work/life balance. This study from Know Your Money of 2,000 UK workers found 75% were in favor of working over four days instead of five. This isn’t really a surprise, after all, who wouldn’t want to work fewer days for the same pay. Across Europe, there’s even an expectation that it will become commonplace as technology helps to increase productivity, allowing more work to be done in fewer days.
The conversation around moving to a four-day working week has a few angles and potential beneficiaries. First, it’s expected that employees can reduce stress, fatigue and burnout. And for employers, anecdotal evidence from companies which have begun to trial a shorter week, suggests that employees are more productive as a result and even see an increase in engagement.
For some industries, it doesn’t look feasible to take a day out of the working week and maintain productive output – such as manufacturing, engineering and construction. But for sectors that can – in the knowledge economy for example – should they take the leap? Will the benefits outweigh the initial groundwork and disruption?
Here are the findings from six companies who have moved to a four-day working week:
Perpetual Guardian is perhaps one of the key case studies in the analysis of the effect of the four-day working week.
A pilot run by the New Zealand-based financial services company resulted in lower stress, happier employees and a 20% rise in productivity – as well as appearing to have helped increase profits and staff wellbeing too. The trial was run in 2018 and included all its 240 employees, who were moved from a five to a four-day working week whilst maintaining their pay.
“We need to get more companies to give it a go. They will be surprised at the improvement in their company, their staff and in their wider community.”
Staff stress levels dropped by seven percentage points, whilst work/life balance scores increased from 54% to 78%. Employees spent the extra day by pursuing hobbies, whilst some also began spending more time with their parents, studying or even cleaning their houses before the weekend.
Fast-food chain Shake Shack trialled a shorter week two years ago across some of their West Coast restaurants, allowing managers to work 40 hours across four days instead of five for the same pay and benefits.
In this interview with CNN Business, Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti discussed the war for talent and the ideals behind testing out a four-day working week.
A few months after the trial, Business Insider reported that Garutti was keen to expand the four-day work week to more locations, after finding the initiative had become a powerful program for retaining and recruiting store managers, with employees reporting that the decision had improved their lifestyle and finances too.
Another of the trailblazing trials into the four-day week was carried out by Microsoft Japan.
It took place in August last year where 2,300 employees were given five Fridays off in a row – and the results were groundbreaking. Productivity jumped 40%, meetings were more efficient and workers (who were also happier) took less time off.
“Work a short time, rest well and learn a lot.”
Nine in ten employees said they preferred the shorter working week. And there were some additional side benefits too, including a 23% reduction in weekly electricity use in the office (as you’d expect) and a 59% decrease in the number of pages printed by employees (one you might not expect).
Business management consultancy Think Productive were early adopters of the four-day work week having implemented the initiative back in 2011. Their system offers choice to staff where they can either work a traditional Monday to Friday or slightly longer eight hours and 50-minute days Monday through Thursday, including one normal Friday once a month to ensure fairness with employees working a traditional pattern.
“We wanted to see what would happen if we gave staff the opportunity to work hours that were more suited to their attention and momentum rhythms.”
Managing director Elena Kerrigan told Four Day Work Week (a hub that only advertises such jobs) that the change had transformed productivity and wellbeing, with the shorter working week making them ‘even more focused on making space for what matters, the high impact work’. Workflows are streamlined, meetings limited and longer weekends see staff return on a Monday refreshed and ready to go.
UK-based niche recruitment firm MRL implemented a six-month trial of the four-day work week last year and has already seen benefits in the workplace. Founder David Stone told Wired how he gets excited about measures to improve staff retention.
“As a boss, you can get a quick win by letting your staff leave a bit early one day. So, imagine telling your staff they can get paid their full salary to only work four days. People will want to join, and they will never leave.”
In an article on the company blog, Stone explained how a focus on improving wellness, energy levels, happiness and reducing stress were core reasons behind the trial whilst also explaining the outcomes he expected, including increased productivity and fewer sick days.
“I do not believe that merely providing wellness packages and access to counselling (which we already do) is enough to ensure a happy & productive workforce.”
The results of the six-month trial were conclusive. Staff retention was 95%, productivity increased by 25% and there was also a noticeable improvement in employees’ health. Short-term absences were also cut by 40% with almost all staff saying they felt more rested after a three-day weekend.
Operations director Kelly Robertson told employeebenefits.co.uk that: “It took some getting used to at first, but everyone has really ramped up their activity and people come in on a Monday rested and ready to go.”
Another success story from the UK, 15-strong Radioactive PR trialled the four-day work week in June 2018 but made the arrangement permanent after positive employee and client feedback.
To make the initiative work, there has been a little give and take. Staff are paid the same full-time salary despite no longer working on a Friday, but lunch breaks have been slightly reduced and holiday days decreased from 25 to 20 (plus bank holidays and birthday days off). However, founder Rich Leigh says employees are benefiting from an additional 44 days off each year overall.
“We’re building a real culture of trust in the team, at all levels, that they can manage their time to deliver the results clients want and expect.”
The upshot? A pulse survey sent to all staff following the trial asked whether they believed they had enjoyed a better work/life balance following the trial, to which three in four scored 10 out of 10. The lowest given score was an eight. The bottom line was also impacted with turnover increasing by 70% and sick days were less than half what they were.
Leigh said in an interview afterwards that: “I’ve long thought that overworking and unrealistic expectations on staff time runs counter to results. It feels good to know that for both current and future employees and their families, we’re offering something that isn’t some spurious work perk, but something that positively impacts their personal and professional lives.”