The Four-Day Work Week: A Gift or a Curse?

Written for Leadership Wellness Lab. Check out the portfolio page for this client.

In recent months, the topic of the “four-day work week” has become more prevalent as the global workforce re-examines how we think about our typical work routines. At first glance, this sounds wonderful. After all, who hasn’t wished for more long weekends? 

A four-day work week can address workforce burnout issues, providing opportunities for some types of employees to rest and restore. There are two main approaches to the four-day work week, however, and the pros and cons vary greatly depending on the industry, position, and personal preferences of each employee. 

The “condensed week”

Unfortunately, a four day work week does not always translate to less overall work. Belgium recently announced a six-month trial in which employees have the right to request and be granted a shortened work week, but with the same expected hours and productivity as before. This approach leads to fewer, longer days.

For those who have control over their work-life balance such as many freelancers and self-employed business owners, a condensed four-day work week can be an excellent option. This approach is also great for employees and senior executives whose performance is assessed based on cumulative performance rather than daily performance targets. A condensed week allows them to be productive when work is busy, and enjoy non-work activities when it is slow.

For other employees, however, the condensed week can lead to an increase in stress and pressure during those longer days. And for those working with time-sensitive deadlines, they may find themselves pressured to work on their days off.

The “reduced workload”

Some countries, like Scotland, are exploring a 20% reduced hourly work week without pay reduction. Employers are able to offer a better work environment without the cost of increased salaries, and there is evidence to suggest that this setup encourages better productivity in workers.

This approach could be great for individuals who are reasonably financially secure and are looking for a more relaxed work-life balance. The extra weekday can be used for appointments, errands, or a relaxing day off.

For workers who rely on an hourly wage, however, a reduction in workload means a reduction in income. It can also mean higher expectations during the hours they are on shift in order to accomplish necessary weekly tasks.

The solution

It’s clear that this is not a one-size-fits-all situation. What the workplace needs is a reimagining of organizational work culture. 

When it comes to implementing a four-day work week, employers should consider impacts beyond the allocation of work hours, which can vary widely according to industry and employee circumstances. They also must re-examine their productivity expectations given the shortened work week. 

The key? Focus on managing energy rather than time. The best way to set employees up for success is to create conditions in which they can be both productive and well-rested.