Benefits of the 4-day working week: Unlocking efficiency and work-life balance
In an increasingly fast-paced and demanding business landscape, the concept of a traditional five-day working week is being challenged. With increasing economic pressures, organisations are striving to enhance productivity, boost employee wellbeing, and adapt to changing societal expectations, now more than ever. With a perfect example being set by the forward-thinking Swedes back in 2015, the idea of a shorter working week has gained traction. Enter the four-day working week—an alternative approach that promises improved efficiency and a better work-life balance for both employees and employers.
We’ve taken a look into the ever-appealing concept of the four-day working week and have explored how redistributing time and resources can lead to increased productivity, enhanced job satisfaction, and can offer a healthier work-life integration. Here we uncover the potential benefits and considerations of this evolving work model and shed light on how saving in some areas can boost efficiencies in others.
Why do people want a four-day workweek?
A better question might be: why wouldn’t you want a four-day working week? The truth is that people want a shorter working week for a range of reasons. The most cited reasons are the need for a better work-life balance, to improve overall wellbeing, and for managers or employers to increase productivity. So, how can a shorter working week benefit all involved? Here are some of the key motivations behind the growing demand for a four-day workweek:
- Redistributed work-life balance: a four-day workweek allows individuals to have more time for personal commitments, hobbies, traveling, and even just spending more quality time with family and friends. It provides an opportunity for people to pursue personal interests, undertake charitable volunteering work, or simply relax and recharge, leading to a better overall sense of wellbeing.
- Better employee wellbeing: longer working hours have been linked to stress, burnout, and a plethora of other health issues such as heart disease and blood pressure issues. Transitioning to a 4-day week allows employees to better manage their work-related stress and enjoy more time for self-care, exercise, and pursuing healthy lifestyles. In turn, this allows for improved mental health, job satisfaction, and overall wellbeing.
- Increased productivity: shorter working weeks have been proven to enhance productivity by promoting better focus and concentration during working hours. With a compressed schedule, employees are motivated to prioritise tasks, eliminate distractions, and make the most of their limited time, resulting in heightened efficiency and output, and spelling good news for employees and employers alike.
- Employee retention (and candidate attraction): offering a four-day workweek can be a powerful tool for attracting and retaining top talent. In today's competitive job market, organisations that prioritise work-life balance and employee wellbeing are often more attractive to potential candidates. Implementing a four-day workweek can also create a motivated and loyal workforce, as employees appreciate the enhanced quality of life and increased flexibility associated with a shorter working week.
- Environmental and social impact: reducing the number of working days can contribute to sustainability efforts and reduce the carbon footprint associated with commuting and office energy consumption. On top of this, a four-day week can have positive societal implications by allowing individuals to engage in community activities, volunteer work, or pursue personal projects that contribute to their communities or help enrich life for those around them.
The growing want for a four-day working week stems from the recognition that a healthy work-life balance and employee wellbeing are crucial for long-term productivity, job satisfaction, and overall employee happiness. By embracing this shift, companies can create a more harmonious and fulfilling work environment while also benefiting from improved efficiencies and productivity.
4-day workweek trials
Over a decade has passed since the inaugural release of the United Nations’ World Happiness Report in 2012, marking a significant milestone in the quest to understand and promote happiness worldwide. Since then, the United Nations has compiled annual rankings of the world's happiest countries, shining a light on the places where people experience higher levels of contentment compared to others. In recent years though, many countries have faced immense challenges, including a global pandemic, natural calamities, and conflicts.
So, with an increasing awareness on the importance of employee happiness, health, and wellbeing, how do the 2023 World Happiness Report stack up alongside countries actively looking to readdress the work-life balance?
It will perhaps come as no surprise to you that Finland is yet again top of the happiness ranks, and in November 2022, Sanna Marin, the then Prime Minister of Finland, was actively working towards a four-day working week. Finland has been ahead of the curve with working-hours' flexibility for years and passed a law in 1996 that allowed workers the right to adjust their working day by up to three hours from employer requirements. Perhaps that’s why they’ve topped the happiness rankings for the last six years consecutively?
But Finland is not the only happy country to have addressed work-life balance. Here are some other examples to consider:
In 3rd place, Iceland is perhaps a happier nation that you might have first thought. However, when we consider their working environment, we can see a pattern appearing. From 2015 to 2019, Iceland implemented the world's then-largest experiment of a 35 to 36-hour working week, reducing it from the conventional 40 hours, without reducing wages proportionately.
The pilot project proved to be successful according to the researchers, leading Icelandic trade unions to negotiate for a reduction in working hours. Now, nearly 90% of the working population benefit from reduced working hours. The research findings also indicated a decrease in worker stress and burnout, along with an enhancement in the balance between personal and professional life.
The Spanish government announced in December 2022 a two-year (minimum) pilot government scheme which will aim to test the feasibility and impacts of a 32-hour workweek without a decrease in salary. Currently, Spain sits surprisingly low in the happiness rankings, coming in at just 32nd place. When we look at the average Spanish working day though, this begins to make more sense: on average, employees in Spain work longer hours than many of their direct European neighbours.
Employees in Spain generally work nine-hour days, amounting to approximately 40 hours per week. A lot of attention will be paid to Spain’s happiness rankings in the coming years, with neighbours like Portugal also now weighing up their options with a four-day working week.
When over a third of the UK’s workforce is unhappy, it’s not surprising to hear that the UK doesn’t make the top 10 on the happiness list. Perhaps more concerning is that it only just scrapes into the top 20. Sat in 19th place, the UK has been one of the slowest countries in Europe to investigate the advantages of a four-day week.
Following the recent trial (completed in 2022), the companies involved in the UK reported “that almost every organisation will stick to a four-day week post-trial, with 91% definitely continuing or planning to continue, and a further 4% leaning towards continuing. Only 4% of participants are definitely not continuing”. Could the pressure be on to see the UK increase it’s focus on a four-day working week?
Ahead of the UK in 17th place is Belgium. Belgium has achieved a significant milestone by becoming the pioneer in Europe to enact legislation for a four-day workweek. In February 2022, Belgian workers secured the privilege of completing a full workweek in just four days, instead of the traditional five, without experiencing any reduction in salary.
The implementation of this groundbreaking law came into force on November 21 2022, granting employees the freedom to choose between a four-day or five-day working week. However, while flexibility was provided, perhaps the happiness of the Belgian workforce might have increased had this new law meant they also saw a decrease in working hours rather than just compressing their workload into fewer days.
Coming in 6th place, you may well remember that Sweden carried out a well-documented six-hour working day trial a couple of years ago. Employees were happier and businesses were reporting increased productivity. However, the trial wasn’t taken up on a permanent basis due to the cost increases. According to the report by The Independent, "The city of Gothenburg spent £12m kronor (£1.1m) on the trial, largely because, despite productivity gains, it had to hire 17 extra nurses to cover the lost hours.”
However, for other industries the trial was more of a success and there has been increasing uptake in changing the working week for these companies. Much of Sweden’s disruptive tech scene now operates on a six-hour workday, and reports state that employees are back to being happier and taking less sick leave than during their previous eight-hour day, five-day week.
Not one to be left behind, New Zealand is also evaluating its options with a shorter working week. In 2022, a four-day work week pilot was carried out by 20 participating firms in New Zealand and Australia under the 4 Day Week Global. But go back a few years, and New Zealand was already aware of the benefits. Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based company specialising in financial estate management, conducted a trial of a four-day workweek and officially implemented the policy in November 2018.
The trial was a success and revealed an improved work-life balance, increased job satisfaction, and reduced stress levels among employees. However, they didn’t stop there. By assessing the productivity of its employees during a regular five-day workweek, the company established a performance benchmark. Subsequently, the firm empowered its staff to choose their own method of how to achieve the benchmark within 80% of the original time.
This flexibility could allow them to reduce the number of days worked per week or allowed them to redistribute their working hours across five days. New Zealand consumer goods giant Unilever also recently completed its 18-month pilot of a four-day workweek. Unilever reported significant improvements in employee wellbeing and work-life balance. Stress levels decreased by 33%, absenteeism saw a decline of 34%, and employees experienced a 15% increase in feelings of strength and vigour at work. On top of that, the findings displayed that work-life conflict witnessed a substantial reduction of 67%.
Benefits of a 4-day working week
The benefits of implementing a four-day working week can be significant and encompass various aspects of work and employee wellbeing. Some key benefits include:
- Increased productivity: with a compressed working week employees often tend to display improved focus and efficiency. With less working time in the week, employees prioritise tasks, minimise distractions, and make the most of their time working. Many companies that have trialled a four-day working week have reported that employees take fewer breaks, check social media less often, and take fewer sick days. The heightened productivity achieved in a four-day working week has been proven to accomplish the same amount of work (if not more) in less time.
- Improved work-life balance: a four-day working week provides employees with an extra day off, allowing for more time to rest, recharge, and engage in personal activities. This enhanced work-life balance can reduce stress levels, improve mental health, and contribute to overall wellbeing. Studies show that employees working a shorter week have fewer health-related days off and are happier in work than their five-day counterparts.
- Better employee retention: by offering a shorter workweek, companies can offer an attractive perk for their employees. It demonstrates a commitment to their wellbeing and enables those employees to better manage personal commitments outside of work. This improved satisfaction and work-life balance can lead to higher employee retention rates and increased loyalty to the organisation. In fact, according to 4 Day Week Global, “63% of businesses found it easier to attract and retain talent with a four-day week”.
- Talent attraction: it's not only retaining staff that companies can benefit from either. Those companies that adopt a four-day working week are differentiating themselves in the job market and, as a result, helping to attract the top talent. This flexibility and emphasis on work-life balance attracts highly skilled individuals seeking a healthier and more fulfilling work environment. In a competitive market where salaries are often in a similar range, differentiating factors that can be viewed as bonuses or perks can help set your company and role apart.
- More employee engagement: studies of the four-day working week have suggested that employees with more time for personal pursuits and rest are returning to work feeling refreshed and motivated. They are more likely to be engaged and enthusiastic about their work, leading to higher levels of creativity, innovation, and job satisfaction. A more engaged workforce is a more productive, forward-thinking, and effective one.
- Money saving: transitioning to a shorter working week may initially raise concerns among employers regarding potential productivity loss. However, research indicates that the benefits of reduced overhead costs, including energy consumption and office expenses, can counterbalance any potential decrease in output, should employers see one. This research also suggests that there is a correlation between a shorter working week and reduced absenteeism and employee burnout; this too can lead to cost savings related to recruitment and training.
It’s important to note that the benefits of a four-day week may vary depending on the industry, job role, and organisational structure. For example, where trials have been carried out by healthcare providers, the cost of a four-day week has proved to be unsustainable as companies have had to hire more people to provide the same service.
There is, perhaps, one other benefit though that employers might want to consider. With one less working day in the week, employees can reduce their commuting frequency, leading to a decrease in carbon emissions and traffic congestion, while also saving a few pennies along the way. For employers looking to align with sustainability goals and contribute to a greener and more eco-friendly work culture, this could be yet another plus of the four-day week.
Studies reveal that adopting a four-day working week can significantly enhance a company's efficiency. However, to ensure the success of such a system, necessary adjustments must be implemented. Several strategies and practices are available for companies to embrace during this transition, aimed at maximising productivity and efficiency.
Embracing technology is perhaps the first and most obvious step companies will need to consider. By using new, innovative tools, software, and automation systems, companies can revolutionise their workflow. By leveraging project management software, collaboration tools, and workflow automation, businesses can streamline their existing processes, while also reducing the number of manual tasks and improving their communication or information sharing processes.
Careful selection of software solutions can also allow you to streamline your tech stack and potentially even save you more money. For example, all-round solutions like Selligence can help revenue teams to save time, improve existing processes, and will reduce hours of admin and research time, really helping teams to optimise in a shorter working week.
Effective communication channels and ensuring goal alignment across teams is so important for an effective work environment. When expectations are transparent, updates are regular, and communication is open, miscommunication and conflicts are reduced. While there are plenty of software solutions that can help in this area too, sometimes this really comes down to creating an open, collaborative culture. Companies interested in a four-day week may need to evaluate their existing processes and reporting methods to ensure communication is working effectively.
With new software and improved communication methods in place, a few other things fall in line very easily. An introspective examination of existing workflows can lead to significant efficiency gains. Identifying and removing bottlenecks, streamlining workflows, and embracing new, leaner methodologies all contribute to increased productivity. Continuous training and skill development for employees also offers substantial returns in terms of productivity and is a much simpler process with the right tools.
By providing opportunities for ongoing learning, employees stay on top of industry best practices and keep them working at their best. Equipped with enhanced skills and knowledge, they can tackle tasks more effectively and efficiently, while also providing them with the tools and time to self-develop and position themselves for promotion. Investing in your workforce not only will improve employee retention but is also a cheaper option than having to hire a new employee with those skills already.
Why is working efficiently so important?
Working efficiently holds significant importance for various reasons. It leads to time and cost savings, allowing companies to complete tasks and projects faster and more economically. Efficiency boosts productivity by enabling employees to focus on high-value tasks and work more effectively, resulting in increased output and better resource utilisation. Not only this, but efficient company operations leads to improved customer satisfaction, as products and services are delivered promptly, meeting customer expectations and creating positive experiences that drive customer loyalty and business growth.
In any fast-paced business landscape, efficiency becomes a critical factor in gaining a competitive advantage. Companies that operate efficiently can adapt swiftly to market changes, cater to evolving customer needs, and outperform their rivals. Over the last few years in the UK, many businesses have been hit by Brexit changes, a global pandemic, complications due to the conflict in Ukraine, and subsequent cost-of-living crisis issues.
Companies with streamlined processes have been able to adapt much quicker and have sustained employee engagement and satisfaction as a result. By reducing frustration and administrative burden, employees can concentrate on meaningful work, leading to greater job satisfaction, higher levels of engagement, and a more positive overall work environment.
As with many things, the key to unlocking improved efficiency and productivity lies in technology. The somewhat controversial but growing reliance on AI is yet another way in which workforces are optimising their workflows. It’s thought that with those Brits that have embraced AI, saving on average over an hour and a half a day, that employees could gain back 390 working hours a year.
Just as many employees fear that AI will replace their skills or roles, there’s a fear of change and that the four-day working week may fail to deliver or be too costly to sustain. However, as more and more countries take up their own trials, and research continues to grow in this field, it seems that a growing number of employers are keen to explore new ways of improving their operations, increasing productivity, and retaining a happier workforce.
In light of the increasing emphasis on efficiency and productivity in an increasingly competitive market, companies looking to optimise their operations should seriously consider reevaluating their working conditions, with the four-day working week emerging as a promising option. By implementing this innovative approach, companies can unlock numerous benefits. Not only does it show a commitment to employee wellbeing, fostering a healthier work-life balance and reduced burnout, but it also promotes a more motivated and engaged workforce.
Studies have demonstrated that a condensed workweek can lead to heightened focus and creativity, ultimately translating into improved performance and output. Embracing the four-day working week not only reflects an adaptive and progressive organisational culture but also serves as a strategic step towards positioning businesses at the forefront of their respective industries and empowering them to thrive in a rapidly evolving world.
Want to see how an all-round solution like Selligence can help streamline your revenue team’s workload? Get in touch for a demo of the Selligence platform and start saving time while achieving more, today.