The pros and cons of a four-day workweek

Is a shortened week with longer daily hours right for you? Here’s what to consider before deciding

Most employees, when asked, would likely say they prefer working fewer hours. But what about working the same amount of hours over a fewer number of days?

In recent years, the idea of the four-day workweek has been growing in popularity. It’s not hard to see why: Employees get an extra day off, and employers get a better-rested, more rejuvenated workforce. But the advantages go beyond those points—and the disadvantages need to be carefully considered as well.  

What is a four-day workweek? 

A typical four-day workweek consists of four 10-hour workdays (for 40 total work hours a week) and three full days off. Some companies, like Amazon, have experimented with 30-hour workweeks; others have tried four full workdays, or 32-hour workweeks. 

Are there pay restrictions for a four-day workweek? 

For salaried, or exempt employees, a four-day workweek that still totals 40 hours would not change anything in terms of payroll. But for nonexempt employees—those who are eligible for overtime—a four-day workweek can get tricky.

Overtime rules vary from state to state, and businesses that have satellite offices or remote employees will need to ensure that a four-day workweek won’t make them subject to overtime pay. For example, Alaska, California, and Nevada all mandate that employees be paid overtime for any hours worked beyond eight in a single day. That means that under a four-day workweek policy, employers would have to pay a nonexempt employee in one of those states eight hours of overtime each week.

How to handle vacation for a four-day workweek 

It may not make sense for every part of the company to work a four-day week, and some employees may even prefer a traditional schedule. But when workers are on two different schedules, doling out vacation time can be a challenge.

Typically, vacation time is defined by a total number of days or weeks, but that might not be the best option for a company that offers a four-day workweek. In this case, it may make more sense for employees to accrue vacation time in hours instead of days or weeks. For example, if a company typically gives employees two weeks of vacation each calendar year, the wording of that policy could be changed to the equivalent in hours, for example, 80 hours.

How the four-day workweek benefits employees

If given the choice, 75 percent of workers would prefer to have a shorter workweek. Aside from having the luxury of a long weekend, there are several benefits to working just four days each week.

  • Reduced stress: About two-thirds of workers experience burnout on the job. Having an extra day to recharge can help to alleviate job-related pressures.
  • Better work-life balance: Employees at Perpetual Guardian, a trust management company in New Zealand, saw a 24 percent rise in work-life balance after the company instituted a four-day workweek. An extra day gave workers a chance to spend more time with friends and family, as well as to nurture hobbies and engage in leisure activities.
  • Increased happiness at work: When employees feel cared for by their employers, 94 percent have a positive sense of well-being. Offering employees flexibility makes them feel valued, which leads to greater job satisfaction.

How the four-day workweek benefits employers

Less-stressed employees are a benefit to employers, too. These are some more four-day workweek benefits for employers: 

  • Increased productivity: When Microsoft Japan experimented with a four-day workweek in 2019, productivity jumped 40 percent
  • Better recruitment and retention: Workers—especially younger ones—value flexibility in the workplace. A recent study found that Gen Z sees flexibility as more important than health benefits when evaluating job opportunities. 
  • Less time away from work: When employees have an extra weekday off, they are more likely to schedule tasks like doctor appointments and trips to the post office on their day off. Giving workers an opportunity to take care of personal needs each week means they’ll take less time for them during the workday. 

Four-day workweek disadvantages 

While there are many advantages to a four-day workweek for employees and employers alike, there are drawbacks as well. These potential negative effects need to be thoroughly evaluated before introducing a shorter workweek.

  • Childcare challenges: For employees with babies and young children, a four-day workweek may present problems for those who depend on childcare. Daycare centers are usually open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and a 10-hour workday would typically end after most facilities have closed for the day. 
  • Long hours: A 10-hour workday is a long one, and not every worker has the stamina for it. Plus, working longer hours (more than 10 hours a day) has been shown to have negative impacts on employee health.  
  • Customer and client service problems: Customers and clients generally understand that employees aren’t going to respond to issues outside of regular work hours, but when something arises during a typical workday, it’s a different story. Someone at the organization needs to be available to address weekday issues. Ensuring that all areas have the necessary coverage each workday can require a lot of thought and smart scheduling.  
  • Impact on teams and projects: If employees’ days off are scattered, it may become difficult to schedule meetings and manage projects. Employees may also feel pressured to call in on their days off so they don’t miss out on important updates or appear uncommitted. 

Is a four-day workweek right for you? 

A four-day workweek isn’t right for every business. Some workers prefer a standard five-day workweek. Smaller companies may not be able to operate with fewer people at work on a given day. And industries that need to be fully staffed at all times, like healthcare or transportation, may not have the ability to adjust schedules or hire workers to fill the extra days.

For companies considering implementing a four-day workweek, it’s best to gauge employee preferences through a survey. Do they even want a shorter workweek? What are their concerns? What ideas do they have to address potential challenges? After that, conduct a trial run followed by another survey to collect feedback. Employers can then use both sets of data to assess whether a four-day week is preferred, and whether it will benefit their business.

Companies that offer flexibility to their employees see higher employee engagement and more overall happiness at work. WeWork offers businesses a flexible environment that fosters greater collaboration and productivity. Learn more about WeWork’s unique coworking spaces

Jessica Hulett is a freelance writer, editor, and content marketing specialist based in Ossining, NY. She has previously written for Cosmopolitan, Real Simple, DealNews, and more.

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