How Businesses are Moving to 4-day Workweek: Advantages & Disadvantages

A 4-day workweek is a modern approach to workplaces that condenses full-time hours, read about the disadvantages & advantages of a 4 day work week.

HR Managers
May 2024

In recent years, we’ve seen a number of major changes to our traditional ‘work norms’, the most recent of which is the adoption of a 4-day workweek. Whether or not this model is the right fit for your organisation will depend on myriad factors. That’s why it’s vital to explore the advantages and disadvantages of shifting from standard full-time hours in Australia to a 4-day workweek.

Let’s delve into the benefits and challenges of this massive undertaking and share some practical guidance for businesses of all sizes.

What is a 4-day workweek?

The 4-day workweek is a modern approach to workplace scheduling that condenses the traditional 40-hour week into four days of full-time work, typically Monday through Thursday. This overhaul aims to boost employee well-being and productivity while contributing to greater work-life balance.

Many businesses have already embraced this model. When successful, it has the potential to attract top talent and improve retention rates. However, transitioning to a 4-day workweek involves lots of careful planning and implementation strategies tailored to your organisation's unique needs. While some businesses prefer a compressed workweek with longer daily hours, others may redistribute workloads or experiment with flexible scheduling arrangements. Furthermore, rapid advancements in workplace technologies have helped remote work become the rule rather than the exception, making it easier for some businesses to adopt this innovative approach.

If your company is thinking about transitioning from 5- to 4-day workweeks, you’ll need to consider reshaping your HR strategy, engage in change implementation to prepare employees for change, consider getting feedback from employees and ensuring the rollout is aligned with the organisation’s long-term goals.

How does a 4-day workweek work?

In most circumstances, achieving a 4-day workweek involves condensing the traditional 5-day week into four days, keeping the same total number of hours worked. For example, employees might work from 8 am to 6 pm daily (10 hours instead of 8) to accommodate the shortened workweek.

In Australia, companies across all industries have trialled a 4-day workweek to see if it is feasible as a permanent change. These trials usually involve collaboration between employers and employees, as well as other relevant stakeholders, to see the true impact on productivity, employee satisfaction and business operations at large.

Around the world, the concept of the 4-day workweek has gained plenty of traction in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with businesses seeking more innovative approaches to improve operations and give their staff better work-life balance. Proponents argue that the condensed schedule can lead to increased employee morale and reduced absenteeism. It also aligns with rapidly changing societal expectations around flexible work arrangements.

However, critics have raised concerns about maintaining high productivity levels, scheduling conflicts, and the need for effective time management. While the 4-day workweek offers plenty of promising benefits, successful implementation will rely on solid planning and communication and overall alignment with your business’s objectives.

Advantages of 4-day workweek

For many, particularly future-forward industries wanting to attract younger generations of workers, the traditional 9-to-5, 5-day workweek is outdated. That’s why many organisations are transitioning to a 4-day workweek as they explore new ways to optimise productivity and employee well-being.

The adoption of a 4-day workweek presents an opportunity to foster a healthier work-life balance while boosting organisational efficiency and overall productivity. Here are just some of the advantages of embracing a condensed work schedule.

Employee health

Prioritising employee health is essential in every modern workplace, and the 4-day workweek could help you achieve that. With an additional day off every week, employees will have more time to rest and recharge, which may reduce their stress levels and risk of burnout. Shorter workweeks may be associated with improved mental health outcomes and decreased absenteeism. According to a study by the University of South Australia, employees who transitioned to a 4-day workweek reported lower levels of stress, burnout and fatigue and better mental health.

Work-life balance

One of the biggest advantages of a 4-day workweek is how it can help promote a healthier work-life balance. By compressing the standard workweek into four days, employees gain extra time for personal hobbies and family commitments, as well as more time for leisure and relaxation. This means workers can better manage their responsibilities outside of work, which may lead to greater satisfaction and fulfilment. And when employees have a good work-life balance, they are more likely to feel engaged and productive at work.

Productivity levels

Contrary to conventional wisdom, transitioning to a 4-day workweek can actually boost productivity levels within an organisation. By restructuring work hours and promoting greater efficiency, employees are more motivated to maximise their output during condensed workdays. Real-life case studies have shown that shorter workweeks are associated with higher levels of employee engagement, creativity and problem-solving. For example, when Microsoft Japan implemented a 4-day workweek trial, they reported a 40% increase in productivity.

Business costs

On the financial side, embracing a 4-day workweek could result in significant cost savings across the whole business. With a compressed schedule, companies can reduce their overheads for utilities, office maintenance and general operational costs. There’s also the potential for lower absenteeism and turnover rates, which could result in long-term savings in recruitment and training. A study by Henley Business School found that businesses could save around 2.2% of total turnover by implementing a 4-day workweek.

Recruitment and retention

Filling roles and building well-established teams has become increasingly difficult for leaders in the last few years. Through the pandemic, the cost of living crisis and competitive salaries, the need for effective retention strategies has become more prevalent.

Jobseekers – especially millennials and Gen Z – are increasingly prioritising work-life balance and flexibility when vetting potential employers. So it’s no surprise that a condensed workweek could attract these generations and differentiate your company as progressive and employee-centric. Organisations that favour employee wellbeing and offer flexible work arrangements may also be more likely to enjoy higher retention rates and reduced turnover costs.

Disadvantages of a 4-day workweek

While numerous benefits are associated with a 4-day workweek, there are also several challenges from a business perspective.

Intensified work

One of the biggest worries about a 4-day workweek is the potential for more intense workloads and increased pressure on employees to meet deadlines within a shorter time frame. Condensing the standard workweek into four days usually means longer hours each day and potentially heightened stress levels, especially if staff feel compelled to compensate for the reduced workdays by working more intensely. HumanX’s outsourced HR services can provide bespoke solutions to help your business effectively manage workloads, improve workflow processes and reduce the risk of employee burnout. Through team and executive coaching, we can help you foster a more supportive work environment conducive to sustainable productivity.

Not suitable for every business model

While a 4-day workweek might be feasible for certain industries and roles, it may not suit your business model. Companies that operate in sectors that require continuous client-facing services or round-the-clock operations may struggle with the logistical challenges of implementing a condensed work schedule. Our strategic HR consulting services can help you assess your company’s unique needs and determine whether adopting a 4-day workweek is feasible. We do this through comprehensive analyses of workflow dynamics, client demands, operational requirements and more – so you can make the most informed decision for your organisation.

Difficult to manage work expectations

There are also challenges around managing employee expectations of workload distribution and performance metrics. For example, some employees may expect a seamless transition without considering the necessary adjustments to their work habits and collaboration processes. The good news is that our HR experts specialise in change management and organisational development. We can provide your team with custom training programs and communication strategies to facilitate a smooth transition to the 4-day workweek.

Potential decrease in revenue

One final drawback of a 4-day workweek is the possibility of decreased revenue, particularly if productivity levels don’t meet expectations or client satisfaction is compromised. Your business must carefully evaluate the financial implications of transitioning to a condensed work schedule and develop contingency plans to mitigate any potential revenue losses. At HumanX, our HR strategy and performance management services will equip you with the tools and insights needed to maintain productivity, manage client relationships and stay on top of revenue streams.

Productivity during 4-day workweek

Contrary to initial concerns, research suggests that productivity levels can increase during a 4-day workweek. For instance, the Microsoft Japan case study reported a 40% boost to their team’s productivity levels after implementing a 4-day workweek trial. Their condensed schedule encouraged employees to maximise their focus and efficiency during the shorter work period, leading to higher output per hour.

The extra day off can also give your employees valuable time for rest and rejuvenation, which may reduce burnout while enhancing their overall well-being. Moreover, their increase in productivity can be attributed to fewer distractions, more streamlined processes, and a greater motivation to finish their tasks within a compressed time frame.

4-day workweek in Australia and how businesses are evolving

The idea of the 4-day workweek becoming the norm in Australia is gaining popularity yearly, especially as businesses across most industries recognise the benefits of adopting flexible work arrangements. While Melbourne and Sydney are at the forefront of this trend, with innovative companies leading the way, the shift towards a 4-day workweek is being embraced across the entire country – slowly but surely.

As a leading HR consulting agency, HumanX can deliver custom solutions to help your organisation transition to a 4-day workweek. From outsourced HR services to executive coaching and performance management, HumanX empowers businesses to boost productivity levels, improve employee engagement and drive sustainable growth for years to come.

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