Many organisations around the globe are considering or currently trailing a four-day work week. And with good reason. Global trials have provided data showing that four-day work weeks have been a resounding success for employees and employers.
For example, the recent UK 6-month trial that involved 61 companies with approximately 2900 workers from June to December 2022, found that 92% of organistions (n=56) are continuing with the four-day work week. They examined a multitude of impacts of the four-day work week model for employees and their organisations.
In terms of employees’ benefits:
In terms of business benefits:
So what are the mechanisms underpinning the success of a four-day work week?
The research into the effectiveness and benefits of 4-day work weeks is still in its infancy and it’s important not to generalise findings at this stage, until further research is done. However, the research from the UK trial, coupled with data from the US and Ireland studies reported in 2022 (which you can find here), are very compelling and most certainly warrant the consideration many businesses are giving to a four-day model..
// Addresses meeting bloat– many employees are lamenting having their calendars packed with virtual and/or hybrid meetings. Calendars often look like a Tetris game with meeting events populating our days.
Our virtual meeting load has increased exponentially, with Microsoft research suggesting that the number of meetings per week has increased by 153% since the start of the pandemic. In addition to an already high meeting load, research confirms that overlapping meetings (double bookings) increased by 46% per person between 2021 and 2022. Why? With virtual meetings there’s the zero cost of inclusion- it’s easy to send out a meeting invitation to a plethora of people (much harder in years gone by when you needed to call someone’s secretary to book a meeting).
Yet we know that virtual and hybrid meetings are taxing. Research has confirmed that virtual and hybrid meetings are exhausting and stressful.
The four-day work week forces organsiations to reconsider the volume of meetings, number of attendees in meetings and protocols around meetings. Unilever, who are trialing a four-day work week in Australia encouraged their employees to look for the hidden practices that slow things down in a business. Unilever ANZ chief executive Nicky Sparshott said, “It is about removing no value-added costs, projects or processes and think differently about what meetings we participate in or how we can better communicate and collaborate.”
2022 research found that having two meeting-free days per week resulted in a 71% increase in productivity, a 52% increase in work satisfaction and a 43% decline in stress. Similarly, an Atlassian report found that spending more time in meetings was associated with higher risks of burnout and fatigue. IT is evident that meetings are impacting both employees’ productivity and wellbeing.
A compressed 4-day work week forces organisations to consider the role, frequency, duration and protocols around meetings. This is something I frequently address in the Digital Guardrail consultancy work I deliver- more often than not, teams establish some meeting norms and practices so employees and leaders have clear parameters and agreements about when to attend (or decline a meeting), the accepted duration of virtual meetings and other practices that optimise meetings.
// Nudges employees to build a fortress around their focus- I believe the superskill of the 21st Century is our FQ- focus quotient. We’re now working (and living) in an age of digital distraction. Our days are peppered with Teams’ chats, email pings and SMS notifications. Having periods of uninterrupted work, where we can perform what Cal Newport calls our ‘deep work’ is vital for our performance and productivity.
Yet many knowledge workers today lament the fact that they don’t have any or enough time for deep work. They’re in a perpetual state of distraction. This is why we’re seeing a third productivity hump in our days- we typically would see a productivity peak around 10-11am (morning coffee time), another at biscuit o’clock at 2-3pm. However, 2022 Microsoft research shows that around 28% of people are now working between 10-11pm, which is the third hump, or ‘triple peak day’ as Microsoft are referring to it.
Compressed work hours (a four-day work week is based on the 80-100-80 model- 100 per cent of the pay for 80 per cent of the time, in exchange for 100% productivity) forces employees to critically examine their distractions and be intentional about carving our focused time for work. In the UK trial, it was reported that some participants improved their productivity by introducing ‘head down’ or ‘focus periods, which were designated times of the day for staff to conduct focused work without interruptions.
In the Digital Guardail consultancy work I deliver with teams, we often look at establishing protocols and accepted agreements about focused periods. For example, I recently worked with an organisation who created a guardrail around enabling Focus mode in meetings and during deep work periods, to silence distracting notifications.
// Pareto’s 80/20 Rule– The Pareto principle posits that 80% of our outcomes come from 20% of causes. In the work context, it would suggest that 80% of our work outcomes or results come from 20% of our effort. Working a four-day week forces people to examine their work priorities (we really have to prioritise the potent tasks) and eliminate any superfluous tasks. It encourages teams to look for system inefficiencies and to consider tasks that could be delegated or automated. The four-day work week imposes obvious time constraints that force us to examine some of our entrenched activities and behaviours.
It’s an exciting time. Whilst I believe 2022 was the year of hybrid work, I believe 2023 will be the year of the four-day week (and possibly further consideration of the ‘Right to Disconnect’ which I recently explored here). Will your organisation take the step to consider a four-day work week?
If you’re looking for more ways to support your employees to thrive, my keynote ‘Optimise Your Workday’ may be of interest.