The challenges of a four-day work week
The idea of a 4-day work week is gradually gaining traction in professional spheres. It’s been a fringe idea for quite some time. But businesses in a post-pandemic world are now revisiting the idea of what should define the typical employee experience going forward. We’ve talked at length about the benefits. But now it’s time to look at the challenges employers may face and the disadvantages that a 4 day work week might bring.
We’re big believers in flexible working
With people asking whether 5-day work weeks are outdated, and recent research showing that a 4-day work week can increase productivity by 25-50%, it’s no wonder more and more businesses are considering it. Its success has even affected work culture across whole countries. Take the 4-day work week trial that 1% of Iceland’s working population took part in over several years for example. Its landmark findings resulted in 86% of Iceland’s working population being able to gain reduced hours or increased flexibility in their employment contracts.
And, because it’s a win for employee engagement and wellbeing, we’re all for it too. But we’ve discussed the benefits of a 4-day work week at length already, across several different articles.
But, a 4 day work week does have its disadvantages
Your business may stand to benefit from cutting back employee hours. But be aware, that doesn’t just mean you can flip a switch and implement it with no complications.
For starters, although your employees might work less days a week, you probably don’t want to cut back on opening hours. That's doubly true if you’re a customer-facing business. So you need to consider the possible disadvantages of a 4-day work week. Then you need to plan out what you can reasonably do to mitigate them.
Balancing 4 day shift patterns may leave some at a disadvantage
One of the most common disadvantages of a 4-day work week is balancing shifts. If you’re a Monday to Friday business, staying that way gets a bit more complicated. Depending on your workplace, certain days of the week might be more hotly contested than others. Maybe everyone wants Monday or Friday off, or everyone decides they want a mid-week break. Having too many or too few people working can bring things grinding to a halt.
Solution: First, talk to everyone about their preferred days off to see if there’s even a conflict in the first place. If you sense trouble brewing, allocate the days that people will take off depending on their role and team. This will mean that there's always coverage.
Solution: Hire new employees to compensate for the extra time off. This will increase overheads, but could mean that you're able to hire apprentices or people who want to return-to-work but would rather work less hours.
Solution: Change up your routine. Move from a 7 day week to a 14 day pattern. Work 9 days out of 14 rather than 10, for example.
Less time to be just as productive
One option for a 4-day work week is to reduce the number of hours that employees work. Evidence does suggest this can increase productivity. But it might not necessarily seem that way to your staff. Asking people to meet the same targets in less time is a pretty tough sell. It’s all about helping your employees to make the transition do they don't feel disadvantaged by a 4 day work week.
Solution: Set really clear expectations around business, team and individual priorities. Use a goal-setting framework like SMART or OKR to help them break tasks into more manageable objectives. And to be able to work more autonomously.
Solution: Another option would be to compress hours instead of reducing them. So, instead of working five eight-hour days, your staff instead work four ten-hour days, although that isn’t a perfect solution.
Employee engagement could fall
With less time to work, staff may prioritise their own projects rather than building and maintaining vital team bonds. This could lead to a reduction in employee engagement because people see it as wasted time when they could be delivering and achieving their goals.
Solution: Make check-ins a regular thing. A check-in captures how an employee feels about their work and achievements. And this feeds real-time dashboards to show managers the pulse of their people. Monitor this for any changes.
Solution: Build in team-bonding time with in-person lunches or activities. This is especially important when people are working remotely or working from home.
Stress could increase with a 4 day work week
The disadvantages of a 4-day work week vary depending on whether hours are compressed or reduced. The problem with 10-hour work days is that people can only focus and work effectively for so long before diminishing returns set in. Plus, an overclocked schedule is a fast-track to burnout.
Solution: If you want to compress hours, your best bet is not to introduce it across the board. Let employees make the decision to work five days a week normally, or four longer days each week. That way, everyone can choose the option that suits them.
Business costs could increase
This is perhaps the most obvious disadvantage of a 4-day work week to any shrewd employer. Giving staff the same pay for less hours can feel like you’re taking the scenic route to giving them a pay rise. If you’re sceptical that cutting hours could increase productivity, this probably feels like a ridiculous gamble to lock yourself into.
Solution: Experiment! Test it out before you go all in. Choose your most reliable managers for a trial run. Then have their teams test out a reduced-hours 4-day week before you roll it out company-wide.
What about the forgotten employees?
Regardless of how beneficial it actually is, it’s still possible to get too excited about the 4-day work week.
As with the recent hype around working from home, it’s easy to forget that not everyone can benefit equally from it. Just as retail, hospitality, and other service industry workers can’t all just work from home, there are employees who either can’t have a 4-day week, or are simply being passed over.
Of all the disadvantages of a 4-day work week, this is the most significant. There are some professions it's just not feasible for. That includes nurses and other frontline NHS staff who are in too short supply. But it also means teachers on the same five-day schedule as their students.
We often talk about 4-day work week challenges as they apply to office workers. But teachers, nurses and other forgotten employees need the wellbeing benefits of a 4-day week as much as anyone else.
However, the only way they’ll get it is if those sectors get much-needed infusions of fresh talent. Not to mention the money to pay for it. Until our teachers, nurses, and other essential contributors can also take 4-day work weeks, it will never be universal the way people want it to be.
Learn how a weekly employee check-in is the foundation of moving to more flexible working practices. Download our latest guide: Embracing continuous performance management. Get the guide here 👇