Here's where you can have 4-day work week. Is this the next big thing?
A few years ago, Amy Balliett, CEO of a Seattle-based design and marketing firm, noticed that as the work week slogged on, her employees’ energy and productivity wilted.
“That would slump to such an extent that the same task on Monday would take double the time by Friday,” says Balliet, CEO of Killer Visual Strategies.
So she decided to squeeze the work week into four 10-hour days, with her 30 employees taking off either Friday or Monday. Now, she says, “Our team has more energy throughout the week since they have three days to recharge instead of just two.” And with less time to complete tasks, “They’re far more efficient and focused,” producing 25% more with the same-size staff.
The perk also has bolstered recruitment, cutting in half the time it takes to fill vacancies despite a 3.7% unemployment rate that has spawned the tightest labor market in half a century.
A small but growing number of U.S. businesses are adopting a four-day workweek to boost productivity and morale, and provide a competitive edge in the scramble for employees. While some scrunch the standard 40 hours into four days, others simply shed a day and require four eight-hour days, typically with no cut in pay.
“In this intensely competitive labor market, employers are figuring out that to attract talent, they have to start offering incentives that differentiate them from competitors,” says Ian Siegel, CEO of ZipRecruiter, a jobs marketplace.
Companies also are turning to a shortened week to reduce employee burnout, says Paul Pellman, CEO of Kazoo, a human resources software and consulting firm.
Fifteen percent of organizations offer four-day work weeks of 32 hours or less to at least some employees, up from 13% in 2017, according to an April survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. And a poll last year by staffing firm Robert Half found that 17% of companies had compressed work weeks that squish the same number of hours into fewer days.
Siegel says those figures are likely skewed by industries such as nursing, trucking and warehousing that routinely mandate three or four 10- or 12-hour days. Yet the share of employers shifting to four-day weeks is rising. The number of ZipRecruiter job postings that mention four-day weeks is up 67% so far this year, following jumps of 65% last year and 51% in 2017.
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Employers that advertise the four-day schedule receive 13% more applications on average.
With annual raises climbing the past year but still limited to 3% or so, “Work-life balance is where (employers) are going,” Siegel says. A growing number already offer more liberal telecommuting options and flexible hours. The four-day week may be the next frontier.
Paul McDonald, senior executive director at staffing firm Robert Half, says the trend also represents a backlash against a 24/7 work culture that has employees responding to messages on smartphones during off hours.
“I’m seeing the pendulum swing,” he says.
Many workers prefer 4 days
A third of workers globally (and 40% in the U.S.) would prefer a four-day week, according to a survey last year by the Workforce Institute at Kronos. Another 20% want a three-day week. Just 28% are content with the traditional five days.
“People want to work – they don’t want to work five days,” says Dan Schawbel, partner in Future Workplace, an executive development firm that analyzed the survey results. “They want more control over their work.”
Research shows employees do about four hours of actual work a day, Schawbel says. Twenty-three percent of workers polled said they wasted the most time fixing a problem they didn’t cause, 15.7% cited administrative tasks; 10.7%, meetings; 10.5%, email; and 8.1%, chatting with coworkers.
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Although Killer Visual Strategies opted for four 10-hour days, many staffers toiled five nine- or 10-hour days previously anyway, so they still benefited from a drop in total hours, Balliett says. The biggest challenge, she says, was ensuring enough workers were available each day to deal with the firm’s Fortune 500 clients. As a result, half the staff takes off Friday while the other half is out Monday.
Megan Popovich, 25, who took a visual designer job at the company in February, says the four-day week was “a pretty significant factor” in her decision. She uses her Mondays off to sift through personal email, run errands, go to the beach and cap weekend trips to her hometown of Cincinnati. On workdays, she says, “I feel more focused,” allowing her to accomplish more.
She’s so accustomed to the abbreviated schedule that going back to five days at another job would be tough.
The calculus was simpler for PDQ.com, a Salt Lake City-based software company that switched to a four-day, 36-hour work week two years ago. CEO Sean Anderson realized that many of the firm’s 53 employees worked half a day Friday or were generally less engaged anyway. While productivity didn’t increase after the move, it didn’t fall either.
Plus, “People love it,” he says. “We have the same professionalism but higher morale.” And it now takes two to three months to fill job openings, down from about six months previously, he says.
'State of flow'
In 2017, Wildbit, of Philadelphia, another software maker, took the concept a step further, shifting to four eight-hour days. To make it work, CEO Natalie Nagele winnowed a slew of weekly meetings to just two, and asked her 30 employees to limit usage of email and Slack, a work collaboration and communication tool.
By getting rid of such distractions, “You get in a state of flow,” she says. “We are producing better-quality and more work in the last two years than we did previously.” The extra day off “gives your mind a rest” and “creates a real connection between work and home.”
Rian van der Merwe, 41, a Wildbit product manager, worried the shortened schedule meant “we would move too slowly” on software launches. And initially, he says, “it was a little bit difficult to find the rhythm” of a four-day week”
Now, he's a four-day evangelist. He has used Fridays to take up rock-climbing and run errands, allowing him to spend more time with his family over the weekend. And with the additional day off, “I invariably spend time thinking about stuff at work and when Monday rolls around, I have so many things I want to get started. It creates an added energy.”
Not everyone is sold. R.J. Lewis, founder of Ad-Juster, a San Diego-based advertising research firm, switched to a four-day week in 2012, but the practice ended when he sold the company in 2016.
The strategy helped recruit software engineers and avoid burnout. But, he adds in an email, “When you are competing with 5-day per week companies who routinely work 10+ hour days anyway, you are essentially at a disadvantage. … Could our growth have been faster? Could our customer service have been better/faster?”
Still, he adds, “It was the right thing for the company at that time.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jobs: Is 4-day work week the next big thing?