a small tower of rocks balanced on each other on a beach
a small tower of rocks balanced on each other on a beach
#fourdayweek #avoidingburnout

Work/Life Balance & The Pros and Cons of the Four-Day Work Week

By
Paul Kiernan
(11.4.2022)

It’s pretty simple when broken down. Employees like to have more flexibility with their schedules. Flexibility allows them to understand that life isn’t all about working. There is a clearer reason to work when life is a priority.

A Florida Chick-fil-A just implemented a three-day workweek, and the reviews have dropped. For the most part, the feedback has been positive. As Inc. Magazine reports, the shop allows workers to stuff their entire full-time schedule of hours into three days. It does mean workers are on their feet in a physically demanding environment for up to fourteen hours a day, and time off, vacations, and sick days do become a nightmare to schedule; still, the employees are happy.

Why? They cite the better work-life balance. They work more hours in fewer days to have more time without work. The trade-off is alluring.

More + Better = Happier

It’s pretty simple when broken down. Employees like to have more flexibility with their schedules. Flexibility allows them to understand that life isn’t all about working. There is a clearer reason to work when life is a priority. Until recently, work has been the priority. Give all to the company, which results in great blues tunes but unhappy employees.

There is a significant amount of corporate speak around work-life balance. There is an awareness, but is the awareness connected to action? It’s one thing to say we promote a good work-life balance; it’s another to do something about it.

Why work-life balance

What is a work-life balance, and why has it become so important in the last few years? The answer, which is beginning to feel like a catch-all, is the pandemic.

A work-life balance minimizes work-related stress and establishes a stable and sustainable way to work while maintaining health and general well-being.

During the pandemic, when many workers were suddenly faced with working from home, there was a collective realization that how we work and why were work was eclipsing how we live.

The pandemic has been a catalyst to elevate personal purpose and value. People were more aware of how little they were valued and how little they were seen and realized that they were killing themselves, sacrificing portions of their lives and themselves for very little in return.

The great reflection

A pot hoel filled with water reflecting a person, buildings and a plane

Last November, over 4.5 million people voluntarily left their jobs. Some started working from home and rethought how work should fit into their lives. This is a change from how to make life happen around work. Some said goodbye to their jobs for years and looked for ways to contribute more to society. Even without knowing exactly how they would do it, all of them mentioned that one reason they changed was to have a better work-life balance.

A significant societal change, like a pandemic, where we see the loss of life in the news daily, will make people think about their own lives. If the guy in the cubical three down from you is suddenly a sheet-covered body waiting to be loaded into a refrigerator truck because there is no room at the morgue, you get to thinking. And people did. We’ve been reflecting on our lives, our mortality, and how we can work smarter and have more time to do what makes us happy.

Businesses must understand that they cannot function without people. They are not just employees; they are mouthpieces and customers. Their happiness is essential. Employees will be more discerning when returning to work or looking for a new job.

This need for balance is bringing the four-day work week back into focus.

What is a 4-Day work week

Unlike Chick-fil-a, where employees have to fit their full-time schedule into three days, the four-day week is not the same. A four-day week is not a compression of hours but a week with fewer work hours.

Those working a four-day week would work around 28 hours and have a three-day weekend.

This is not radical, as the work week has been evolving since the late 19th century. In 1890 the United States Government estimated that an employee in a manufacturing position worked an average of 100 hours per week. By the mid-20th Century, those manufacturing workers had a 40-hour week. So, reducing the week to 28 may sound visionary, but it’s more a case of evolving with the climate and employee needs.

The Pros

Many reasons for the four-day work week affect employers and employees. Here are a few to consider if this type of schedule is being considered at your business.

Productivity

Stanford University conducted an exhaustive study that revealed overworked employees are less productive than those working a regular schedule. A study done in New Zealand showed that the four-day week produced the same productivity as a five-day work week, but there was also a rise in job satisfaction, teamwork, work/life balance, and company loyalty. And there was a decrease in workplace-related stress.

Happiness

A three-day weekend makes employees happy. They have more time to travel, see friends and family or just shut off the work mode and relax. Having happy employees cuts down on burnout and attrition. This is a central component of work/life balance. When employees are happier at work, they have more fulfilling lives and are happier everywhere.

Reduce expenses

If your entire office is remote, this may not have an impact on you; however, if it’s not, then reducing the days in the office cuts down on overhead. Even one day less in the office will save money on supplies and utilities.

Times Not A Wastin’

a jumble of  broken time pieces

American workers waste about two hours daily, and most of the time wasted is taken up by surfing the net and chatting with co-workers. In the four-day week, workers focus more on getting things done in their four days, so wasted time is cut down.

Overall, with the four-day week, you have more productive, focused, and happy workers. They are also more likely to be loyal employees and ambassadors for the company. Better mental health and stronger bonds with co-workers are also side effects of the four-day week. And it all comes down to having an actual balance between work and life.

The Cons

Not everything is sunshine and roses; there are a few downsides to the four-day week. Let’s look at those.

Tighter Schedules

You have limited time for meetings when you remove one work day from the week. You can schedule conferences but those great, impromptu, let’s get everyone together on this type of meetings are limited.

Without pushing past employee hours, finding time for brainstorming sessions, training sessions, and the like is more challenging. Workers will now face a tighter deadline to get work done to enjoy the long weekend and leave work behind. Cutting into their days for meetings will take a lot of workarounds.

Tighter Deadlines Could Mean Burnout

Depending on your company, you may have to meet customer demands, fill orders and meet requests; with a day less to do those tasks, you may have a situation where your employees face burnout.

In the four-day work week scenario, some employees may have to work extended hours, which could lead to feelings of inequality and resentment, contributing to burnout.

Less Inter-Office Camaraderie

Some enjoy connections with their co-workers, which is a significant point of their happiness. Especially when working remotely, those virtual meetings can make people feel less siloed and more connected with their colleagues. Remove one day of the work week, and you cut down on that connection. For some, this could be a negative side effect of the four-day week.

Not for everyone

The fact is, the four-day week will not work for some industries. Service industries with time-sensitive products cannot close shop for an entire day. Likewise, only some employees will like the four-day week for personal reasons.

Scheduling is a factor that will be harder, as we’ve discussed. Some companies are implementing the four-day week without cutting down hours, like Chick-fil-a. So, if employees want Fridays off, they need to get their 40 hours completed in four days. In this scenario, a number of employees have opted out, saying the extended days leave them exhausted on Friday, so they aren’t getting an entire day off.

Whether your company goes with the four-day week or not, you must pay attention to the work/life balance. And more needs to be done than just giving it lip service being aware of the situation is an excellent first step, but action toward helping the work/life balance is needed.

Just as the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911 changed the level of safety at work, this great resignation, working remotely, and the pandemic combined may alter how we tackle the need for better work/life balance. Change can be good. The four-day week may be the change your business needs.