09 January 2023 |

Could a 4-day workweek ever be the norm?

By Hebba Youssef

Do you know why we have a standard 5-day workweek? You can thank the Industrial Revolution for that! The concept of the 40 hour workweek was born in the 19th century. 

Yeah, in TWO centuries our workweek hasn’t evolved. 

Despite the following:

  • The average employee is only productive for 3-4 hours a day 
  • On average, Americans actually work an extra 7 hours a week. (Been there)
  • Since the pandemic burnout has been on the rise
  • 83% of US workers suffer from workplace stress
  • Employee engagement has been on the decline 

So… why haven’t we had our own workplace revolution?

Because corporate America has unrealistic expectations for what can be accomplished during a work day / work week and our notion of productivity is broken. 

Hustle culture is so toxic. Recovering hustle culture employee here! Historically, corporate America has overemphasized work over wellbeing. 

But the 4-day workweek is challenging everything we thought we knew about productivity and the workweek. 

The impact of the 4-day workweek:

Okay, what if I told you happiness and productivity are intertwined? You’d roll your eyes at me and probably say: OBVIOUSLY. 

So, then why isn’t everyone flocking to a 4-day workweek model?

Are we scared to disrupt? (I loathe that word)

Studies coming out of Iceland revealed employee happiness and productivity at work actually go up with the 4-day workweek. The trials showed with less working hours employee wellbeing improved therefore there was less overall stress and burnout. 

The cream cheese frosting on the cake: productivity stayed the same OR improved!

I mean with a 4-day workweek I’d have one more day to do all those chores I never seem to accomplish. My mental health would probably improve if I had an additional day to do more things. And I probably wouldn’t feel like I was constantly failing to balance work, family, friendships, and my reading list. 

But what if the 4-day workweek feels too radical for companies? I mean we still have CEOs demanding a return to the office. Please stop. 

Employees want flexibility and freedom over where and when they get their work done! 

But what if you have a company, CEO or leadership team that will never agree to a 4-day workweek? What can you offer your employees instead?

Embrace flexibility. 

What HR/People teams can do to support flexibility:

The 4-day workweek puts some control back in the employees’ hands to figure out how they do work best. HR/People must support that flexibility.

Here are 3 ways you can do that: 

1. Embrace remote/hybrid work: If I spent more time on this it might be overkill! Your employees want to decide where and when they do their best work. Give them that agency over their work and I guarantee you will see positive results. I’ll be doing a whole series on remote work later this quarter!

2. Create a space for daily breaks. You cannot sustain 8 straight hours of work and you don’t want to make your employees feel bad for taking breaks! If you can find moments to depressurize the working day via breaks you will improve your employees’ wellbeing. 

Pro-tip: Try putting a coffee break on the calendar for 15 minutes each day to encourage your employees to take a break. 

3. Consider your meeting culture. Read my deep dive on meetings! It’s full of great tips and even has a tool to help you understand your calendar.  BTW, meetings are a huge cause of stress for employees.

But, don’t pull a Shopify and cancel all your meetings. Take a beat and understand what your organization needs to thrive.

Rumor has it that most of the meetings end up back on the schedule by the end of February. 😂

Pro-tip: Schedule your meetings for 25 minutes or 45 minutes. Giving those extra 5 or 15 minutes back to your employees will give them time to decompress from potentially stressful situations. 

I have hope that someday a 4-day workweek will become the norm. Until then, remember that giving flexibility to your employees will help improve wellbeing.