The pros and cons of a 4-day work week

In a world where the traditional 5-day work schedule has long been the norm, the reality of a 4-day work week is a potential game-changer for both employees and employers. With the promise of improved work-life balance and enhanced productivity – all while essentially reclaiming more hours in your week – recent trials of the 4-day work week have sparked discussions about its viability over the long-term. Read on to learn how it could impact the way we work in Australia.

Successful implementations of 4-day work weeks

“The pandemic has dramatically changed the way many of us think about work. It has heightened the importance of work-life balance and resulted in an increase in the demand for flexible work schedules to provide the right balance between professional and personal life,” says Amie Duignan, Career Coach at A.D Connects. This is reflected in the over 40% of employees who worked most of their hours from home in August 2021. 

So it makes sense that countries like Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Iceland have already conducted trials of the 4-day work week – with promising results. Before the pandemic struck, Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based trust management company, implemented a 4-day work week trial and reported a remarkable 20% increase in employee productivity and an overwhelmingly positive impact on work-life balance.

Closer to home, a six-month Australasian trial of the 4-day work week, which ended in early 2023, involved 26 companies and had staggeringly positive results: a supermajority (95%) of organisations favoured the reduced schedule, 96% of employees wanted to continue working a 4-day week, and two in three reported less burnout.

Advantages of a 4-day work week

The idea of condensing work into four days instead of the conventional five is spruiked as a way to reshape employee wellbeing and productivity over the long-term. So, what are some of the biggest pros?

  • Increased employee satisfaction and work-life balance: A 4-day work week can significantly enhance employee satisfaction by providing more time for leisure and family, and less time spent on your work devices. This newfound balance can lead to reduced burnout, better mental health and an overall happier workforce.
  • Boost in employee morale and engagement: When employees feel that their employer values their wellbeing, morale and engagement often soar. A shorter work week can instil a sense of loyalty among staff, driving them to give their all during the hours when they are at work.
  • Improved focus and productivity: A compressed work week can encourage employees to be more focused and efficient, knowing they have fewer days to get their jobs done. This intensified focus can lead to higher productivity, as employees work more diligently within the shorter timeframe.

Challenges of a 4-day work week

While the promise of a shorter work week is enticing, the transition to a 4-day structure can come with its share of challenges, including:

  • Adjustments to workload and increased expectations: Transitioning to a 4-day work week requires careful planning to ensure the workload remains manageable. Without proper adjustments, employees might become more stressed as they attempt to meet unrealistic expectations within a shorter period.
  • Potential impact on company operations and customer service: Industries that rely on continuous operations or customer service might find it challenging to implement a 4-day work week without disruptions. Maintaining consistent service levels while accommodating reduced work hours requires careful coordination from the top-down – including HR and even the C-suite – as well as strategies to close any potential gaps.

So, how can you find the balance? A 4-day work week will play a big part in employee productivity, collaboration and work-life harmony. But what will that look like exactly?

Factors influencing productivity in a shortened work week

The success of a 4-day work week hinges on things like effective time management, clear communication, buy-in from employers and employees, and strategies to streamline the transition period. Every business will need to determine realistic expectations and provide their team with the tools and support so they can excel in this ‘new norm’.

For Duignan, the bottom line is that you need to at least be doing something in terms of addressing employees’ changing needs. After all, if they aren’t getting what they want out of their current work situation, they might start to realise that the grass is greener elsewhere.

“I’m noticing that companies that aren’t adapting to the new way of working are losing great candidates,” she says.

Strategies for employers considering a transition to a 4-day work week

For businesses considering a shift to the 4-day work week, it’s recommended that you take a gradual approach. This might involve piloting the concept with just one specific team, then monitoring the results and making adjustments before a full-scale implementation. You may also need to consider other factors such as how the business can better align with its employees’ values, and what programs you can introduce to attract – and retain – the best talent in your industry.

“Every day I’m working with candidates who are considering leaving their current job for a more balanced work life, better pay and a company that is aligned to their values, especially around wellness programs. It used to be rare to be able to work from home pre-pandemic. Now it’s a non-negotiable with candidates and it’s the first question I’m asked – even before ‘What is the salary?’,” Duignan says.

“The clients I’m working with are finding their employees who have a healthy work-life balance are energised, motivated and more productive. Employees are generally approaching work with a good attitude, resulting in a positive knock-on effect for the business with an increase in efficiencies and productivity.”

Advice for employees: Why you should evaluate the pros and cons for your career path

As an employee, you should assess whether a 4-day work week will actually align with your personal circumstances and your career aspirations. While the prospect of an extended weekend is enticing, you might also want to factor in the potential impact on your career growth and overall financial stability.

“The big question everyone is asking is, ‘Do I live to work, or work to live?’ The reality for most people is somewhere in the middle, as many people genuinely enjoy their jobs,” Duignan says. “Regardless, employees in any job are now striving to achieve the right work-life balance to maintain their mental and physical health, as well as their relationships.”

Striking the right balance

A well-executed transition to the 4-day work week can result in greater employee satisfaction, more engagement with co-workers and clients, and supercharged productivity. But striking the right balance requires careful planning, communication and an adaptable mindset – from the top-down.

Switching from a standard work week to a 4-day schedule is a massive change to your work life. Similarly, when there’s a big change to your own lifestyle it’s a good idea to see if your current life insurance policy still suits. To find out more about Guardian Life Insurance cover or to take out a new life insurance policy, request a life insurance quote online from Guardian Insurance.