Determining what successful hybrid working looks like is a priority for most business leaders in 2022. But as employers grapple with shaping a system that works for both them and their employees, could it be that a better solution is operating a four-day working week?
A growing number of people seem to think so. In the U.S., 30 businesses will kick off four-day week trials across industries including manufacturing, hospitality, healthcare, recruitment, and technology, on February 1. The six-month trials will be overseen by not-for-profit 4 Day Week Global — a community created to support employers that want to shift to the shorter workweek and ensure productivity remains high. Today, 4 Day Week Global launched its program in the U.K. to encourage a similar number of organizations to participate in half-year trials from June, with the medical research arm of camera company Canon already signed up.
To prepare for the U.S. trial, 4 Day Week Global’s experts have spent several months with each of the companies to ensure they’re ready, according to Joe O’Connor, who is the global pilot-program manager, based in New York City. This involved running workshops and training resources with international business leaders and consultants who have already successfully introduced a four-day week into their organizations.
“Additionally, there’s mentoring support, where we match up the companies with someone who has experience in their industry, and also they have access to a network of other companies on the program, so they can share experiences and ideas,” added Connor.
Preparing for, and running a trial before implementing the shorter workweek permanently, are critical to guaranteeing success for the model. Often leaders fall into the trap of dictating a time-reduction plan “before they have even engaged and empowered their people to find out how it might work,” said Connor. “Effectively, they are trying to solve every problem before a trial, and fail to recognize that during the trial is where you will find the best solutions, not in the boardroom.”
For example, companies need to establish their policies for personal time off and public holidays before making the jump — which many typically forget to do ahead of time, according to Connor. They also need to get the input from all staff across the business.
“For the four-day week to work, there needs to be an empowering process that is bottom-up, so effectively team leaders and staff are enabled to come up with the plan. Because no-one knows their day-to-day better than the people themselves.”
Productivity and well-being
In the pre-trial workshops employers were advised not to present the four-day week model as a work-life balance policy — but as a productivity policy, with the benefits of well-being and worker satisfaction built in.
“Sure, employees will feel more energized and motivated if they work one less day a week. But to set yourself up for success as a leader, you need to view this as an opportunity to take a look at the organization’s mission and priorities and how to deliver the most value in the time people are working,” he said.
O’Connor has championed work-time reduction for years, long before the coronavirus crisis accelerated workplace trends. He chaired the Four Day Week Ireland coalition in his homeland in 2019. “This concept seemed pretty radical back then,” he said. “One of the most significant barriers to progress, which the pandemic has lifted, was the idea of shifting from a time-based measurement model for remunerating work to one that’s focused on output.
“Covid-19 has forced managers and organizations to develop much more sophisticated processes to measure what gets done rather than when and where people are doing it. It has opened minds about a different model of work.”
Co-ordinated international trials
The 30 organizations in North America were plucked from a much larger pool of companies that had indicated their interest in trialing a four-day week. For the lucky ones, various pre-trial measurements were taken, such as the company’s productivity, staff well-being, carbon emissions, and more. These will be measured again when the scheme concludes.
Meanwhile trials will also go ahead internationally. To coincide with the U.S. trials, 16 companies begin their trial in Ireland on 1 February, while trials will also run in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand in June.
O’Connor and his colleagues are excited to see the results. “It’s a huge motivator,” he said. “Up to now, a lot of research in this space has been at an individual-company level. This is the first time that a coordinated, four-day week trial has been run on a broad basis, with employees and companies from a whole range of different countries and industries.
“The results from this program should provide a very significant contribution to the conversation about the four-day week, which we believe is central to the future of work. We are hoping the transformational benefits will define success in this space, and that those trialing a four-day week will make it permanent and inspire others,” added Connor.
Achievable regardless of industry
Healthwise, headquartered in Idaho, is among the companies participating in the U.S. pilot. Adam Husney, CEO of the nonprofit organization that helps educate people about health insurance, is relishing the opportunity. “Our teams really stepped up to brainstorm tips, best practices, and rotate schedule approaches that allowed everyone to benefit from a four-day week while still keeping our commitments to our clients. We surveyed our employees throughout the pilot and we saw that nearly 95% felt the four-day work week positively impacted their work-life balance and feelings of burnout,” he said.
Another company taking part is M’tucci’s which has three Italian restaurants in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho, New Mexico. President John Haas said if the trial goes smoothly, it will launch a three-day week from April. “The American workforce is well known for continually pushing the limits of productivity and stress, and the restaurant industry is especially demanding.” he said. “The four-day week offers an opportunity to adopt a more European, enriching culture. We truly believe that this 4 Day Week Global pilot and initiative is the future of employment, irrespective of industry.”
O’Connor agrees. “There’s a lot of momentum building for a four-day week, which I think can be achieved in almost every setting,” he said. Interest is growing exponentially, while major corporations are announcing they are giving it a go almost on a daily basis, and government initiatives are also increasing.
“Ultimately, 2022 should be an interesting – and pivotal – year in terms of where it takes us on this four-day week journey,” he added.