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Switching to a 4-day workweek may require a ‘conscious redesign of work’

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Dive Brief:

  • For a 4-day workweek to be successful, CHROs and other organizational leaders must take conscious steps to redesign work and help employees embrace tech-based productivity and time-saving tools, according to an analysis by The Josh Bersin Co. and the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence.
  • A 4-day workweek model should be built on three innovative actions, the study found. First, measure work through outcomes instead of more time-based metrics. This involves assessing which work contributes to outcomes and assigning accountability for each task or project. Second, introduce practices that boost employee focus on productivity, such as by allowing them to operate “top of license” (focusing on what they’re uniquely qualified for) and not get distracted by meetings or admin that can get in the way. Third, foster a new approach to flexibility and employee autonomy, including by embracing asynchronous communication and empowering employees to adopt their own productivity practices.
  • “This is much more than a well-being perk — it’s an opportunity for organizations to transform how they work, increase productivity and remove obstacles that inhibit employees from focusing on what’s most important,” Julia Bersin, report lead and industry analyst at The Josh Bersin Co., stated in a Nov. 29 release.

Dive Insight:

Organizations have been experimenting with a 4-day workweek since the 1970s, but in this post-pandemic environment, a new model has emerged — one that focuses on productivity and redesigning work, according to the Josh Bersin study.

The research analyzed successful 4-day trials at mid-range organizations, including a marketing agency in Toronto that saw employee mental health increase by 26%, work-life balance increase by 42%, and a 15% decrease in time spent on internal or admin tasks. An environmental consultancy in the UK saw productivity increase by 22%, according to the study.

The nonprofit 4 Day Week Global also conducted a six-month pilot program that came to similar conclusions. Revenue at the 60 participating companies increased by 35% compared to the same periods the previous year, 4 Day Week Global said in a March 2023 release. At the same time, hiring increased and absenteeism decreased. The results led to 91% of the participating companies planning to continue implementing a 4-day workweek.

Office workers also find the 4-day workweek attractive, according to an August report from ResumeBuilder.com. About 8 in 10 workers said they would be more productive if they had a 4-day workweek. In addition, 3 in 4 would switch jobs and 1 in 3 would take a pay cut to work four days a week.

Even so, job postings that advertise 4-day workweeks, although growing steadily, remain low overall, Indeed’s Hiring Lab recently reported. The biggest increases were in postings for jobs in veterinary services, followed by industrial engineering, driving and architecture, according to the report.

However, the 4-day workweek may not work for everyone. Intending to offer its factory workers the same flexibility its office staff enjoyed, an employee recognition company attempted to give them a 4-day workweek. The company switched them to four 10-hour shifts per week, including a Tuesday to Friday shift so products could continue to be shipped out on Friday.  

The transition didn’t work for a number of reasons, including issues that had to do with safety and overtime and the reluctance of employees to work on Fridays. But the company learned more about its business and showed workers it listened and cared about them, according to one of its executives.

For organizations looking to make the transition, the Josh Bersin report offers a tip: True “work time reduction,” coupled with practices such as measuring work through outcomes and boosting employee focus, flexibility and autonomy, outperform models that singularly focus on “condensing 40 hours of work into four days,” the report said. 

“Implementing a four-day week takes hard work, and in many cases, a culture shift, but our research has shown that it can yield big benefits,” Julie Bersin emphasized.

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