In recent years, companies and countries have experimented with variants on the standard five-day, forty-hour work week. Sweden, for example, tried a six-hour workday, with mixed results. Four-day weeks are also being attempted, and showing more promise.
The concept is simple: Workers with busy family and personal lives often take time off during their day to handle personal business. This could mean spending time on personal emails, taking an hour or two off for a doctor or dentist appointment, or picking the kids up from school. Offering a four-day work week helps employees to set aside more dedicated time to handle those tasks, allowing them to focus on business during scheduled working hours.
Here are four companies currently testing the idea:
1.) Perpetual Guardian. In February, the New Zealand trustee company became the first in the nation to make a four-day work week standard for a trial run of six weeks. During this time, employees received the same overall pay. As reported by The Guardian, partway through the experiment, workers reported feeling more energized at work, and took fewer breaks. There was also a higher level of enthusiasm for their time off.
2.) Amazon. In 2016, Amazon began a program where some employees would work thirty hours per week, with core hours from Monday through Thursday. The company paid 75% of the forty-hour wage, but continued to offer full-time benefits as a way to improve morale and employee productivity. The company reported increased attraction and recruitment and the program is still in use.
3.) Treehouse LLC. Treehouse started in 2006 with a four-day, 32-hour work week, highly unusual for tech startups. It boosted recruitment, reduced employee stress, and supported a generally positive workplace culture. In 2016, they returned to a five-day week; a downturn in business led to layoffs, and despite the upsides, CEO Ryan Carson said they could not justify laying people off and also continuing the four-day week in a market dominated by the five-day week.
4.) Uniqlo. The Japanese fashion brand rolled out an optional four-day, forty-hour week in 2015. The intent was to improve employee retention by letting workers choose the schedule that best fit their requirements. Although adopted by a minority of employees, the system has worked for both the company and their workers, and remains in effect today.
Although the experience of these companies is generally positive, perhaps a better argument for the four-day week comes from countries that have broadly adopted it. According to CNN, the three countries with the shortest work weeks are The Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway, at 29, 33, and 33 hours respectively. Despite this, the average wage for workers there is US$47,000, US$46,000, and US$44,000 respectively, all higher than the New Zealand median, and all three rank in the top six worldwide for overall happiness (NZ is #8).
In summary, the four-day work week may have some kinks to work out, but there could be tremendous potential if it becomes the new norm in today's workplaces.