(NerdWallet) – The four-day workweek is the latest buzzy workplace trend, with experiments and surveys touting improved employee morale, retention and productivity.
In one study of 41 businesses across the U.S. and Canada — the majority with 25 or fewer employees — 40% of employees surveyed said they were less stressed after trying out a shorter workweek. In addition, 60% of employees reported a better work-life balance and 32% said they were less likely to quit, according to a July 2023 report by 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit that promotes shorter workweeks.
ThredUp has seen this play out in-house over the past two years. The online clothing reseller shifted to a four-day week for corporate employees in 2021. Voluntary turnover among that group dropped 55% compared with 2019, and hiring got a boost. Most new hires cited the company’s shorter week as a deciding factor in employment, Natalie Breece, chief people and diversity officer at ThredUp, said by email.
Can a shorter workweek do the same for your business? The short answer: It depends.
“You can’t implement something like this if the underlying culture doesn’t support and nurture trust in your employees,” says Janet Lenaghan, dean of the Frank G. Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University.
For a four-day workweek to work, you need a culture that empowers employees and values results rather than face time, she says.
Planning, training and execution are also key for a successful transition to a shorter workweek.
Adjust priorities, offer training
Asking employees to squeeze five work days into four doesn’t come without adjustments.
Business leaders must assess workload, objectives and success metrics. They also need to invest in tools to streamline or automate tasks, such as accounting reports or other administrative responsibilities, so employees can better prioritize their time. Lenaghan advises leaders to “focus on tasks that drive bottom-line results.”
Nevertheless, from the top down, everyone in the organization will need to learn how to operate more efficiently.
Large-scale pilots by 4 Day Week Global, which have taken place globally, include two months of workshops, coaching and mentoring. Companies that participate in trial runs also get ongoing support.
Before ThredUp initiated its four-day workweek, it held training sessions on topics such as “how to lead an efficient meeting, when to cancel or remove yourself from meetings, and how to efficiently communicate with employees,” Breece said.
Managers and owners must also be encouraging and set a good example, which involves refraining from sending emails or expecting employees to work on days off.
Start with a test run
A pilot program is a lower-stakes way to try out a shorter workweek and work out any kinks before making it a permanent policy.
Poll Everywhere, a technology company that develops live survey and feedback tools, dipped its toe into a shorter workweek by implementing “Summer Fridays” in 2022. The eight-week trial had bumps, including company holidays that squeezed the already shorter weeks into three days.
“Some of the problems we saw with execution and missed deadlines might have had as much to do with how the logistics were set up as with the idea of working four days a week,” says Rob Graham, CEO of Poll Everywhere.
The company revived “Summer Fridays” in 2023 with some tweaks and additional training based on employee feedback and data analysis.
“We restructured the schedule so that holidays are now considered the designated day off for that particular week,” Graham says. Managers also received special training to help improve communication and efficiency despite fewer meetings.
Tailor it to your company
Some companies can operate Monday through Thursday without impacting customers or the business. Others need some level of staffing five-to-seven days a week.
Poll Everywhere opted for a staggered schedule for specific teams, where some employees had Friday off while others chose a different day.
At ThredUp, its 273 corporate salaried employees work Monday through Thursday. In contrast, employees in the clothing reseller’s distribution centers work from three to five days a week, depending on their shift.
Expect bumps in the road
No significant business change is without its challenges. Try to anticipate these and be proactive in finding solutions when possible. And recognize that some bumps may just be the new cost of doing business.
Busy times, such as the push to finish a big project or wrapping up end-of-quarter financial reporting, will always be hectic. And it takes some effort to get back into work mode after a long weekend, Breece said.
“But these challenges aren’t unique to a four-day work week,” she said.