4 Day Work Week FAQs - Your Questions Answered
In this interview we catch up with, Joe O'Connor, the co-founder of the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence to help answer your questions on the 4 day work week (32hrs).
5 min read
20 Mar, 2023
There's a lot of questions which come up when someone mentions the "4 day work week". It's a new concept after all...
1. Can a four-day week work for every industry?
Nobody is arguing that a 4-day ‘9 to 5’ will become the norm in areas with atypical hours and work patterns that currently don't have a standard five-day week structure. The shorter working week is not a one-size fits all approach.
We believe that we have the productive and technological capacity for the four-day week to replace the five-day week as the ‘new normal’, and for some version of work time reduction to be achieved across all sectors of the economy.
To address the particular complexities and peculiarities of different industries, we've developed specialized solutions for areas as diverse as law, marketing and insurance at the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence, led by experts and supported by practitioners in each field.
2. Are there some sectors or organizational types that this would never work for?
Some industries and organization types are the ‘low hanging fruit’ - for example, in many ‘white-collar’, knowledge work roles that previously were typically ‘office work’ but are now most likely hybrid or remote-first, effectively the four-day week is already here. It’s just buried under the rubble of unnecessary and overlong meetings, distractions and interruptions, outdated practices, wasteful processes and poor use of technology. Once you set about addressing these inefficiencies, the four-day week is well within reach.
In other areas, it might require a deeper level of innovation and organizational redesign, however we have experience working with companies from practically every industry to achieve some form of work time reduction, from restaurants to manufacturers and everything in between.
Would you like a 4 day work week?
3. What about organizations that say it might work for one department but it won’t work across the whole organization?
Even within organizations, it is often not a one-size-fits-all approach.
The four-day week might look different depending on the department, for example - a single universal day off might make sense for teams who create most of their value through internal collaboration, but for other areas like customer service support and retail this will likely not be feasible, so clever rostering and flexible scheduling will be required to maintain service coverage.
Different variations of work time reduction, such as five shorter days, may also be more suited to some departments than a pure four-day week.
Starting a trial in one part of the business with a view to minimizing risk, learning from the experience and outcome of the trial, building buy-in and confidence, and then expanding the policy more widely is a viable option for many businesses.
Another option may be to run multiple experiments involving different variations of work time reduction and/or flexible working models in order to compare, contrast and inform their broader future of work approach.
A central consideration at all times is that employees perceive the process to be fair, to ensure organizational buy-in.
Differentiated trials and policies are easier to implement from both a people and an operational perspective if the departments involved are less mutually interdependent in their day-to-day work.
4. How does it work for part-time workers?
The most common approach is to apply the hourly reduction on a pro-rata basis to part-time workers. For example, if full-time workers are moving from 40 hours to 32 hours, someone currently working 20 hours would move to 16.
Another application is in the case of employees who are already working a 4-day week on 80% hours, but for 80% of the pay. Companies will often equalize their salary to 100% when the new “full-time” becomes 80% of the hours, so long as their responsibilities and expected output is the same as full-time staff (which often they find was already the case even while they were earning less salary). The pro-rata option can also work here - using the previous example, these workers would move to a 25.6 hour week (could round up to 26). Sometimes companies give these staff the choice between the pay increase and the further reduction in hours for the same pay.
Part-time workers or contractors on a very low number of hours may not need to be covered by your organization’s four-day week policy. Apply the test as to whether other HR policies apply to them, or if they would attend a company-wide meeting.
5. How does the shorter working week work for organizations with billable hour pricing?
Firms in law, marketing, accountancy or other professional service industries where the billable hour is typically utilized have successfully moved to a shorter working week in one or more of the following ways:
- Moved partly or wholly from billing by the hour to value-based or project-based fixed fee billing, either in advance of or alongside their shift to a shorter working week
- Finding efficiencies within the billable hour structure in order to deliver work in less time than the standard chargeable estimate
- Maintained billable hours at or near the same levels by finding sufficient efficiencies in their non-billable overheads, allowing for a greater focus on direct client work
Often, the answer is some combination of the above.
6. Is there any pattern in behavior of where the motivation for a shorter working week is coming from in organizations? And where is the resistance coming from?
In small businesses with a flat organizational structure, the project is usually driven directly by the CEO and/or founder; for larger organizations, it tends to still come from the leadership or executive team but typically might be their head of people, HR or operations, or someone leading on a project to rethink and redesign the future of work.
The biggest motivation for leaders tends to be talent attraction, retention and competitive differentiation.
Resistance often comes from department heads or managers who see genuine implementation difficulties and are skeptical as to feasibility, or who feel threatened by a process to uncover inefficiency as being an implicit criticism of their management.
7. Can a four-day week work for bigger, more complex organizations, or is it more suitable to small-mid sized businesses?
Based on the conversations we are having, it's only a matter of time before we see lots more companies with significant market presence moving in this direction, but the more complex the organization, the more complex the transition will be.
Large, multi-global, multi-disciplinary organizations with a range of different locations and functions will have a greater level of decision-making bureaucracy, and will likely need to design a variety of different applications of the shorter working week customized to different parts of their business. Therefore this might look more like a 12-24 month transformation than a 6-month trial.
Thanks again to Joe for taking the time to answer these questions - we couldn't agree more with his answers. In a future post we'll be taking more of your questions such as:
- How does it work for a multi-global project?
- How do you deal with public holidays, and/or holiday entitlements overall?
- What if you can’t just close your office on a Friday?
- And more
If you've got any other questions you'd like answer - please feel free to get in touch.