Here are the pros and cons of a 4-day work week (2024)

How would you feel if your employer changed its business model to have you work four days per week instead of five?

Would you be relieved and eager to enjoy the extra day off, or would you feel pressured by the amount of work you’ll have to do during the rest of the week?

Although new research on the four-day work week shows employees are reporting a greater work-life balance as well as higher productivity, it may also come with some drawbacks, including the potential for longer work days and challenges with team co-ordination.

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I’ll lay out some of the latest research on whether a four-day work week is linked to greater job satisfaction as well as its impact on mental health. I’ll also outline some of the pros and cons of a four-day work week, so you have a better idea of what to expect if your employer chooses to adopt this modern business model.

THE HISTORY OF FIVE-DAY WORK WEEKS

In Canada, the average work week consists of five eight-hour days, totalling 40 hours per week, according to federal and provincial labour standards. Legislation also states that employees who work more than this, whether they are paid hourly or by salary, are considered to be working “overtime.”

In this case, employees are typically compensated with higher pay rates. While the general threshold for overtime pay is 40 hours per week, it varies across the country. In provinces such as Ontario and Nova Scotia, for example, the threshold for overtime pay is 44 and 48 hours, respectively.

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This wasn’t always the case, though.

Prior to 1926, six-day work weeks were more common throughout North America. In 1926, Ford Motor Company became one of the first major businesses in the continent to adopt a five-day work week for its employees. The company also made headlines about ten years earlier for doubling the minimum wage of its factory workers.

At the time, company president Edsel Ford said the business aimed to create an “ideal home life for its employees” with the goal of increasing productivity and retention among its workers. Shortly after the company implemented a five-day work week, major manufacturers in Canada and around the world began to do the same.

FROM FIVE TO FOUR: WHAT RESEARCH SHOWS

About a century later, a group of researchers is trying to demonstrate whether even greater success can be achieved by implementing a four-day work week. The non-profit organization known as 4 Day Week Global launched the world’s largest trial run of a four-day work week in 2022 with pilot programs organized around the world.

This summer, 4 Day Week Global released the results of its pilot program launched in Canada and the United States, which followed 41 businesses throughout 2022. Of the companies surveyed, 44 per cent had a fully remote work model, and 56 per cent had a non-remote or hybrid work model.

To date, this is the largest study of its kind performed in North America.

One of the more interesting targets of this program was to see whether there was an increase in participants’ overall productivity, allowing them to accomplish the same amount of work in a 32-hour week as they would in a 40-hour week, all while retaining the same pay and benefits.

The study started by taking baseline responses from company administrators and participating employees. After a 12-month period, updated responses were recorded. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Self-rated mental health scores steadily increased over the 12-month period
  • Self-rated physical health scores increased
  • Participants reported steadily increasing work-life balance scores
  • The average number of total hours worked decreased from 38 to 32 across the four days, with overall work efficiency remaining the same
  • Both life and job satisfaction scores steadily increased
  • Burnout levels slightly decreased, but not to a major degree

Overall, participants reported that working four days a week instead of five was a positive experience, giving it a rating of nine out of 10.

BENEFITS OF A FOUR-DAY WORK WEEK

The study also revealed there are several benefits that both employers and staff members can reap from adopting a four-day work week. Here’s a quick outline to give you some food for thought.

A more balanced lifestyle

What would you do with an extra day off? Some might use it to spend time with their family and friends, work on a hobby, build a side business, or simply to take better care of their physical and mental well-being.

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The study showed that 74 per cent of participating employees said they were more satisfied with their time while working four days a week. Additionally, six out of ten employees claimed that both work-to-family and work-to-life conflict declined after switching to a four-day work week.

Increased productivity on working days

The pilot project also revealed an interesting trend in employee productivity. By the end of the 12-month program, there was a 57 per cent increase in employees’ self-reported productivity, with 95 per cent of participants reducing their overall work time.

This suggests that employees may have become more productive while working fewer hours, the report says.

Having a better work-life balance can lead to higher job satisfaction, according to a recent study by the International Labour Organization. This means they may be likely to return to work feeling refreshed, happy, well-rested, and ready to take on whatever challenges come their way.

Reduced overhead for businesses

The pilot study published by 4 Day Week Global revealed that, on average, most employees worked five fewer hours per week while producing similar results and maintaining their efficiency levels.

This represents a 15.79 per cent decrease in payroll costs for the companies that participated in the program. If working four days per week can result in employees working fewer hours on average, companies may be able to save money on payroll expenses.

DRAWBACKS OF A FOUR-DAY WORK WEEK

While four-day work weeks have been shown to come with benefits, this work model may not be right for all employees and businesses. Here are some of the challenges that companies and their staff members could experience while trying to adopt a four-day work week.

Potentially longer working days

Although the study referenced above saw an overall decrease in the average amount of hours employees worked each week, this may not be the case for everyone. In organizations where productivity is already near or at its maximum, employees will need to find a way to fit the same amount of work into fewer working days.

This, in turn, could lead to longer hours, higher stress, and eventual burnout among staff members.

Team co-ordination challenges

While some businesses may simply adopt a Monday to Thursday work schedule, other companies operating seven days a week will need to completely reorganize their departments and scheduling.

This could become a logistical problem, especially among large enterprises.

Additionally, industries that require physical work and boots on the ground – as opposed to administrative jobs that can be performed remotely – may not be great candidates for a four-day work week. This is especially the case for professions that are facing a labour shortage, such as nursing.

Positive results could be short-lived

Overall, the study conducted by 4 Day Week Global indicated that participants experienced increased productivity despite an overall reduction in their average work time per week.

However, these results could be short-lived. The pilot program only lasted one year, and despite promising results during that period, we still lack conclusive data that points to the long-term effects of a shortened work week.

ADAPTING TO A NEW WAY OF WORKING

The trials launched by 4 Day Week Global point to positive results gathered from the companies involved. However, adopting a four-day work week may not be feasible or efficient for some types of businesses. In some cases, it may even lead to increased levels of stress and burnout among employees.

I’m excited to see what further research reveals. If the net positives continue outweighing the negatives, a four-day work week may just become the new normal.

Wondering if a four-day work week is the right choice for you? Your personal preferences and the industry you work in are both important factors to consider.

If you happen to work in a job or industry that would allow you to experiment with a four-day work week, consider giving it a try to see the results for yourself.

Christopher Liew is a CFA Charterholder and former financial advisor. He writes personal finance tips for thousands of daily Canadian readers on hisWealth Awesome website.

Here are the pros and cons of a 4-day work week (2024)
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