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Corporate culture

The 3 big truths about the 4-day work week

Anakaren Collantes
Dec 11 ∙ 7 mins
The 3 big truths about the 4-day work week

How to know if this trendy employee benefit will work for your team, today

Back in 2018, we started learning about the now-popular “4-day work week” employee benefit. We read about many different ways that this concept was being executed in the market, but we were specifically interested in the version that involves paying team members for 5 days of work, instead of 4.

By the time November rolled around, we were ready to break the news to our team: we were going to give this admittedly sexy-sounding benefit a try. (You can read about our implementation here).

We tested our chosen version of the 4-day work week for 6 months in 2019, giving us 3 months for pilot #1. Then we gathered feedback from our team, ran the numbers from a business perspective, and adjusted accordingly before starting another 3-month trial period. Now, at the end of 2019, the hype around the 4-day work week initiative has reached a fever pitch, with leading corporations such as Microsoft and Shake Shack giving it a try.

We’re writing this blog post because we felt the need to share our story around this experiment. Ultimately, we’ve found that a 4-day workweek has a lot of upsides to it, but we feel that if you’re going to try it, you shouldn’t assume it’s going to skyrocket your team’s productivity.

Read on to find out what we learned about the true value of the 4-day work week.

Productivity: not the be-all and end-all

Find any article that talks about the 4-day work week, and you’ll see there’s one benefit that’s proclaimed to be the reason to try it at your company: a supposed increase in employee productivity. In reality, this is a difficult metric to accurately measure, and to be frank, increased productivity wasn’t the biggest positive change we noticed as a result of our two pilots.

What we discovered is that there are many ways that a 4-day work week positively affects a team, including having an impact on lower turnover, happiness, burnout prevention, team engagement, job satisfaction… and the list goes on.

We see the 4-day work week as an overall investment in our software development team, rather than an intervention that only drives productivity. Having an extra day off per week directly affects people’s well-being, which results in an increase in satisfaction. Increased productivity, however, is not necessarily a direct result of higher levels of satisfaction. It could or could not be affected, and practically speaking, it’s hard to track.

Numbers, numbers, and more numbers

Many of the 4-day work week articles out there use impressive numbers to support the idea that it’s the way to go for your company, but these stats translated very differently to our business reality here at Osedea. Here’s our take on some of them.

1.Some articles cite research stating that businesses benefit from this initiative due to an increase in incoming job applications.

We can see how this would be important to a company that needs to fill a large volume of jobs quickly, such as Shake Shack. But for smaller companies that are searching foremost for a good culture fit when they hire new people, more job applications coming in isn’t necessarily a good thing. We need team members who share our company’s cultural values, such as a desire for personal growth, passion for developing new skills, thirst for mentorship, and love for peer-to-peer feedback (to mention a few). With that being said, we strategically decided not to use the 4-day work week initiative to attract job applicants, as we were concerned it would appeal to people who are primarily driven to work with us as a way to have a day off during the week. Instead, we used the 4-day work week benefit to reward our team, and as an added value for strong candidates who have many job options on the table.

2.“78% of employees say they could do their job in under seven hours a day.”

Honestly, we can’t relate to this stat. Our flat structure integrates everyone on the team to a business level. We have internal teams for office operations, IT operations, diversity initiatives, innovation, accountability, feedback, and more. To some extent, each of us contributes to the overall growth of the business. Our structure allows us to build the business brick-by-brick as a team, and as any business owner can attest to, this is a never-ending job. There are always things to do, and our team likes it that way. Our office culture is about so much more than just fitting a job description. Instead, we’re always creating opportunities to become the premium tech company we dream of being. This keeps us busy and motivated.

3.“Productivity (sales per employee) increased by 40%.”

Some articles claim that 4-day work weeks are the direct driver of an increase in productivity, but when you read the case studies, that’s never the only thing that the company in question changed. Typically, they also reduced the length of meetings, and eliminated them altogether when possible. We’ve established similar rules around meetings in our office, and yes — the perception of our team’s productivity increased as a result. But was the team more productive due to the 4-day work week, or because they had more time to make sales as a consequence of less time spent in meetings? It’s impossible to say. When you are on a reduced work week, you do need to ensure you optimize your time, no doubt, but it’s tricky to know if it’s solely the 4-day work week that’s making you more productive.

4. “79% of employees say they do not consider themselves productive throughout the entire working day.”

… So does this tell us that the week is too long, or that the day is too long? Again, it’s tough to know. At our office, we don’t have a 40-hour week policy. Therefore, this stat isn’t relevant to us. We work according to collective goals and milestones rather than by a set start and end time every day, which means we have flexible hours. Whether they’re established by our clients or our ambitious internal teams, we set goals and hold ourselves accountable to them. A task or project might take 10 hours or 60, but either way, we find great satisfaction in getting the job done.

The big benefit comes down to flexibility, and flexibility looks different for everyone

As it turns out, what our team really craves is the freedom to have a work life that’s congruent with their desired lifestyle. Some employees love coming to the office, some want more time to spend with their families, some enjoy being able to work from home, some thrive on more responsibility, and others crave opportunities to develop a new skill. These are all different preferences under the general umbrella of “flexibility”.

We believe the 4-day work week is a worthwhile investment — the same way we invest in better office space, bonding activities, and rewards. It’s worth our while depending on how much our team derives value from it — and provided it doesn’t compromise our business’s bottom line. By giving it a try, requesting the team’s feedback, and creating our own version of this increasingly popular employee benefit, we were able to reap the benefits without sacrificing anything that was important to us.

If you’re looking to decrease your turnover rate, increase your team’s job satisfaction/wellness/happiness, or improve the perception your employees have of your company, then we think the 4-day work week is something to try. It’s important to ask yourself what your team values, though. If a four-day work week would be “nice to have”, yet it’s not really something that will transform your team’s lives for the better (because of what’s ultimately important to them), then it might not be a good move for your company.

Conclusion

In an attempt to maximize productivity, you can buy your team a ping-pong table, hire an in-house barista, give employees unlimited vacation days, or incorporate the 4-day work week model. The options are endless, but the question that has to drive your decision is this: What does your team value the most? If they value money or fun over lifestyle flexibility, the four-day work week might not boost their productivity the way you’re hoping it will.

In short, the four-day work week could be revolutionary for your company — but if productivity is your main concern, it may not solve the problem the way you’ve been told it will.

We love the conversation this initiative has started around a new way of approaching work — and we’re still experimenting with it. It has opened our eyes to new possibilities, and to what our team really wants out of life.

We’ve tried several things to give back to our employees, including taking the whole office on an all-expenses-paid trip to Lisbon, Portugal, and funding people’s lifelong dreams of accomplishing a specific goal or having a certain cultural experience — so we likely won’t stop at implementing the four-day work week. We’ll continue to be critical, radical, and dedicated to our pursuit of work-life harmony before we go jumping headfirst into hyped-up trends.

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