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4-day work week: a 2023 update

By 
Irena Macri
 - 
On 
Nov 15
 
2023
 - In 

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Last year, we posted about our 2-year experience with a four-day work week at Lookahead.

Time flies, and now at the end of 2023, we’re seeing more and more companies, including large corporates, trialling the 4DWW working model. We’ve decided to revisit this topic and share our tips and insights.

The current state of the four-day work week in Australia

We've seen a notable shift, with more companies experimenting with this model.

Last year, Australia began a four-day work week pilot program across twenty companies. After 6 months, the results were so positive that 95% of the companies wished to continue with the 4-day week model.

Another survey of ten Australian organizations that have embraced this model provides further insights. Among these, four companies have made the change permanent after trials, while the other six have extended their trials without formalising the move. These companies span various industries, including tech, management consulting, shipping/logistics, recruitment and health care and are predominantly small to medium-sized businesses.

As of 2023, there isn't a comprehensive statistic available that quantifies EXACTLY how many companies have adopted a four-day work week. However, we found this handy list of Australian companies that have implemented a four-day work week. As well as Lookahead, the list includes VERSA, Usability Hub, Geomotion Australia, Symbiote, Raisly, Cliniko, Oxfam Australia, and Unilever.

Across the corporate landscape, Unilever launched an 18-month trial with 500 of its employees back in 2022 and the latest bold move came from Medibank with its latest trial launch.

Globally, the trend is similar, with various industries testing the waters.

How a four-day work week functions

Let's talk logistics. In a typical four-day work week, employees work around 32 hours, usually over four days.

The most popular model? The 100:80:100 approach – full pay for 80% of the usual hours, aiming for 100% productivity. It's a bit like a magic trick with time, squeezing a five-day workload into four days without losing the magic of productivity.

Does it work? Well, the aforementioned Australian survey results indicate that the majority of these trial organisations have experienced increased productivity and improvements in recruitment and retention, despite reducing working hours by 20%.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of 4-day work weeks.

Work-life balance and stress reduction

The world's largest four-day working week trial to date, comprising 61 companies and around 2,900 workers, showed that 39% of employees were less stressed and 71% had reduced levels of burnout at the end of the trial. Levels of anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues also decreased.

Around 54% reported they found it easier to balance their work with family and other life commitments. Similar results came out of the Australian 6-month trial.

Yes, employees get a healthier work-life balance, feel less burnt out, and surprisingly, often get more work done!

“The 4DWW has done loads for my work-life balance. Simply put, a 3 day weekend is a game-changer. Friday is spent doing all the life admin I put off until the weekend, so when Saturday rolls around I'm really able to focus on the things that fill my cup. On the flip-side, working four days also increased productivity meaning when the workday ends I've found myself feeling like I accomplished more than what I might have previously done working Mon - Fri." - Sarah at Lookahead

Positive effect on productivity AND the bottom line

Microsoft Japan tried a 4-day work week and saw productivity jump by a whopping 40%.

How is this possible? Many attribute this to Parkinson’s Law whereby people naturally work faster when they have less time.

In addition, an additional day off gives people a chance to catch up on life admin, travel bookings and Insta DMs outside of work hours, which combined with increased energy levels and improved well-being, allow for MORE FOCUS and BETTER TIME MANAGEMENT.

In almost all of the trials, the shorter working hours didn’t affect the companies’ revenue, either. In many cases, it increased, especially when compared with a similar period from previous years.

This indicates that companies can experience healthy growth even with reduced working hours. Win-win!

Other benefits

For companies specifically, four-hour workweek models can have many other benefits from increased staff retention (40-80%), reduced operational costs, more (and better) job applicants, better gender equality, fewer sick days, and more time for upskilling.

And, let’s not forget about the environmental benefits. A four-day week means less commuter traffic and reduced energy costs leading to lower emissions. Learn more here.

What about the cons?

It all sounds like a dream come true but it's not all rainbows and unicorns.

Some industries find it hard to compress their workweek without stretching thin on customer service or operational demands. However, this can be overcome with creative scheduling and some customer-facing roles can be split into different shifts (e.g. Mon-Thu and Tue-Fri).

When it comes to employees, not everyone loves a shorter workweek. Some people prefer a slower-paced 5-day week with more time for water cooler banter and leisurely coffee breaks. For others, the perceived pressure and expectation to deliver more in less time may increase anxiety and stress.

How to implement a 4-day week successfully

If your company is ready to join the four-day bandwagon, remember, it's all about trust and flexibility. It's not just cutting a day off – it's about reimagining work itself.

Here are some general tips:

  • Ensure your business model can sustain reduced working days
  • Set clear goals and expectations. Define what you aim to achieve (e.g., improved productivity, better work-life balance).
  • Adopt the 100:80:100 model: aim for 100% pay, 80% time, and 100% productivity.
  • Keep all stakeholders and clients informed about the changes and expected outcomes.
  • Prioritise tasks with high impact to maintain productivity.
  • Foster trust and autonomy but maintain regular communication about company expectations and address issues quickly.
  • Offer training such as time management or prioritisation techniques to help employees adapt to this more efficient work style.
  • Continuously collect feedback from employees to make necessary adjustments.
  • If you’re not quite sure, try a 4.5-day week, 4-day week during the summer or 3-day week every 2nd week.

Some tips from us at Lookahead:

  • Keep public holidays in mind. Those weeks can often turn into 3-day weeks so it's important to set clear expectations and plan ahead.
  • The same goes for unplanned sick days or annual leave taken as single days at any given time. A 3-day week now and then is not an issue, but 2 or 3 in a row can hurt momentum and create bottlenecks in the team.
  • Taking the same day off (Friday) helps.
  • Flexibility goes both ways. We originally planned to do four hard days Mon-Thu, and have life admin happen on Fridays. That doesn’t always make sense. Sometimes a specialist can only see you on a Wednesday, and sometimes a client needs a chat on a Friday.
  • Keep in mind that 4 days of paid work / 3 days side hustle leads to burnout. Productivity gains come from using that fifth day to reflect, recharge, do life admin, pursue a creative project, and take a long lunch.
  • Keep the 5th day an optional fall-back for those who need it. There will be weeks when some members of your team aren’t as efficient or focused on tasks at hand (e.g. recovering from an illness, having too many meetings or offsite events and training).
  • Think about a 5-day week for the new starters during their first 3 months while learning the ropes and getting across processes and systems.

Conclusion

So, there you have it – the four-day workweek in 2023. It's not just a fleeting trend; it's a movement reshaping how we think about work and life.

Whether you're already on this journey or just considering it, let's keep the conversation going. What's your four-day workweek story?

PS. Have you subscribed to our Ducks In A Row newsletter? We share our latest posts, interviews, tips and insights every month.

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