Since 2022, conversation has grown about companies taking part in piloting a four-day workweek. One of the most recognized supporters of this movement, 4 Day Week Global, has led the charge by conducting the first coordinated, six-month pilots worldwide, in service of their goal of “creating a million years of free time.” These pilots, based on the 100-80-100 model (100 per cent pay working 80 per cent of the time while maintaining 100 per cent productivity), have shown promising initial results, including increased revenue, increased employee retention, decreased absenteeism and improved employee health and well-being.

With all of these documented successes, many companies have begun considering whether piloting a four-day workweek is right for them. While the extra day off each week might be appealing to employees, the time, energy and resources required to administer a four-day workweek cannot be ignored.

Before any company considers moving in this direction, there are a few impacts that should be considered, and some smaller steps that could be taken before fully adopting this new way of working.

Your policies and procedures will need an overhaul

While the 100-80-100 model provides an overarching philosophy for the four-day workweek, several existing organizational policies will need to be reviewed in detail. This includes potential modifications to hours of work, sick days, vacation days, personal days and overtime requests, to name a few. Emerging areas, such as the right-to-disconnect legislation requiring companies to have written policies about employees disconnecting from work during off hours, may also require attention to ensure equity across all employees.

For example, if employees are only being asked to work 80 per cent of their previous hours, companies will need to consider whether maintaining existing vacation, sick and/or personal days is too much of a strain on productivity. In addition, the flexibility needed to take certain days off to accommodate a four-day workweek might not be realistic, or preferable, for employees who are bound by inflexible timelines such as year-end reporting, payroll submission deadlines or conference and event attendance.

Accommodations might be needed

One underlying condition of the 100-80-100 model is that all employees make a commitment to maintain their productivity in spite of the reduction in working hours. But what happens if they don’t? While productivity as a whole may be maintained in these pilots, companies should be prepared to respond to individual employees who cannot meet this standard and may want to return to the previous model. Companies will need to explore different scenarios to better understand if accommodations can and will be granted based on different employee circumstances. For example, if a formerly high-performing staff member suddenly cannot meet expectations working drastically reduced hours, would a company allow them to return to a five-day workweek or move into a performance improvement discussion? Within any generalized results, there are always going to be exceptions to the rule, and how companies manage these exceptions may ultimately decide how successful they are in maintaining a positive and productive work culture.

There might be no going back

In their USA/Ireland Pilot Report, 4 Day Week Global reported that “96.9 per cent of employees want to continue the trial,” and “13 per cent said that no amount of money would induce them to accept a five-day schedule.” While these results may seem unsurprising, it does indicate that once companies decide to move in this direction, there is an underlying question of whether employees truly see the move as a pilot at all. In a scenario where a company does not see an improvement or achieve the expected results after adopting a four-day workweek, leadership will need to be prepared to manage employee reaction if they decide to return to their previous way of working. With this in mind, any pilot would need to be planned, evaluated and communicated to employees very carefully, while managing expectations along the way.

Walk before you run

Discussions about the four-day workweek will undoubtedly continue within companies worldwide. For some, this approach may prove extremely valuable, while others may struggle for a variety of reasons. There are, however, smaller steps companies can take to test if the conditions exist to even entertain piloting the four-day workweek. Implementing minor policy changes such as flex time (employees are able to start and finish work at different times during the day while maintaining core hours), summer hours (employees are able to leave early on Fridays during summer months), and compressed hours (employees work extra time each day for additional time off). These lower-risk approaches can test if a company is well-suited to move ahead with a four-day workweek before they reach the potential point of no return.

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