Two Major Companies Announced Four-Day Workweeks—This May Be The Tipping Point For Businesses To Join The Growing Movement
Insightful author Malcolm Gladwell wrote about how significant change comes all of a sudden, stating, “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire.” We are starting to see this happen with the four-day workweek movement. Two major companies announced their abbreviated workweek initiatives.
Panasonic Goes For The Three-Day Weekend
Japan is known to have a hustle-culture work ethic rivaling—if not surpassing—America’s long workdays with fewer days off and family benefits compared to Western Europe. Japan’s “salarymen” are expected to work long hours, including overtime, participate in mandatory after-work activities and prize work above everything else.
In an effort to cut down of the stress of workers, Panasonic, a major Japanese multinational conglomerate company, is offering employees the option of taking a four-day workweek, “freeing them up to take side jobs, volunteer or just relax”—and to also promote retraining, attracting talent and increasing worker productivity and happiness. To provide how revolutionary this new policy is, only 8% of Japanese companies offer more than two guaranteed days off a week, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
Microsoft Japan previously experimented with a shorter work program, called “Work-Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer.” The company gave its 2,300 employees the opportunity to “choose a variety of flexible work styles, according to the circumstances of work and life.” The goal of management was to see if there would be a corresponding increase in productivity and morale when hours are cut down.
The results of the experiment indicated that workers were happier and there was also a 40% gain in productivity. You may, however, have to question the veracity of the self-reports. Workers may have tried to make the project successful, so that they could have a permanent four-day workweek. The 40% productivity may not be realized once the shortened workweek is officially established and, subsequently, taken for granted.
Why The Shortened Workweek Is Necessary
For decades, we were herded into crowded buses and trains, commuting over two hours a day to get to the office. Once there, you’re stuck in a skyscraper building with windows that are hermetically sealed, blinded by staring at a computer screen for over eight hours under harsh fluorescent lighting. Your micromanaging boss is constantly looking over your shoulder to ensure that you’re working. It’s all about face time and not productivity. To feel important, bosses schedule lots of meetings. There’s a meeting to discuss the upcoming meeting, the meeting itself and then the after-meeting debriefing meeting. This old-school style of working is punishing and exhausting.
A two-day weekend is not sufficient to recharge after a long, tedious workweek. One day consists of running errands, shopping for groceries, doing the laundry, tending to your children, doing work around the house or yard and the endless list of chores. You’re probably checking Slack and emails and doing catch-up work on Sunday night. Monday morning rolls in and you’re still exhausted.
The 4-Day Week Global grassroots nonprofit organization launched a mission to champion the four-day workweek. The movement was started by Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart. Barnes started this work style for his New Zealand-based company, Perpetual Guardian, and saw that it was very successful. Productivity increased and stress declined.
Barnes and his partner, Lockhart, decided to share their story and help other companies initiate their own four-day workweek, which would “improve business productivity, worker health outcomes, stronger families and communities, challenge the gender equality issue and work toward a more sustainable work environment.”
They found that 63% of businesses found it easier to attract and retain talent with a four-day week. Around 78% of employees with four-day weeks are happier and less stressed.” They’ve been providing online advice and guidance for companies that are considering starting their own pilot programs for a shortened workweek.
Bolting To An Abbreviated Workweek
The second company, which recently concluded a successful four-day workweek is Bolt, a fast-growing fintech unicorn. Ryan Breslow, the young founder and CEO of Bolt, joined the four-day workweek movement. Breslow, heading a multibillion dollar tech company, is wagering a big bet on the belief that by taking good care of his team, they’ll happily outperform.
The idea is to have his team work only four days a week. There are no catches. The checkout technology company founder subscribes to the notion that by providing time away from the office to rest and recuperate, people will return to work with greater energy and enthusiasm. They won’t be like the “zombies” you see at the office or on Zoom video calls, dragging themselves through the work day due to exhaustion.
Breslow posed the question, “What if we worked like lions?” Like the king of the jungle, people can operate with “short bursts of energy, high intensity and then rest and recover for the next sprint.” With a four-day workweek, he believes employees will have more energy and become much more productive. “With a four-day workweek, we can feel confident going all in on those four days. We can truly give it our all.”
Instead of playing the game, watching the clock tick down to 5 p.m., when you could dash out of the building or log off the computer at home, results are more important than face time. He says about this business philosophy, “High performance isn’t about how much you put in; it’s how much you get out.”
Boston Boat Reservation Company Is On Board
One Boston-based company is paving the way for companies to start adopting the four-day workweek. Over a year ago, Dockwa, the top boating reservation app that helps boaters secure slips and moorings at over 800 marinas nationwide, introduced the four-day workweek model to its company. Instead of the expected Friday off, CEO Mike Melillo selected Monday as the day off, a change that does not impact employee pay, time off or the hours they need to work.
The Wanderlust Group is the team behind Dockwa, Marinas.com and Campouts. It builds marketplaces and technology platforms that connect adventurers to destinations and helps those destinations grow. Its apps and software are used by more than 250,000 people, across 15,000 destinations in more than 30 countries. The Wanderlust Group is also a remote-first company that operates on a four-day workweek.
Dockwa is a two-sided marketplace connecting boaters and marinas. Through Dockwa, marinas can run their entire operation while gaining access to the hundreds of thousands of boaters using our free reservation app. Boaters can more quickly find and book both long-term and transient slips spending less time planning and more out on the water. Dockwa’s four-day workweek policy increased profits 121% year-over-year in 2020 and employees became increasingly more productive and happier at work.
During the time off, Dockwa encourages its employees to step away from their work and use the extra time off to invest in themselves, their family or friends. From earning a pilot’s license to volunteering at a nonprofit sailing club, to having a dedicated day for parent-teacher conferences and appointments, the stories of how employees have used this time back are both diverse and powerful. “We wanted to combat employee burnout. We realized that the state of the world was changing, and we really wanted to make sure that our employees were present, that they remained happy,” said Jessica Palmer, vice-president of people operations.
Elephants Remember That They Need A Break
Elephant Ventures offered a four-day workweek, but with a twist. The company requires 10-hour days, four days a week and then three days off. Barnes and Lockhart advocate for not increasing the daily hours to offset the day off. It seems that companies are making their own tailored versions of the program.
Art Shectman is founder and president of Elephant Ventures, a digital innovation and agile/lean product development and engineering firm based in New York City. He’s also the cofounder and president of Ultranauts, a social impact firm that employs individuals with autism, as quality engineers for software testing and data quality analysis work.
His hands-on engineering experience spans the technology landscape, from artificially intelligent robots to high-security trading networks, cryptocurrency trading automation to giant billboards in Times Square and green vending-machine prototypes. Shectman has consulted at the executive level for Fortune 1000 companies.
Shectman noticed that during the virus outbreak, his staff, affectionately called “phunts,” wrestled with maintaining a break between work and living a well-rounded life. He notices some signs of burnout, challenges and struggling with morale.
His Manila-based team works a four-day workweek, and they had 20 to 30% increases in productivity. In response, the tech CEO decided to do what he does for his clients. The company held an all-hands evaluation of what work style would work best in this new and uncertain time period. He repositioned his U.S. workforce to a fully distributed work style and converted to a four-day workweek.
It took employees about three to four weeks to adjust, he said. After the first three-day weekend, workers returned feeling rested and excited. “By the third week, it was more routine. People were really starting to have adventures and plan ahead and leverage to make use of the three-day weekend.” Ultimately, the compressed workweek was well received, so much so that the company adopted the schedule permanently.
Employees can make up hours on Fridays or the weekend, if they aren’t able to get in their hours in four days. “We trust people to fill in the gaps if they missed hours,” Shectman said. Employees will have 10-hour days, Monday through Thursday. “Everyone came back refreshed. That extra day, everyone took a pause. You could feel it in company morale. Everyone was more productive and engaged.”
Banks Benetiz is the CEO of Uncharted, a venture capital firm that accelerates early-stage solutions addressing economic inequality. Benetiz converted to a four-day week in 2020.
One of the benefits of an abbreviated week is that managers and workers need to be in the moment and highly focus on the present. It makes people analyze what is actually important.
He said, “When we launched an experiment during the summer to try out a four-day workweek, everyone’s salary stayed the same. But our team worked 32 hours every week between June 1 and August 28, taking every Friday off. This was not four 10-hour days. This was four eight-hour days. The experiment tested the hypothesis that we can deliver 100% of the work at 80% of the time, while increasing team mental health, reducing team stress and maintaining team culture and cohesion.”
Benetiz added, “We hypothesized that a person’s sense of support from their co-workers might drop slightly because everyone was so focused on their priorities, but we saw the opposite. Work-life balance increased and work stress decreased.”
One of the concerns about the four-day workweek was that the culture would suffer. The data showed that the team’s sense of culture remained unchanged compared to baseline data before the experiment.
Team members reported that while workweeks felt intense, having an extra day off resulted in greater energy at the start of the workweek. In addition, because team members have more time to spend with friends, family and their own interests, some have reported that they feel the team is doing better at bringing their whole selves into the workplace.
Spain, Iceland, Scotland And The U.S.
Scotland launched a trial four-day workweek. The decision was the culmination of a campaign promise made by the ruling Scottish National Party. Workers will have their hours reduced by 20%, but won’t suffer any loss in compensation. The program will be funded by the SNP with a £10 million fund ($13.8 million). The monies will be used to experiment with the abbreviated workweek. Some Scottish businesses have already started their own truncated workweeks.
Spain had announced that it would run a trial four-day workweek. The Spanish government agreed to a 32-hour workweek over three years without cutting workers’ compensation. The pilot program, similar to what Scotland is doing, intends to reduce employers’ risk by having the government make up the difference in salary when workers switch to a four-day schedule.
Scotland pointed to Iceland and its strong results as a big reason for taking a chance with the four-day workweek. A recent study of 2,500 workers in Iceland, more than 1% of the workforce, was conducted to see if shortened work days lead to more productivity and a happier workforce. The trials were made across an array of different types of workplaces.
Between 2015 and 2019, Iceland conducted test cases of a 35- to 36-hour workweeks, without any calls for a commensurate cut in pay. To ensure quality control, the results were analyzed by Autonomy and the Association for Sustainability and Democracy. Based upon the stellar results, Icelandic trade unions negotiated for a reduction in working hours. The study also led to a significant change in Iceland, nearly 90% of the working population now have reduced hours or other accommodations. Worker stress and burnout lessened. There was an improvement in work-life balance.
New Four-Day Workweek Bill Brought To Congress
Recently, Democratic Congressman Mark Takano introduced legislation that would reduce the standard workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours. Takano said in a press release, “A shorter workweek would benefit both employers and employees alike.” Takano added, “Pilot programs run by governments and businesses across the globe have shown promising results, as productivity climbed and workers reported better work-life balance, less need to take sick days, heightened morale and lower childcare expenses because they had more time with their family and children.”
The congressman said, “Shorter workweeks have also been shown to further reduce healthcare premiums for employers, lower operational costs for businesses and have a positive environmental impact in some of these studies.” Takano asserts that the workers would benefit from this change, as his proposal will allow nonexempt employees to receive overtime compensation for any hours worked over 32 hours.
A shortened workweek would go a long way in helping people lead a better balance of work and life. We’ll also likely see pushes for five-hour workdays, staggered flexible work arrangements, more people choosing remote-work options, hybrid models and other programs. Companies will benefit, as they’ll have a happier workforce that’s appreciative and motivated. Employees who are treated well will likely work harder, which would enhance productivity and profits.
Here are some other company piloting or contemplating starting a four-day workweek:
- CULTIQUE – cultural insights and strategy venture
- Healthwise – nonprofit leader in providing evidence-based health education
- Advanced RV – builder of custom Mercedes-Benz motorhomes
- Floodlight Invest – ESG data provider to asset managers
- Seed&Spark – film-centric crowdfunding and SVOD platform
- Gillespie Hall PR – strategic public relations, branding, social media and marketing firm
- Kickstarter – platform for funding creative projects
One of the great things we’ve seen come out of the horribleness of the pandemic is the optimism for change, particularly as it relates to workers. In this competitive job market, battles are waged by businesses to find potential employees and Herculean efforts are made to keep them happy. We’ve seen millions of Americans quit their jobs each month, showing that they won’t accept bad bosses, disrespect and low wages.
To remain competitive, companies have become open-minded to offering innovative ways to improve the quality of their workers’ lives. The four-day workweek is part of an overall reset of the workplace. We’re also seeing employee empowerment with the rapid growth of remote, hybrid and flexible (work anywhere or anytime you want) models, along with staggered hours to help with childcare, and encouraging relocations from high-cost cities to lower cost locations for the same pay and digital nomads traveling the world and operating from beaches, ski resorts and exotic places around the world.