Is a 4-Day Workweek Practical? The Data Says Yes


The traditional five-day workweek has been a staple in workplaces for over a hundred years. After being adopted by the Ford Motor Company in the mid-1920’s, the five-day workweek became commonplace throughout most industries in the US, and eventually around the world. Experts are taking a good hard look at whether or not the concept still holds weight in our technologically driven society.

Instead of the standard five days, many are proposing a change to a four-day workweek with the goal of improving employee well-being, drastically reducing work-related stress and burnout, and improving employee productivity. Four-day workweek trials have repeatedly shown that the extra day can go a long way in boosting employee productivity and workplace morale by offering workers the extra day to focus on things they otherwise wouldn’t have time for.

Rather than eat up valuable productive time, the four-day workweek may be able to enhance employee performance by cutting out things like excessive meetings, allowing employees to focus on more important aspects of their job while giving them more time to focus on the important things in their lives. The ever-changing nature of the modern workplace in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the findings of recent four-day workweek trials, as well as a recently published report from the Prodoscore Research Council (PRC) suggest that this new model could prove to be a viable alternative to the traditional work week.

Trials in Iceland & Japan show the four-day work week is extremely effective

The idea of the four-day work week isn’t an untested concept. In fact, recent trials held in Iceland show that the four-day work week may very well be the way of the future. The Icelandic trials were held over a four year period between 2015-2019, seeing 2,500 employees working four days each week (typically between 35-36 hours per week) without a pay cut. The results showed that employees were happier, healthier, and far less susceptible to increasingly common concerns like stress and burnout.

The four-day workweek trials saw employees improve their work-life balance without sacrificing productivity. In fact, productivity was shown to remain at the same level as during a traditional five-day workweek, and in some cases even increased during the four-day workweek. The reduced workweek allowed workers more time to spend with loved ones and on things like exercise and hobbies, creating happier and healthier employees who were more motivated to enhance their work performance.

With 86% of people in Iceland wishing for shorter working hours, the report, published in summer 2021, reflects the aspirations of Iceland’s population at large and shows that a national move to the four-day workweek could very well be on the horizon.

Microsoft Japan also tested out a 4-day workweek in the summer of 2019, and found it increased worker productivity by 40%. It also halved meeting times during the same trial period, and encouraged workers to use chat channels instead of holding meetings where possible. 

The way we work has been transformed drastically

Even just a few years ago, the majority of Americans believed that the so-called remote work revolution was still far off in the future. The onset of the pandemic necessitated the need for organizations around the world to rapidly transition to remote work models, with businesses investing in cloud-based workplace technology to enable real-time collaboration and communication between employees, no matter where they were working or what device they were using.

Almost overnight, countless industries were suddenly operating remotely, communicating via video conferences, working together in collaborative office apps, and using technology solutions to connect in ways they normally would in a physical work environment. These newly adopted work from home models don’t seem to be going anywhere, as many employees have reported that remote work has impacted their careers and lives in a positive manner, allowing them to save money, spend more time with loved ones, and work more productively than they ever could have in the office.

The boost in morale, productivity, time and money opened the eyes of employees everywhere, with many now in search of a career that will allow them to choose between remote work, working in an office, or a hybrid approach. It’s clear that employees have largely taken to the flexible nature of remote work and alternative methods of working, making it highly doubtful that many workplaces will ever go back to their pre-pandemic ways. In a report published by McKinsey, 52% of employees want to work in a hybrid model, while 11% want to be fully remote post-pandemic. Some people take this even further by stating that they would rather quit than go back to an in-office work setting. 

With remote work and flexible work arrangements more prevalent than ever before, a future four-day workweek looks more and more possible.

Report shows that increased flexibility has resulted in significant productivity gains

The report mentioned above conducted by the Prodoscore Research Council (PRC) shows exactly how much has changed in the wake of the pandemic. Data from the report was taken from over 900,000 data points generated by nearly 7,000 employees. The results are not exactly surprising, especially with the pandemic having changed so much about our daily lives.

The PRC’s report shows that productivity actually increased significantly in 2020 over 2019, even in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic and brand new remote work models being implemented by businesses around the country. Each month in 2020 saw an increase over 2019, with productivity increases of up to 207.6% being observed.

Certain days of the week were also shown to affect productivity, with Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday being the most productive days of the week, and Monday and Friday being the least productive. Chopping one of the least productive days - typically Friday - would hypothetically boost productivity averages. 

Findings in the report suggest that in a hypothetical move to a four-day workweek, nearly half the days which employees would have off would’ve been spent in unproductive meetings anyway. Add in the fact that employees are most productive on three out of five working days, and you have more than enough reason to entertain the idea of a transition to a flexible four-day workweek. A focus on prioritizing meaningful work over busy work and meetings would mean that employees still make the absolute most of their working hours, and could actually result in productivity increases, even in a four-day workweek model.

Embrace flexibility in both work location and days of the week

The research conducted by the PRC stresses that workplaces need to continue embracing flexibility in the workplace in order to build a happier, healthier, and more efficient workforce. Flexible work models allow employees to work in a way that better suits them, allowing for a healthier work-life balance, which in turn increases motivation and workplace satisfaction, resulting in increased productivity and efficiency. It also stresses the importance of keeping tabs on how your workforce is operating on a day-to-day basis, using technology to identify short and long-term trends and make decisions informed by contextualized data.

The future of the four-day workweek remains uncertain, but there are many reasons why businesses should be considering launching trials of their own. Dismissing the idea outright would be foolish, especially after the workplace has already changed so much since early 2020. Even a short-term trial could result in a healthier, more motivated workforce ready to work smarter and more productively than you ever thought possible.

Prodoscore provides unparalleled visibility into employee performance, offering contextualized productivity data which makes it easier to make confident and informed decisions, improve workplace productivity, and build a stronger, more capable team. To find out more about how Prodoscore can empower your workforce and help your organization embrace flexibility in the workplace, get in touch with us today.