Does a four-day work week make more sense post-pandemic?

Discussion
Photo: @AAS via Twenty20
Dec 02, 2021

According to a new survey, 83 percent of Americans would prefer a four-day workweek.

The survey of 4,000 full-time workers taken in mid-October from GoodHire found the appeal of four-day weeks fairly equal across generations.

The findings, similar to the results of other recent surveys, follows a study of Iceland’s shift to a four-day work week for the wide majority of its workforce which found productivity remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces. Further, worker wellbeing dramatically increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout, to health and work-life balance.

Calls for flexible work schedules, including four-day weeks, have grown louder as the pandemic pushed millions into remote work. Benefits to employees from four-day work weeks include being able to better manage child and elderly care, reduced commuting times and the recharge that comes with a three-day weekend.

Beyond potential productivity gains and cost savings, retention and recruiting are seen as the major business benefit.

An Asian fusion restaurant in Tampa, according to cltampa.com, recently shifted to a four-day week to offset labor shortages and was able to double its kitchen staff and open seven days a week over a three-month period, increasing revenues by 30 percent.

Skeptics see the four-day model creating inequalities because it fails to work for all sectors or roles. Employers may face paying overtime if the work can’t be done with fewer hours, and workers may experience burnout if required to work 10-hour days. When spending less time together, workers may find communication sharing, teamwork and culture building more of a challenge.

Proponents of the four-day work week see artificial intelligence advances continuing to streamline work collaboration. Shortening meetings, altering shift patterns and ditching other unnecessary routine activities such as coffee breaks may be necessary.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, an organizational strategy consultant and author of “Shorter,” told The New York Times that the four-day work week is “buried under a whole bunch of rubble of outmoded practices and bad meetings. Once you clear that stuff away, then it turns out the four-day week is well within your grasp.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does the four-day workweek make sense for retail’s corporate or in-store staff? Do you see more benefits than drawbacks to the four-day model for employees and businesses?

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18 Comments on "Does a four-day work week make more sense post-pandemic?"


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Joel Goldstein
BrainTrust

The professional work environment is quickly being accelerated away from the busy cubicle cities of the ’80s and embracing the idea that if you get your job done, management doesn’t really care where you’re sitting when it happens. I think the pandemic was a shove in that direction that moved us five to 10 years ahead of where it would be if it took a natural course.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

There is so much about a four day work week that is contingent upon the company, it’s employment situation, and what the company provides. Choosing to allow a shorter work week isn’t an easy across-the-board decision.

I have said before that I used to love working from home, but now I prefer the office a few days a week because I crave the face to face interaction. Zoom calls are exhausting and people I know who work in corporate positions are working longer hours at home; some are expected to be on call 24/7.

If a company can make a four day week work, that’s great. It can’t hurt to at some point give it a try.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I think you hit on it: it’s not really a four day week, it’s a four day* week where *= you’re on “standby” the other three.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

What a survey says and what is possible are two different things. After all, I am sure a survey would find a majority in favor of a two-day work week! The problem comes with implementation because while some industries could accommodate this others, such as factory work and front-end retail work, would have much more difficulty – especially right now when there is already a labor shortage. I think the key here is not to think in terms of work days, but in terms of flexibility. Being able to do things like pick start and finish times, take odd afternoons or mornings off, and other such things are all important and, hopefully, those things can be more equitably facilitated across all parts of the economy.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

The article nicely describes the pros and cons of a four-day work week. Like most things in life the pandemic has significantly changed behaviors. This is a logical next step. The remaining question is, if employees are not going to return to the office, what work schedule is best? This addresses corporate settings not returning fully to the office. However for employees who need to be present in the marketplace, this does create scheduling challenges. The key word being challenges, not insurmountable problems. The four day week will become reality, just like online shopping. Brick-and-mortar retailers need to get out ahead of this trend.

Jenn McMillen
BrainTrust

To each his own! Each company would have to run their own pilots to see if this would really fly for their situation. I’ve also seen several companies that do a traditional five-day work week make one day a week a “no meetings zone” so people can actually get work done, and that seems to have a lot of merit.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

The fact is that, as a country, we have become more efficient at most jobs and will most likely continue to. This raises the question: What have we done with what should have been more leisure time? The answer appears to be: We filled it with more work.

Concurrently, our economy has learned to work and communicate from home or home office, thus taking a significant amount of travel hours out of the work week. Both of these factors – telecommuting and more efficiency – lead to the proposition that the work week could be shortened by 20 percent or more.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I see a four-day work week as a potential solution to the labor shortage. Jeff Bartel of the Hamptons Group in a Forbes article promotes the four-day work week. He says, “Many employers find increased benefits in terms of operational efficiency, a more motivated and satisfied workforce and an overall improvement in worker and company health and wellness.” So, the four-day work week seems to be an effective approach to attracting new workers or staff, which is a challenge to overcome these days for retailers.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Of course any change to “traditional” workplace standards poses potential drawbacks. However times they are a changin’ (thanks, Bob Dylan!). From remote workplaces to adjusted family medical leave practices, employers have had to adjust their thinking and establish new guidelines and expectations. I believe the workforce of tomorrow will not only thrive with a four-day work week, but they will also demand it. Count me in as an early adopter if we can remain productive, collaborative, and valued by our customers.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

As grocers prioritize consumers’ needs and competitors’ moves, they lack the bandwidth to nourish employees, too.

Grocery has always had skimpy margins. Now the costly addition of omnichannel tech and supply chain modernization further erodes profitability.

That said, grocers that make an effort to keep essentials affordable for their workers will gain an edge in the war for talent.

David Spear
BrainTrust

Every company is a bit different and what may work for one may not for another. Trial and re-trial will be important, but it’s certainly worth the effort to understand the impact of four vs. five days. Personally, I think it can be done for many industries, but company leadership will have to buy in and over-communicate the implementation of it. Another important aspect is gauging the intended/unintended consequences that arise.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

It’s hard to imagine corporate staff returning in lock step for five-days-a-week cubicle work. Remote workers not only kept their companies alive, but thriving. If employers insist on returning staff to the office, gifting them with a remote work day might be a good compromise.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

I have thought a four day work week made sense since — well — since I started working. We have collectively lived through an almost two year long experiment in alternative work models and we have conclusively proven that one does not need to be physically present five eight-hour days a week to be productive. In fact, many people believe their productivity has increased away from the office or the store. The primary drawback I see for retailers is that it forces them to commit to the idea of full-time workforces. In many retail companies this would challenge an economic model based on a high percentage of part-time labor.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

The two parameters would be how many hours a week are people working and when do they want to work them. For some jobs spreading 40 to 50 hours across any number of days (four, five, six…) as is convenient for the person doing the work would seem fine. For those who are staffing “open hours” (stores), the open time needs to be covered which makes flexibility a bit harder. The pandemic reduced the number of people available to cover the work — so in many cases it’s more hours needed and in such a competitive labor market, that makes it convenient for the person to do the work when they want to.

Bill Hanifin
BrainTrust

This discussion is entirely different depending on what sector we are talking about and the workforce involved.

In QSR, casual dining, and retail, the four day work week could yield good results via an energized and enthusiastic workforce that could give their best at work and still have a day for dreaming up their future or managing their side hustle. Caution is urged to consider all the impacts of a shorter work week, as workers would not align with a shorter work week if it came at the expense of benefits.

For the corporate office settings, another conversation should precede the four day work week. Will all the talk about how the pandemic gave us the opportunity to reevaluate priorities and place values over busyness continue or will that productive talk track fade to black like the proverbial New Year’s resolution?

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

To me, it seems like a lot of attention is generated on four day work weeks either at site or in home. I think both have great opportunities for more effective and efficient worker morale, which comes from involvement. For those staying in office, they are closer to information that perhaps the home worker will not receive right away … a slight drawback. That being said, the four day week is getting to be a popular position. Most of these workers will be giving more than four days worth of work, because many will walk into their home offices at all hours with an idea or answer to a project they have been working on. I think the slight drawback of remote work is the loss of incidental communication and worker contact on changes, new ideas, new issues, and most importantly, communication with other co-workers and their ideas, as well as the synergy of all team ideas and successes together.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I don’t find any of the pro arguments convincing; basically they all seem to come down to the same thing: somehow – magically! – the same work gets accomplished (now) in four days that used to get done in five. I don’t buy it.
And particularly in a business like retailing, where the major component of the company – i.e. the retailing part – operates seven (or at least six) days a week. it will just be one extra day in the weekend where much of the decision making comes to a stop and support declines.

Jbrandonpowell
Guest
1 year 3 days ago

I am a strong proponent of a 5 day work week for retail. It would solve a ton of issues facing the retail work force. When I say five day work week I mean stores should be closed two days a week, Sunday and one week day.

This would immediately give retail workers a much better work/life balance. Sunday gives them one weekend day off that they have free with family members that work traditional Monday-Friday jobs (as well as school age children) and one week day for errands such as Doctors visits. This would instantly improve worker morale which in turn leads to better productivity and increased sales.

Being completely closed two days also lightens payroll needs and in the current environment of industry wide staff shortages makes it much easier to be properly staffed on the other days open.

The pandemic has proved that customers will shop whenever stores are open and will adjust their shopping habits accordingly around store hours with out too much of a fuss.

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Braintrust
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