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Is It Time for Employers Everywhere to Adopt a 4-Day Workweek?

CoAdvantage-The 40-hour workweek isn’t as old a tradition as you might think; it’s only been around for about a century. Back In the 19th and early 20th century, it was common to work 12 hours or more each day. Auto manufacturer Henry Ford changed that; he came to believe that overwork reduced productivity and increased mistakes. He was also concerned that too much time spent working meant too little time spent shopping! So, in 1914, he introduced the idea of a standard five-day, 40-hour workweek.

Congress formalized this shorter week in 1938 with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which originally limited the workweek to 44 hours. That number was later revised down to the 40-hour workweek we know today.

But 40 hours isn’t a magic number. It was probably chosen more for being a nice round number than any specific reason, and in recent years, more governments and employers have begun questioning whether 40 hours is the right number for maximizing worker output and work-life balance. There’s even a bill in the U.S. Congress, proposed by Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., seeking to legislate a four-day workweek.

In fact, over the past year, we’ve seen a sudden spike in the number of employers and jurisdictions favoring a 4-day workweek. But why?

A reduced workweek has been shown to keep or even increase productivity:

First, there have been some high-profile, highly publicized studies showing encouraging results. We previously wrote about a study out of Iceland that shows reduced work schedules not only don’t lose productivity, in some cases they even increased productivity! Similarly, Entrepreneur Magazine reports on several studies that found reduced hours (without reducing pay) maintains or boosts productivity (in one case by 40%!) while reducing some costs.

A reduced workweek attracts workers:

A shorter workweek can also serve as a great recruitment tool. “In the first 45 days since announcing [the four-day work week], we had more applicants than the proceeding four-and-a-half months,” Josh Foreman, CEO and founder of fintech company Indebted, told Fast Company. “Our talent engines [are] up about 283% since we rolled it out.”

 Take care, however. Like everything else, the devil is in the details:

How a new schedule is implemented makes a huge difference, however. For one thing, there’s some risk to employee engagement. Polling and analysis group Gallup studied this question. While they also found positive effects (less burnout, higher well-being) from a reduced workweek, they also found fewer hours in the office was correlated with a greater sense of disconnection and disengagement.

Social media company Buffer ran into just that issue. They had to reduce meetings to give people more room to get their work done in fewer hours, but it turns out meetings provided valuable opportunities for both formal and casual social interactions. That seems to be what hurt engagement, so the company had to start being more intentional about planning social events outside of regular work meetings.

Ultimately, don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees: the raw number of hours or days worked is less important than ensuring employees are happy and productive. That should always be the top goal of any schedule alterations.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about CoAdvantage’s ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.