How to solve the biggest hurdles of starting a four-day workweek

Most employees wouldn’t complain about a permanent three-day weekend. And many companies have done just that by introducing a four-day workweek. But there are businesses that still reluctant to do so due to the fear of sacrificing productivity

Back in 2022, Gartner surveyed over 3,600 job candidates globally about the innovative benefits that would attract them to a job—topping the list was the four-day workweek (63% of respondents chose this as the benefit that would most attract them to a job). And the majority of organizations that have experimented with four-day workweeks are happy with the outcomes. For instance, a 2022 to 2023 U.K. pilot program revealed that 92% of participating organizations chose to continue with a four-day workweek after the trial concluded.

Yet, many organizations believe this is too good to be true. A March 2023 Gartner survey of 139 HR leaders found that only 8% said their organization currently offered a four-day workweek. HR leaders cited three common reasons for not implementing a four-day workweek:

  1. We’re too busy: Doubts about logistical or operational feasibility
  2. It won’t work here: A lack of leadership buy-in
  3. It won’t last: Concerns about employee performance

However, these obstacles are not as insurmountable as business leaders may initially think. Gartner has identified key best practices for implementing a four day workweek:

Challenge 1: “We’re too busy”

The idea that employees can remain just as productive with one fewer day of work is often hard for business leaders to believe. But more hours working doesn’t necessarily mean more work done. In fact, our research shows that it’s quite the opposite.

A survey conducted at our 2022 ReimagineHR conference—which polled over 3,400 global respondents—found that there is no significant correlation between time spent working and employee performance. Additionally, our March 2023 survey found that four-day workweeks can actually improve talent outcomes like employee performance, discretionary effort, engagement, and well-being.

Organizations that have successfully implemented a four-day workweek have done so by shifting how they measure performance. Rather than valuing time, they value output. To do so, companies can make small changes such as setting meeting agendas and time limits, eliminating unnecessary meetings, focusing on one task at a time (monotasking), and encouraging employees to take breaks while working.

Challenge 2: “It won’t work here”

Many HR leaders simply believe that their organization would never agree to a change this drastic in their work model.

But if they’re thoughtful in how they introduce the four-day workweek, they’re more likely to get a positive response. Rather than pitch it as a giveaway to employees or a reckless experiment, they should present it as a different way to work that addresses organization-specific challenges and has a solid business rationale. They should also include how they plan to measure the impact—whether that be through metrics like retention rate, revenue per head, or internal satisfaction.

At Gartner, we personally recommend a crawl-walk-run approach. An organization should start with one department, then expand the pilot to other parts of the business. They can then fine-tune the strategy based on what they learn along the way. If the pilot is successful, they can roll it out broadly throughout the organization. If it isn’t, leaders should spend the time considering why it didn’t yield the desired and use this valuable information if they decide to try again in the future.

Challenge 3: “It won’t last”

CHROs may be tempted to dismiss the four-day workweek as a passing fad, or they might anticipate a similar attitude from their CEO. Though it’s still a relatively new innovation, the vast majority of organizations that have piloted a four-day workweek have stuck with it and believe it is having a positive impact.

Whether the four-day workweek endures will depend on whether the organizations that adopt it can sustain it, which in turns depends on three factors:

  1. Setting expectations: When implementing a four-day workweek, organizations need to set expectations with employees upfront and ensure that they understand their role in sustaining it.
  2. Building trust: To create trust amongst employees, make the criteria for success clear to them. Be proactive and transparent with regards to the circumstances under which the organization would revert to a five-day workweek.
  3. Creating accountability: After establishing the shared trust, leaders can hold employees accountable for holding up their end of the bargain, while providing assurances that the organization won’t end the four-day workweek arbitrarily.

How to know whether a four-day workweek is right for you

While our research indicates that many more organizations could implement four-day workweeks than are currently doing so, this approach may not work for everyone. Organizations with a meeting-heavy culture that have opportunities for improved efficiency, for example, are in a great position to implement a four-day workweek. This is especially the case with companies that can measure productivity, have a trust-based culture, and manage performance based in output.  

If an organization has leaders that are willing to trial a four-day workweek but remain skeptical that employees can maintain productivity with fewer hours and have a pay structure that is based on billable hours, they may be ready for a trial but will need to plan carefully.

On the other hand, organizations that don’t fully trust employees to remain productive or that are unwilling to shift away from measuring  productivity via time spent should not introduce a four-day workweek.

Four-day workweek pilot programs work best for organizations wanting to dip their toe in but not fully commit. If an organization determines that a permanent four-day workweek isn’t right for them, it  might be best for them to provide compromises can give employees more flexibility and control over their time—whether that be meeting-free days or flexible working hours.

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