Knowledge, 01.06.2023

The four-day week: our future working model?

In our digitalized working world, we have achieved unprecedented productivity thanks to state-of-the-art technologies. But digitization also has its downsides, because employees are under more strain today than ever before. The speed of work and the constant work with digital tools place high demands on employees. Against this background, the idea of a four-day week is becoming increasingly important. Working highly productively for 4 days, regenerating for 3 days and pursuing issues close to your heart – that sounds like a better work-life balance.

Digitalization has revolutionized the way we work. Modern technologies and efficient tools allow us to complete tasks much faster and more efficiently than ever before. Automation, the use of artificial intelligence and real-time communication have led to an enormous increase in productivity. Today’s office and knowledge workers can do much more with less time than they did 20 or 30 years ago. However, nothing has changed in the classic working time model since the 60s – the 40-hour week, spread over 5 days, is still standard in our working world.

Work has become much faster and more stressful

But the increased productivity also has its downsides. Employees are under much more pressure in today’s fast-paced and digital world of work. This is because the boundaries between work and private life are becoming increasingly blurred, as e-mails, chat messages and other digital means of communication are available around the clock. Employees often feel obliged to be permanently available and to react quickly. This often leads to increased stress and mental exhaustion. As current studies, such as the DAK Psychreport 2023 shows, the number of absences from work due to mental illness peaked in 2022. A good work-life balance is therefore more important than ever in today’s world. Employees must have the opportunity to recover from highly productive times, pursue personal interests and obligations, and spend sufficient time with their families. Breaks and regeneration phases are crucial to meet the increased demands and to stay healthy, motivated and creative in the long term.

That’s where the four-day workweek comes in. This working time model shortens the traditional five-day week to four days, with the working time per day usually remaining unchanged. The salary also remains the same in the classic four-day model. Employees thus receive one additional day off per week, which they can arrange according to their individual needs. Especially for employees with children or family members in need of care, the four-day week would be an important step. This is because this group of employees with a double burden has a particularly higher need for regeneration. The four-day week also meets the desire of most employees and especially generations Y and Z for more time for their own projects, further training and sporting activities.

Win-win for both – employee and company?

Also companies can benefit from a four-day week. That’s because a shortened workweek can reduce sick leave, increase employee productivity, and also increase the revenue. At least that’s what  a recent study by the University of Cambridge in the  UK shows, in which 61 companies tested the 4-day week for half a year. According to the study, 71% of employees felt less “burned out” and 39% less stressed. There were 65% fewer sick days and 57% fewer resignations. However, an average increase in sales of 1.4% is particularly interesting. This suggests that employees with a four-day week work more concentrated and efficiently during their working hours.

Because less time for the same work, requires a better organization of the working day, fixed times for focus work and a stronger awareness of which tasks and deadlines are really helpful for coping with the work. Managers would have an important role to play in the introduction of a 4-day week – because managing and establishing more efficient collaboration with more productive meetings and precise targets would be an important prerequisite for success.

Challenges and chances of the 4-day week

Of course, there are also challenges in implementing a four-day week. Especially in industries with round-the-clock operations or in the service sector, it can be difficult to reduce working hours without sacrificing service quality or customer care. Careful planning of tasks is therefore crucial to ensure that the workload is evenly distributed over the remaining working days. For companies struggling to handle the workload, a 4-day/36-hour week could also be a first step. In this case, 4 hours would be spread over the 4 working days. In the manufacturing industry, work processes would have to be rethought and, if necessary, adjustments would have to be made to shift work, which is the only way to ensure smooth production. Employment contracts and collective agreements may also have to be renegotiated and adopted. 

Companies that have designed their working environment according to New Work principles should consider the four-day week as an important tool for employee satisfaction and retention. This is because the concept is based on a corporate culture that focuses on appreciation, openness and trust in employees.

Overall, the four-day week represents a contemporary solution to the challenges of the digitized world of work for many industries. It enables employees to benefit from the efficiency gains of digitalization while achieving a good work-life balance. Companies that adopt the four-day workweek can increase their attractiveness to employers and promote a positive corporate culture. The four-day week seems to be a logical future step towards a sustainable working world that meets the needs of employees.

Read also our article “The office of tomorrow: welcome to the Community Hub”

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