Why Your Business Needs to Consider the 4-Day Workweek — Especially If You're Serious About Diversity.
These flexible work environments have proven to help diversify workplaces — but it's important to ditch previously held beliefs for them to truly be successful.
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The four-day workweek concept isn't new. New Zealand and many European countries have proven it successful over recent years. Yet, with the shift to hybrid work and the need for increased flexibility, more companies are rethinking the work week. One study showed that 40% of companies have implemented or are beginning to implement a four-day workweek.
Having managed my diversity speaking business for eight years, my organization is trying the four-day workweek in 2023. We studied the benefits, discussed our preferences and decided as a team to commit to the shift. As with any change, we anticipate there will be challenges short-term and are hopeful about the long-term results.
Research shows the four-day workweek boosts productivity, improves retention and increases access to diverse talent. This work schedule is more attractive to those that are caregivers, younger employees, those from different socioeconomic classes and those with disabilities.
According to Four-Day Week, organizations with successful implementation take into account the differing preferences of their employees with the flexibility to co-create their work schedule. LinkedIn's Workforce Confidence survey, which surveyed 19,000 workers in 2022, found that for 54% of people, the four-day workweek is among their top three priorities when it comes to workplace benefits. Support is especially strong for the younger generation of workers, with 62% of both millennials and Gen Z supporting the shift. The four-day week was also more popular among women (57%) than among men (51%).
One wrinkle to this — most senior leadership teams have significantly lower interest in four-day work weeks at just 43%.
What does it take to boost diversity and inclusion with the four-day workweek?
Related: The Case for a 4-Day Work Week
Ditch the "traditional worker" mindset
Most senior-level leaders grew up under the "traditional worker" mindset where men were more likely to occupy leadership roles with stay-at-home partners to help with tasks outside of work. The preference for workers to always be "on," respond to emails right away, be visible in the office for more hours, have back-to-back meeting schedules and emphasize being busy over actual results is outdated. The "traditional worker" model needs to shift from the four-day workweek to work.
For women that are caregivers, folks with disabilities and those from different cultures and backgrounds, it is more difficult to fit into a culture that reveres the "traditional worker." Burnout and turnover are much higher for leaders in diversity work. More flexible work environments are known to create more psychological safety for workers with different backgrounds and reduce the number of microaggressions they face.
Barnes' organization, which is working with university researchers to test the four-day week across different industries, promotes the 100/80/100 model: 100% productivity, 80% of the time, with 100% pay.
Oftentimes people don't reduce their workloads, they're simply more intentional and efficient with the time they have when they lose one working day. People are forced to evaluate trade-offs and set clear priorities instead of saying yes to everything.
Be clear on what good performance looks like
Instead of glorifying the "traditional worker," have objective criteria to measure performance. Reduce meetings by asking "could this meeting be an email," set clear boundaries on business hours and do not reward work done outside of those business hours.
Teams that flourish in the four-day workweek have a concise set of documented goals and expectations. They know what is in scope for their role and out of scope for their role. They have the confidence to push back on work outside of their job descriptions.
Also, encourage employees to set healthy boundaries based on their primary job responsibilities. Normalize pushing back when people ask more from you with clever phrases like, "If I helped you, I'd be letting others down" or "I would be unable to do a good job on your project and my other work would suffer."
As a leader, paint a picture of what good looks like. Measure performance objectively based on specific, measurable data to set your team up for success. For example, my team does quarterly key performance indicators (KPIs). Each team member selects three broad goals with specific tactics that are easy to measure completion on. We evaluate them at the end of each quarter to inform quarterly bonuses and pay increases.
Do a trial run
If your team is skeptical about the four-day workweek, try it first. Set an expectation for a time period for the trial, define what success looks like and gather perspectives at the end of the trial. My team has committed to our trial period at the start of the year. We are shifting to longer hours Monday through Thursday, proactively managing expectations with our clients and blocking time on our calendars for critical tasks aligned with our KPIs.
We also looked ahead to the year and blocked time off when we know we are traditionally slow. We plan to take time off on holiday weeks, summertime and spring and fall break times. That way we can be available when our clients are traditionally busier by proactively planning our work schedules around past known seasonality.
One of the few downfalls to the four-day workweek is time for creative work for folks with diverse backgrounds. With less time to wonder and banter with colleagues informally, the status quo can endure. Innovation time should also be prioritized and fit into the new work week. Our team schedules regular creative project time throughout the month to remind us to continue to rethink work.
Flexible work environments like the four-day workweek are known to help diversify workplaces. With this new model, our team hopes to retain our diverse team and also attract more talent from diverse backgrounds.