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A hundred years ago, we worked considerably more hours a week than we do today. Since then, we have worked fewer and fewer hours a week, but the reduction of working hours has happened gradually and with small changes along the way and with several years in-between. Now, for the first time since 1990, we once again look at working hours in a drastically different way. A four-day workweek is now a relevant topic.

Many companies around the world have started to entertain the idea that a workweek only has four workdays instead of the traditional five. In some places, the next step has already been taken, and e.g. in Iceland, 86 % of the collective workforce has already started to work fewer hours, and everyone who is on the job market has gotten the opportunity to work less.

In this case, the Icelanders have switched to a 4-day workweek of 35-36 hours from a 5-day workweek of 40 hours. Another example is the Danish company IIH Nordic which has introduced a 30-hour workweek distributed over 4 days, and this without decreasing the wages for all employees.

According to Djøf (trade union) and Epinion (analysis and consultancy services) in Denmark, 64 % of workers and 65 % of managers say yes to implementing one or more models for a four-day workweek at their place of work.

This means that a lot has happened lately, and in this article, we will look more closely at the advantages and downsides that can arise by having a four-day week, and how you can successfully implement it in your company.

Which advantages does the four-day workweek have?

In Iceland, the general experience is that the employees have decreased the number of workers who are stressed, and the extension of the weekend has given the employees a bigger opportunity to exercise and have more mental energy. But the thing that is really interesting is that Icelanders also experienced an increased productivity, which is mostly due to fewer breaks (like coffee breaks and talks by the water cooler) and fewer unnecessary meetings. Several employees had also said that Friday was their carrot, where they could relax a bit. But, due to the four-day workweek, the employees felt that they needed to be more productive in their active working hours, which more than compensated for the missing day.

At the company IIH Nordic, they experience huge improvements regarding stress by introducing a four-day workweek, and they saw improvements of an impressive 70 % in relation to stress, health, and energy levels. This has not only given their employees more time and freedom for their private lives, but it has also increased their quality of life.

This might indicate that companies miss out on things in terms of efficiency, as their employees work fewer hours. But IIH Nordic’s experience with it is that the productivity actually rose even though the number of working hours fell. In this regard, the company points to the fact that there are fewer sick days and improvements regarding their ability to recruit and retain employees.

If we look at the environmental effects of fewer working days, the employees have 20 % less commuting time to and from work, which means a lower emission of CO2. Of course, it is unknown whether one’s employees travel a lot on their extra day off, but seen from the company’s perspective, the work-related employee travel time to and from work has definitely been reduced.

The company also saves power, of course, for the workstations, lights, machines etc. that are turned off, and this helps the bottom line as well as the environment.

What downsides does a four-day workweek have?

Of course, challenges can arise from introducing a four-day workweek, if you don’t manage to prepare your company and your employees properly. Some people work best at a calm tempo, where immersion and discussions can be beneficial.

If you have employees who are not able to work in a more streamlined atmosphere, where processes are optimized in order to save time, it can be worth considering if you are actually creating a deteriorated working environment. It is also important that employees are able to work in a streamlined and uniform way, where assignments don’t appear from all sides and at unexpected times and with unreasonable deadlines, because this will not work well with a streamlined work process.

If you previously made good use of social gatherings during working hours, it might be a good idea to look into whether these gatherings can be moved outside of working hours without hurting the attendance. But always remember to celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries, milestones etc., as being acknowledged or celebrated has a big positive effect.

How can you achieve success with a four-day workweek?

First and foremost, you need to find the work assignments that can be optimized and/or automated in order to find new solutions that can replace the things that take up a lot of time in your employees’ work process. This can be things like manually typing in numbers or words and holding meetings that might as well be substituted with email correspondence.

If the management cannot create new automated work processes that save time, it can be a good idea to include the employees and hear if they have any ideas. After all, the employees are the ones who have the expert knowledge within the work processes they have, and maybe they have a lot of good ideas for how you can simplify and streamline various processes.

At IIH Nordic they also introduced more initiatives which – combined with the increased time off – improved the employees’ health and well-being. It includes initiatives such as voluntary company training, voluntary yoga, healthy and nutritious food as well as healthy snacks such as nuts and fruit. The improved health and well-being naturally led to an increased efficiency, and a four-day week was therefore made possible.

IIH Nordic has also introduced certain times of day where they employees aren’t to be disturbed, so they can concentrate fully on their work. They have also decided that meetings last either 20 or 45 minutes, and there are clear agendas and pre-elected chairpersons, and these things combined ensure that meetings are kept on track and that they are concluded within the allotted time.

Of course, there is no absolute right way that each individual company succeeds with restructuring their company, processes, and working hours.

It is therefore important to look into whether a four-day workweek fits your company, your employees, and your work processes, while you, at the same time, ensure that your employees can get help and support till everyone at the company has gotten used to the new workweek.