Is the four-day work week right for your company?

March 31, 2022 BDO CANADA

The four-day work week is gaining traction as more and more people are discussing the potential for the popular trend. Companies and employees alike are discovering many positive aspects when adopting the alternative schedule. The goal of a reduced work week is to achieve similar results with fewer hours so employees can use the time to pursue hobbies, spend time with friends and family, and take care of themselves.

However, it’s not without potential issues and companies must consider the impact before implementing any plans. We will address the four-day work week, the opportunities and risks involved in this transition, and how you can move forward if you decide to do so.

What is a four-day work week?

While some people choose to work their full hours and compress it into four days, a four-day work week isn't a compressed work schedule, but instead reduced hours. For example, if you work 40 hours you would reduce your hours to 32 and work four days, rather than the standard five days. And your salary would remain the same.

What are the disadvantages of the four-day work week?

Many have shifted to working from home since the pandemic started—naturally companies are starting to explore other flexible options. There could be savings in terms of reductions in electricity usage, office supplies, and even companies not requiring as much office space.

However, you should contemplate the following potential issues:

  • Employees will work fewer hours, while the workload remains the same.
  • Employers may not be able to hire more support to cover decreased working hours.
  • One of the biggest disadvantages for companies is the cost associated with a four-day work week, especially if employees cannot meet work requirements. This could become especially problematic for companies with many clients still working the normal five-day work week.

While there’s a lot of focus on the benefits, often the risks are not fully considered. Although many of the risks may not be actual threats or they can be mitigated, it is important to identify them. Do employees become more disconnected from the workplace and their colleagues? Gallup conducted a poll in March 2020 and found that people working four-day weeks reported lower levels of burnout and higher levels of well-being compared to those working five- or six-day weeks. However, the percentage of disengaged workers was highest among those with four-day and six-day work weeks.

What else should you consider?

There are usually questions about how flexible work environments impact employee productivity. Research indicates that productivity remained the same or improved in most workplaces in Iceland, which trialed the four-day work week. Employees were also less likely to suffer from workplace stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout. Thus, they worked harder and took fewer sick days. Not all industries may experience that same outcome though.

Before making any plans to implement a four-day week, you need to consider different factors. Companies will need to work with their Human Resources department to discuss opportunities and risks this transition could bring. The Finance department—to consider payroll implications—should be consulted and included in any policy decisions. Include all relevant operating departments to ensure there’s clear alignment and that all the potential issues are addressed during the planning stage as opposed to later when the policy is already in place.

Work involving operations, such as production and customer service are the first to come to mind, but there also could be other important administrative considerations. For example, is there liability associated with not having a supervisor available or accessible in the event of an emergency? Are there labour laws that may cause issues? In some jurisdictions workers may be eligible for overtime if they work more than a certain number of hours in each day. How will you deal with stat holidays?

How to implement a four-day work week

So, you have carefully weighed all the benefits and risks. Now you’re ready to move forward with developing a plan for a four-day work week. BDO’s advisory and consulting services can help with the cost analysis and risk management.

Consider engaging BDO professionals for the following:

  • Employee engagement program
  • Policy design
  • Strategic visioning
  • Options assessment and evaluation
  • Change management
  • Financial and business modelling

BDO can help address issues related to the four-day work week including finances, data-driven decisions, and determining and monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs). We take a holistic view and will help you understand how this shift could impact the company, employees, customers, and clients. Reach out today if you are thinking about adopting a four-day work week.

Get in touch with a BDO Advisor:

Mike Devonshire, Partner, Valuations and Modelling

Alex Welch, Vice President, Management Consulting

Hali Van Vliet, Director, People & Change

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