close up single blue plastic push pin tacking in schedule box of 4th day of the month on white desk calendar page
Blog | 12.12.2019

Could Your Company Make a 4-Day Work Week Work?

Microsoft Japan made a real splash this fall when they announced the key result of a four-day work week experiment over the summer: a productivity boost of 40 percent. Operational benefits also included:

  • 23 percent lower electricity costs
  • 60 percent fewer pages printed
  • A limit of 30 minutes and five employees in more than half of all company meetings.

This is at least the second company to make worldwide headlines recently with a four-day work week. New Zealand trust management company Perpetual Guardian announced a 20 percent gain in employee productivity and a 45 percent increase in employee work-life balance after their trial run of a four-day work week. The trial was deemed so successful that the company made the policy permanent in October.

With numbers like these, it’s no surprise that companies around the world are asking what changes they can make to their personnel practices in order to realize similar gains – both for their employees and their bottom line. And if your company is not a candidate for a four-day work week, what other options should you consider?

Fighting the burnout crisis

Why the focus on personnel? Gartner found in their December 2018 quarterly Global Talent Monitor that only 53 percent of workers worldwide plan to stay in their current jobs. You may also be familiar with the 2017 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report that, while productivity rose by as much as 5 percent annually between 1987 and 2015, compensation never grew by more than 2 percent in each year of that same period. In other words, from their perspective workers have been expected to do more with less return – which probably is one of the causes of what’s been called an “ongoing burnout crisis.”

How can employers fight this trend toward burnout and job-hopping? When increased salary is not an option, give your employees the next thing they want: more flexibility in scheduling. In addition to the productivity increases noted above, other benefits of flexible schedules are reduced employee stress and more engaged employees.

The operational mechanics of alternate scheduling

Operationally, trying out a four-day work week isn’t as complicated as it first sounds. For instance, instead of emphasizing and referencing days worked, the policies and manuals are switched to hours worked: A 40-hour week instead of a five-day week. This revised phrasing works for vacation earned and paid as well, and the hourly emphasis works for all employees, no matter their schedule.

When it comes to pay, salaried exempt employees, who receive the same pay no matter how many hours worked and are not eligible for overtime pay, would see no difference in their paychecks. Non-exempt employees, who are eligible for overtime pay, are still often covered under the usual stipulation that overtime is any time over 40 hours in a single week.

One size does not fit all

As noted above, however, it’s clear that a four-day workweek doesn’t make sense for every business, nor every employee. For instance, if your business’ customers expect to interact with certain employees throughout the week, those employees shouldn’t be unavailable one day every week. Further, from the employees’ perspective, most daycares and schools are not set up to accommodate a parental 10-hour workday. Finally, some employees show a drop in productivity after so many hours at work in a single day, rather than any gain.

Related problems can crop up when employees on an alternate schedule feel obligated to call into meetings or respond to messages and emails on their off days, causing them to work hours beyond their 40 a week. So it’s important to ensure that any alternate schedule works for every member of the team.

With so many variables in play, it makes sense to follow the lead of Microsoft and Perpetual Guardian and design a trial run of any alternate scheduling program. This should obviously include a full, data-based analysis to determine that the program is indeed viable and also whether its effects benefit or adversely affect any employees.

Collecting Your Experimental Data

Traditional tools for determining the human resources aspects of such a data analysis are surveys, 360 reviews, etc. But these methods are by definition subjective and can collect information from only a single point in time. This means your data results cannot be  accurate. You need a tool that can collect ongoing, real-time data that tells you exactly what your employees are dealing with, what tools they have and which ones they need, whether the trial is facilitating the right amount of collaboration, and whether the rest of your employees’ work environment is adequately supporting their needs. You need hard data on how the trial is affecting their productivity, by team and even by individual employee. You need evidence of what processes and distractions could be affecting their productivity. Finally, you need to be able to determine if employees on alternate schedules are overdoing their availability and actually working more than they’re being paid for.

Sapience Analytics was designed specifically to answer these questions. Our analytics tool automatically collects and measures the digital output generated by individual and group work activity. This allows our customers to adjust workflows to make teams more productive. They can also compare work patterns across business units, projects, or roles and spot trends that identify both best practices and areas for improvement.

Best of all, the data comes in automatically, unobtrusively, and in real time, from day one. You could have productivity benchmarks within days or weeks instead of months of manual data collection.

Sapience helps you understand past performance, optimize current processes, and proactively plan for the future – all of which makes it the perfect tool for analyzing any alternate scheduling plans you put in place. Including taking the cutting-edge step of instituting a four-day work week.  

See how Sapience is re-defining productivity.