Is the 4-day week all it’s cracked up to be?

While 4-day week emerges as a top perk, professionals need to be careful what they wish for.

The work hard, play hard culture of the 20th century is being consigned to the history books as post-pandemic employees are placing an emphasis on their quality of life.

A new survey by recruiter Robert Walters has found that 71% of professionals would be willing to give up work socials and relationships with colleagues in favour of a four-day working week.

“With 71% of professionals willing to forego socials and business relationships, companies should be mindful that a poor company culture can be costly”

In fact, a 4-day week now tops the poll on most desirable perks when applying for a job – with 49% stating that this would appeal to them most on a job description, followed by the ability to work from anywhere (35%).

But while working four days a week sounds idyllic, research also shows that it creates more complexities and very little time is saved as staff have to compensate by working longer hours within their four-day week.

It’s a two-way street, people

With half of professionals who would like a 4-day week expecting their full pay to remain the same, debates have begun on whether the post-pandemic workforce are ‘the most entitled yet’ – with fewer professionals feeling responsibility for the financial health or stability of their employer.

Just 15% of professionals stated that they would take a 10-15% pay increase over the option of a 4-day week, and it seems office-based soft perks such as work socials or complimentary lunch or breakfasts, are less appealing in the face of fewer working days – with just 1% stating that they would opt for this over a 4-day working week.

“Workplaces have only just turned a corner and started to see more faces in the office – with that has come a burst of energy, collaboration, creativity, and productivity,” said Suzanne Feeney, country manager at Robert Walters Ireland.

“It is a slight kick-in-the-teeth to hear that a progressive well-being initiative such as a 4-day week could have such a detrimental impact on workplace culture and business relationships.

“With the trials of 4-days being so new to many organisations, the long-term impact is hard to ascertain – but with 71% of professionals willing to forego socials and business relationships, companies should be mindful that a poor company culture can be costly.

“As with what we experienced with remote working and then the move to hybrid, any change in the workplace brings about its challenges – and a 4-day week will be no different, business leaders need to tread with caution.”

Whilst professionals would give up the social side of their working lives, only 13% are inclined to forego hybrid work arrangements, and only 7% would sacrifice training opportunities in favour of less working days.

When push comes to shove

Earlier this year the independent trail of 60+ companies and around 2,900 employees undertaking a 4-day week concluded – with many highlighting this as a resounding success.

However, when this data is combined with findings from the Robert Walters poll, it seems that possibly only one side of the picture has been painted, as a result it’s also important to consider the potentially negative outcomes of a change in working days.

Key findings from the 4-day Week Pilot Trial include:

  • Overall working hours only reduced to 34 hours – falling short of the 32 it was meant to achieve
  • 42% reported either working more hours, or no change to their 5-days a week hours
  • 47% reported no change in the typical amount of overtime they do – further 18% reported doing more overtime
  • 5% reported an increase in burnout-symptoms
  • 16% reported an increase in sleeping difficulties – further 46% stated that their sleeping quality hadn’t improved/changed significantly
  • 29% reported no-change to work-life balance – further 10% reported a decrease
  • 27% reported no change to work-ability – with 21% reporting a decrease
  • Just 6% stated workload had decreased – 16.8% reported an increase, and 77% reported no-change
  • 37% reported work-intensity had increased
  • 5% reported an increase in complexity of their work

“Highlighting this data is by no means a way of pointing out that a 4-day week cannot work,” Feeney added.

“Just as with every kind of trial, a balanced view of the results needs to be provided to assist us in understanding what does and doesn’t work. There is definitely a place for the 4-day working week in business but maybe it’s not the silver-bullet to increase productivity and improved wellbeing, as first thought.”

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.