The Future of Work: A Look Into the Four-Day Workweek

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Google “the future of work” and you will find headlines on AI, Web 3.0, and “location neutrality;” all advances that promise to improve the work world by allowing us to work more efficiently and more effectively. But what about us working less?

In a virtual panel discussion to be held May 18, 2022, called “The Future of Work: Exploring the Four-Day Workweek,” Organizational Performance Group (OPG) will be exploring the benefits that many organizations are experiencing by reducing the hours that we work. OPG is an organizational development consulting firm that helps to give organizations a competitive advantage by understanding best practices for inspiring and empowering their employees.

“The four-day workweek movement is gaining momentum,” explains OPG’s Leah Hancock. “A wide range of companies including well-known brands like Panasonic, Unilever, and Kickstarter, already have piloted or formally adopted a 32-hour week. Those behind the movement cite benefits including increased productivity, reduced burnout, improved physical and mental health, increased gender equity, and positive environmental impacts, to name a few.”

Leah is the lead associate at OPG, where her work centers on helping people work together better. She will serve as the facilitator for the Four-Day Workweek discussion.

The success of pilot four-day workweek programs is one of the factors that is leading more organizations to explore the option for their own employees. In 2019, Microsoft Japan introduced a pilot four-day workweek program that resulted in a 40 percent increase in productivity when measured in terms of sales per employee. A similar program launched by the New Zealand-based trust management company Perpetual Guardian in 2019 reported gains of 20 percent.

Recent moves by US legislators are another factor. In July 2021, Representative Mark Takano from California introduced the 32-Hour Workweek Act in hopes of giving employees a better work-life balance. The bill, which has yet to be heard by the US House of Representatives, has been prompting discussion and gaining support.

The OPG panel discussion will help organizations to understand what the four-day workweek means for organizations, what can be learned from early adopters, and how leaders can anticipate and respond to the call for changes in the traditional work schedule. Panelists will include Joe O’Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, and Adam C. Husney, MD, who serves as the CEO and CMO of Healthwise, an organization currently piloting the four-day workweek.

Recent studies have shown that the US workforce is more than ready for shifting to a four-day workweek, with 92 percent of employees saying they would welcome the change. Those who manage those employees may not be as enthusiastic. The same studies found that 46 percent of managers fear that such a change would negatively impact sales and revenue. In addition, 40 percent of managers felt the change would lead to employees slacking off.

“When considering a paradigm shift like this, initial skepticism is a reasonable response,” Leah explains. “The work culture in the US has long been defined by underlying ideals such as aspirations for continuous growth and a relentless focus on improving shareholder value. Untethering ourselves from the only reality we know is not easy.”

OPG identifies four focus areas for organizations ready to explore the shift:

  • Prioritize productivity: To be sustainable in most workplaces, a four-day workweek must result in productivity levels being maintained or increased. Organizations should assess how they measure and track productivity to ensure that they can evaluate any workplace changes.
  • Reevaluate and reimagine standard operating procedures: Organizations need to look closely at what practices support productivity and culture-building, and which do not. Practices that no longer serve the organization can be left behind. However, organizations must acknowledge that there is a delicate — but important — balance to strike when assessing where efficiencies can be realized without sacrificing culture.
  • Articulate shared priorities and non-negotiables: Lead with plenty of communication that encourages alignment and a shared understanding of what is essential or important to the organization.
  • Let employees lead: Rather than taking a top-down approach to engineering a four-day workweek, involve those closest to the work in the process of determining how the work will be completed in four days instead of five. There is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all design; it will most likely look different for each organization.

While the discussions surrounding the shift to a four-day workweek are far from over, they remain well underway. Now is the time for business leaders to develop a firm understanding of how they will respond to the movement. Join OPG on May 18 from 12:00 to 1:30 pm for a virtual panel discussion on The Future of Work: Exploring the Four-Day Workweek and explore the implications for your organization.