It’s Friday afternoon and an empoyee at Emtrain, a California-based human resources technology company, settles in for a nap.
Another employee is enjoying horseback riding lessons, while others are learning piano, practicing photography or visiting family members or friends they haven’t seen in a while.
They can do this because Emtrain adopted a four-day work week pilot program in 2021, one of the many companies across the globe experimenting with a new way of working.
Even the boss likes it. “It’s been very, very touching to see the amount of time that people have had back in their lives,” said Emtrain President Odessa Jenkins. “We hear stories all the time where our employees are learning something new, engaging with family that they haven’t before, and it really is changing the way they live their lives.”
Successful pilots of the four-day work week, both in the US and abroad, have seen a multitude of benefits to both companies and employees, including improved employee well-being, increased productivity and a new way to retain and recruit talent in a competitive labor market.
We asked three business leaders and one Fortune 500 executive coach about why four-day work weeks are gaining popularity. Here’s what they say are the main benefits of this new way of working — and how to effectively sell your boss on the idea.
Employees have more time outside of work
A four-day work week gives back to employees one of their most valuable resources: time.
After Emtrain switched to a four-day work week, Jenkins was struck by the impact the change had on her team.
“Giving your people more time to do what they want to do — to find out things about themselves, to explore — gives you an employee base who is more committed to you, but also more committed to their personal health,” said Jenkins . “That’s bringing healthier employees and happier employees to us.”
Katie Klumper, CEO of Black Glass Consulting, a CMO consultancy based in New York, said she’s seen similar results at Black Glass during their four-day work week pilot. Many of her employees are using their Fridays off as a “personal admin” day to take care of basic tasks like laundry, grocery shopping or cleaning.
“This allows them to have truly two days of break [on the weekend]which allows them to have four days [at work] refreshed, present, focused, and more productive,” Klumper said.
Having more personal time can also boost positive mental health outcomes for employees in a time when burnout is on the rise. “It’s incredibly helpful for people’s mental health and wellbeing to know that they now have an extra day to just [do life],” said Daryl Appletona licensed psychotherapist and Fortune 500 executive coach.
Productivity often improves
A four-day work week forces you to be more efficient in all aspects of your work, including communication, said Jenkins. “It means committing to being very, very focused when you’re at work. And we immediately saw that from our employee base.”
According to an internal company survey, 92% of Emtrain employees agreed that they were able to meet their high-priority work milestones during the four-day work week. Odessa has not noticed an uptick in employees working longer days, either. “It is more focused work maybe, not more work,” Jenkins said.
Klumper said that transitioning to a four-day work week has led to her team being more intentional about how they manage their limited time at work.
“Time is one of the most valuable assets we have as professionals, and valuing that and being really deliberate about where you apply that was definitely a benefit,” she said. “It wasn’t built to be longer workdays. It was meant to be the same hours that we were working, but do it in four days.”
The other piece is focus, said Klumper. Working on a tighter schedule has helped her employees hone their craft and skills to get through their work quicker. “There’s been a lot of positive outcomes in terms of the teams being able to collaborate at a quicker speed and being able to be much more intentional and intense about how the work gets done,” she said.
It helps recruit and retain talent in a competitive labor market
in a 2022 survey conducted by the Forbes Health-Ipsos Monthly Health Tracker, 90% of employed respondents said it was important that their job offered work-life balance. And 82% said it was important that their job offered flexibility in when they worked.
“I think if there’s anything the Great Resignation has taught us, it’s that given an opportunity to sit back, people want to join companies where they can feel that it supports the lifestyle they want to live,” said Anthony Reynolds, CEO of Utah-based talent experience platform HireVue. (Instead of a four-day work week, HireVue gives its employees every other Friday afternoon off.)
Allowing more flexibility in the workplace can also help companies retain existing employees and help workers to reach their maximum potential.
“It has been a huge talent driver,” said Klumper. “People are responsible. If you have the right people on the team, you could make every day [paid time off] and they would still join because they’re passionate about the business. … If you have the right talent, they will do the job and they’ll do an even better job when they get to do it on their terms.”
Both the employees and the company benefit
“It’s hard to say [the four-day work week pilot] hasn’t been beneficial, both from a qualitative and a quantitative standpoint, because we’re also smashing our business objectives,” said Jenkins. “Knowing that both from a soft skills standpoint we’ve improved, as well as from a financial or business productivity standpoint we’ve improved, it’s hard to say that it wasn’t a great idea.”
According to an internal survey, 82% of Emtrain employees reported that they were experiencing better health and well-being as a result of the four-day workweek, while 71% to 75% of employees said they were experiencing less unproductive stress at work.
Emtrain isn’t alone. According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management60% of the surveyed organizations that had implemented a four-day work week noted gains in employee satisfaction and productivity resulting from fewer meetings.
The nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, which is running a pilot program helping over 70 UK companies test a four-day work week, also reported similar results in its latest survey of the participating organizations. According to the survey, 88% of respondents stated that the four-day work week was working “well” for their companies three months into the six-month trial. In addition, 95% of respondents said that productivity has stayed at the same level or improved, and 86% said they were “likely” to consider retaining the four-day work week policy after the trial ended.
How to propose a four-day work week to your boss
Unless you’re a high-level executive in your organization, trialing a four-day work week will likely require getting your leadership on board. Here are some expert tips on the most effective ways to pitch the idea.
1. Compile the data
Before proposing an idea to your organization’s leadership, do your research, said Appleton. Pull together the data and the resources, and most importantly, be prepared to explain why your idea matters.
“That’s the thing with leadership — they don’t want more work,” Appleton said. “Come prepared with everything you have on the table because that might be the only chance that you get.”
2. Consider how a four-day work week fits with your company’s existing values
Most “new” ideas are simply an iteration of something we’ve seen before, said Jenkins. Look at your company’s existing core values and see if any of them naturally fit with a more flexible schedule or four-day work week.
For example, Emtrain already had an unlimited PTO policy before its four-day work week pilot, which meant the company was already used to not having employees in the office on a strict schedule. Switching to a four-day work week was just another step in the same direction for a company that placed flexibility as one of its core values.
“[Ask yourself] what are the things you already have in your company that might lend to more flexible work, and amplify that,” said Jenkins.
3. Focus on business goals and objectives
At the end of the day, you’ll need to show your boss how a four-day work week will benefit the company. Pull together success stories from other companies similar to the one you work at, and be prepared to show how your proposal will boost or maintain profits, while potentially cutting down on expenses and boosting productivity.
“Come with a proposal that’s focused on establishing success and then moving forward from that success,” said Jenkins. “That’s always very consumable from [a leadership team’s perspective]. As an executive leader, if you bring me something that feels lower risk, higher reward, and proven, it’s going to be very hard for me to say no.”
4. Suggest a pilot program
If your leadership is hesitant to implement such a big change, starting with a temporary pilot is a good way to ease into a four-day work week.
“Start slow,” advises Jenkins. “Don’t try to take your company any faster or further than it might be ready to go. Pilot it.”
Emtrain and Black Glass both started their four-day work week programs as a pilot, and HireVue did the same with its biweekly Friday half-day schedule.
If you’re looking for a place to start, the nonprofit organization 4 Day Week Global is coordinating six-month pilot programs that provide training, mentoring, and research for organizations interested in testing a four-day work week.