Across Europe, the average hours worked per week have been shrinking over the past years. And more employees would like to work less. So it’s no surprise that the demand for flexible working models is increasing.
Trends such as working in a home office, downshifting, or the 4-day working week, for which some job boards such as arbeitnow are now even setting up special search areas, are supposed to help improve the work-life balance of those in employment.
But interestingly, not all reports on this model are positive. The 4-day working model also receives harsh criticism. So the question arises: Is this trend suitable for every company? And should you also establish the 4-day work week in your company?
We at JOIN have taken a critical look at the feasibility of the model (taking the German labour market as a case study). In doing so, we explored the following key topics:
- What is a 4-day work week and what can it look like?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of the model?
- Who is the 4-day work week suitable for?
- Should your company offer the 4-day working week as a benefit?
What is a 4-day work week and what can it look like?
The 4-day working week is a flexible working model that allows you to improve work-life balance for your employees by giving them an extra day off per week.
The basic concept of the 4-day week
In the basic idea of the 4-day work week model, the number of working days and the daily working hours are reduced while the salary remains unchanged. However, this is not always exactly implemented in practice:
Several countries are already testing the 4-day working week as a pilot project. In some countries, for example in the UK and Spain, working hours have been reduced to 32-36 hours per week with the same salary.
In Iceland and Belgium, on the other hand, not only the salary but also the weekly working hours remained unchanged. The hours that were previously completed in five days are instead simply redistributed over four days, which automatically increases the daily working hours.
In Germany, many employers are currently still finding it difficult to offer the 4-day week with reduced working hours at the same salary for various reasons (more on this below).
Changed holiday entitlement with a 4-day week
Note that, with the reduction in working days, the annual holiday entitlement of employees must also be adjusted a bit.
This means the entitlement for employees with a regular 4-day working week in Germany is reduced from 20 to 16 working days per year.
We have clarified the “what”, so now we come to the “how” and look into the question of how the 4-day week can be handled in practice. We’ll look at that in the next section:
Possibilities of designing the 4-day week
The 4-day working week can be designed in a wide variety of ways. We’d like to briefly present the two most important variants below:
- Option 1: Synchronous days off
Long weekend for everyone! With the synchronous 4-day week, everyone has the same day off. This solution is suitable for small businesses that do not yet employ too many employees and work largely independently.
However, in some sectors (e.g., police, customs, health care, nursing, tourism, and trade) and also above a certain company size, it is not possible to give all employees time off at the same time.
- Option 2: Asynchronous days off
The second way of organising a four-day week provides for asynchronous days off. This means that different team members take different days off. For example, some staff members will be off on Fridays, while others will be off on Mondays.
This would still ensure that everyone gets a long weekend. At the same time, the business can still operate on the usual working days, and no customer has to wait in front of a closed door.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the model?
So, should you also introduce the 4-day week in your company? Here is a brief overview of the advantages and disadvantages of the model to give you a little more insight and help you make an initial decision.
Advantages of the 4-day work week
The 4-day week promises a better work-life balance and can also improve the mental health of your employees. It allows them to do things like going to the shop or a doctor’s appointment more efficiently and spend more time with friends, family, or on their hobbies.
Studies from Iceland show that this leads to more satisfaction and motivation among employees, who often work more productively as a result.
Furthermore, you can position yourself as a modern, progressive employer and improve your employer branding by promoting the 4-day working week in your job ads.
We explain how best to do this in our new guide:
The ultimate guide to writing job ads
Learn everything you need to know to write top-notch job adsTo the guide
Disadvantages of the 4-day week
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the 4-day week also receives criticism. There are several reasons for this.
For example, when considering the German example, many companies fear the effort involved in switching to this working model. Others simply refuse to reduce working hours for the same pay.
Therefore, the 4-day week in Germany is often offered with 40 hours per week (= 10 working hours per day) or alternatively in combination with less pay. However, many employees cannot afford the latter.
The first option, on the other hand, may increase the risk of overworking and burnout and lead to more absenteeism due to illness. In addition, most companies would no longer allow overtime after the statutory daily working hours.
Finally, the coordination and communication of teams could be difficult at first and possibly require increased management on the part of employers. So this would actually be the opposite of the freedom and flexibility your employees are craving.
Want to know more? Stay tuned. A more detailed dive into the advantages and disadvantages will soon be published as a separate article 😉.
The 4-day week as a benefit
Are you considering offering the 4-day week in your company? First, of course, you have to check under which conditions this would be feasible.
If the reduction of weekly working hours at the same salary is not an option for your company, it may be difficult to introduce the 4-day week across the board.
Not all of your employees can work two hours longer every day. At the same time, many employees cannot afford to reduce their working hours AND salary.
This does not mean that you should not offer the 4-day week! Instead, the 4-day work week could work well as an optional employee benefit in your small or medium-sized company.
Let’s take a look at who might be interested in such an offer:
Who is the 4-day work week suitable for?
Employee benefits are a very individual matter. For example, how does a company car help employees who do not have a driving licence? And what do colleagues who are allergic to animals do if everyone is allowed to bring their dog?
Similarly, the 4-day week will probably work better for some groups of people than for others.
Who will the 4-day work week disadvantage?
If we stick to our initial premise of 40 hours of working time per week, meaning 4 working days of 10 hours each day, a 4-day working week might not work for the following groups of people:
- Older employees
The 50+ generation is one of the most important human resources on the labour market, as we found out in our article why you should hire older employees.
But they might not recover from stress and illness as quickly as their younger colleagues. So it begs to differ whether the extra day makes up for the daily extra work. Of course, this depends on each individual case.
- Employees with health problems
Some of your employees may also be physically or mentally unable to work more than eight hours a day. Whether it’s because of a disability or other predispositions (such as the personality type).
An increase in daily working hours could then possibly even have negative health consequences for the employee.
- Single parents
Single parents may also be the wrong target group for a 4-day work week—at least if they work 40 hours a week.
If their daily working hours increase, they may need to pay for more care for their child(ren), which can put a strain on their salary.
At first glance, commuters seem to be good candidates for a shorter working week.
However, since single commutes of 45 minutes or more can develop psychosomatic complaints (just like workdays over eight hours), a hybrid or fully remote arrangement would probably be the better benefit.
Who will benefit from a 4-day work week?
And for whom could the 4-day week be an interesting benefit with added value? For these groups of people, among others:
- Employees with further training plans
Continuing education and training are increasingly important in the world of work. However, they may require regular absences from the workplace.
A 4-day week could be a helpful benefit here, allowing such employees the time they need to learn without having to lose valuable working time and jeopardise the progress of their projects.
And this is exactly how it was originally intended when this working model was developed.
- Team members particularly keen on travelling
A short weekend trip to the seaside with friends or your home country is a great way to take time out from everyday life.
For many employees who love to travel, however, this isn’t always easy because they have to submit holiday requests weeks in advance.
That’s why this group of people would be the perfect fit for the 4-day week as a benefit. This would allow them to see a bit more of the world every week—spontaneously and without red tape.
- Socially committed team members
Social commitment and voluntary social work are an important part of many young people’s lives. This means they’re the ideal target group for the 4-day work week and would certainly accept this opportunity.
Please note, however, that the suitability of your employees in a 4-day working week should never be judged in a generalising way. You should always look at every individual case separately and see what works best for each employee.
Of course, the arrangement of working hours and salary plays a decisive role here. If, for example, you were prepared to pay the same salary for 32 hours of work, some groups of people would immediately become suitable benefit recipients.
Should your company offer the 4-day working week as a benefit?
As this depends on various factors such as the size and industry of your company, there is, unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all type of answer here. You may not be able to introduce the 4-day week across the board and synchronously. But maybe you can offer it as an employee benefit?
Before you make your final decision, it’s advisable to involve your employees in the decision-making process. Many of your employees will certainly want the 4-day week.
So find out who would be interested in this option and, together with your team, think about what conditions would have to be created for this. For example, you could start the whole thing as a one-month trial project first.
And don’t forget that as soon as you integrate the 4-day week as a benefit in your job ads, JOIN will be there for you to multipost your job ad on the right job boards. We will help make your applicant management simple and efficient, even with higher application volumes.
Are you still looking for suitable employee benefits, or would you like further advice on how to approach applicants? Then you should definitely read the articles linked below, as you will find further useful tips and suggestions!