The four-day workweek is gaining popularity as a workable alternative to the traditional five-day model, not to mention proving highly popular among workers seeking a better work-life balance.
For companies who have made the switch, the results have mostly been positive, with business leaders reporting increases in productivity, boosted employee morale, fewer resignations, and less absenteeism. This is prompting more companies to explore whether a shorter working week can work for them, too.
This includes Uplevel, an engineering insights company that trialed a four-day workweek in January 2022.
Employees at the Seattle-based company caught wind of the results on ongoing four-day week trials in the US and elsewhere and shared them with Uplevel CEO, Joe Levy, at a company barbeque. The company was particularly interested to determine whether a four-day week could be an effective tool in tackling burnout; as a company dedicated to helping and empowering developers, this is something Uplevel is passionate about.
The decision was eventually made to trial a four-day workweek and measure the effects of change on employee happiness, productivity, and overall company success. The trial was deemed a success, prompting Uplevel to move permanently to a four-day week and share its findings in a four-day week 'playbook' in the hope that other companies can replicate its outcomes.
Jori Maurer, VP of marketing and customer engagement at Uplevel, oversees the company's HR initiatives, including its switch to the four-day workweek.
Maurer says that since switching, not a single Uplevel employee has left the company voluntarily. She attributes this increase in employee retention to the four-day workweek and that employees genuinely feel like they have an adequate work-life balance. Now, she says, employees rave about how a shorter workweek improves their wellbeing. Employees say they have more time to exercise, do something fun, take sick time, and can recuperate and feel refreshed returning to work on Monday morning.
"We haven't had anyone leave the company that wasn't because of a performance issue," Maurer says. "A lot of companies will say that they care about employee wellbeing and that they care about work-life balance, but we're actually showing that we want to do something about it."
Advocates for the four-day week often refer to Parkinson's Law (work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion) and the 80/20 principle, which posits that 80% of productivity is achieved in 20% of the workday. As such, the four-day workweek is based on the idea that employees can be more productive when working within shorter timeframes.
While the idea of doing the same amount of work in fewer hours created a sense of urgency at Uplevel, teams soon adjusted and became more efficient. Meetings became shorter, more concise, and didn't exceed 30 minutes unless necessary. Meetings were also scheduled with intent, and a Google Drive folder was set up so that relevant information could be shared ahead of time, as well as after the meeting took place.
And, despite losing an entire workday, employees across all teams now spend more time focused on their work, and staff are more motivated to perform in short bursts. "It forced us to become more efficient," Maurer says.
"The biggest thing that we saw in our product team that was a big surprise was that we were just ruminating on decisions, so it forced decisions to be made faster."
Under Uplevel's four-day week model, staff have Fridays off work. However, some employees still have to be on call to cover customer service, even though it's only for a couple of hours. As Uplevel grows as a company, this responsibility will be shared among everyone.
But Maurer says that the employees who are required to check in with customers on a Friday are usually eager to do so. "The fact is, especially in some roles, you are going to have to check in on a Friday. We might have a customer request come in that might be more urgent, and I've noticed that employees are more than willing to go above and beyond to do what they need for customers, whether that is an early morning call or a late call," Maurer says.
"They know the company has their back, so it feels like this nice give-and-take."
Uplevel has also seen an uptick in job applicants since it moved to a four-day workweek.
After being featured on 4dayweek.io, a search engine exclusively for remote-working jobs offering a four-day week, Uplevel received around 800 applications for a customer success manager position and over 400 applications for a marketing director position – compared to the usual five or so applications it usually receives for open positions.
"We were so surprised by how that helped us be able to recruit in this market, when we can't compete with the likes of Microsoft, Meta, and Google," she adds.
Big-name companies have also been experimenting with four-day weeks, including Microsoft in Japan, where a trial of a four-day week in August 2021 led to a 40% increase in productivity.
Maurer recommends that any company of any size can trial the four-day workweek and should treat it like an experiment. By doing so, she says, employees feel directly involved in decision-making processes and are more likely to voice their concerns about making the switch.
"If you run it as a trial, you create a culture where people don't feel scared to bring up issues that they're having. We created an open dialogue and anonymous feedback forums where people can say, 'Hey, this aspect isn't working for me,' and they didn't feel like they were necessarily ruining the experiment for people who wanted it to stay," she says.
Uplevel also made a point of including employees in every aspect of the trial, and it was clear that if the experiment was unsuccessful, it would stop. Employees participated in an internal hackathon to brainstorm changes to the workweek and completed comprehensive monthly and surface-level, bi-weekly surveys to measure how well the experiment was working.
Each team designed its benchmarks for success and created team-specific policies. Maurer points out that, while universal company policies on a four-day workweek might work well for a customer success team, it might not be as manageable for a development team. A customer success team, she explains, may not have to monitor customer success requests on a Friday outside of work hours, while an engineering team might have to address a software outage at any time on any day. As a result, different teams have different work expectations on a Friday.
Maurer says that a common sentiment among companies is that removing the fifth day of work will jeopardize their company's success. She says these thoughts contribute to the stigma around a four-day workweek.
According to Maurer, companies should trust their employees' capabilities and commitment to their companies. She believes that if employers shift their focus from how many hours employees are putting in to the quality of work employees are putting out, then a shorter week can be successful.
"It's less about looking at the metrics and looking at your own views of work and changing those," Maurer says. "I think it really takes a leadership team that has trust in their employees and has trust that everyone cares about the business."