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A four-day workweek doesn’t mean less work. Here’s how to do it

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The four-day workweek is gaining traction. It also has a lot of fans.

A whopping 92% of U.S. workers are in favor of the shortened workweek, a survey from cloud-software vendor Qualtrics found.

The findings come on the heels of an announcement by Belgium's federal government that it will allow workers in the country's public and private sectors to cut a day out of their workweek if they so choose.

Yet don't make the mistake of thinking that a four-day workweek will yield a lighter workload.

In Belgium, the shorter workweek comes with four 10-hour days. There also is a global trial of a so-called 100-80-100 model that is about to start. Workers will receive 100% of their pay for 80% of the time and maintain 100% productivity. On April 1, 37 North American companies will begin the six-month pilot.

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It's all part of a cultural shift happening in the workplace that is resulting in more employers addressing their workers' well-being.

"Some years ago the logic of work and companies would have been people need to work longer and harder," said Juliet B. Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College who will be conducting research on the global trial.

"It has flipped now, so there's this idea that people can be more efficient," Schor said. "They can do five days work in four days."

Several firms already follow the 100-80-100 model, including The Wanderlust Group, an outdoor technology company. CEO and co-founder Mike Melillo said he's often questioned about whether it really works.

"[People] think it's some Gen Z, millennial, 'we're entitled, we should work less' [kind of thing,]" said Melillo, who instituted the four-day workweek near the outset of pandemic after seeing the toll it was taking on Wanderlust employees.

The Wanderlust Group employee Amy Cohan kayaks on one of her Mondays off.
Courtesy of The Wanderlust Group

At the same time, the company cut down on the number of meetings and took measures to improve communication. Melillo said the moves paid off, with the same amount of work getting done in four days instead of five — and staff felt recharged on Tuesday after a three-day weekend.

"The numbers do not lie," Melillo said. "More people are applying to come work at TWG. "We're producing better results than we have in any year prior."

In fact, applications are up 800% from last year and Wanderlust has around a 98% retention rate, he said. Last year's revenue soared 61% year over year, according to the company.

To be sure, employees spend time at work doing other things, like scrolling through social media or chatting with co-workers. One study done in 2017 by U.K. deals site Vouchercloud found that the average employee spends two hours and 53 minutes each day working productively.

Separately, a 2018 survey by the Workforce Institute at Kronos found that nearly half of full-time workers said it should take fewer than five hours each day to do their job if they worked uninterrupted. Workforce Institute polled 2,772 employees across eight nations.

Primary co-founders and co-CEOs Cristina Carbonell and Galyn Bernard shifted the online children's clothing retailer to a four-day workweek during the pandemic and have no plans to go back to the longer week.
Courtesy: Primary

Another four-day workweek believer, online children's clothing retailer Primary, believes efficiency is key to success. Like Wanderlust, meeting hours have been trimmed, with some time in the day blocked off as meeting-free to allow people to focus on getting things done. Company officials have found their goals and ambitions haven't changed and products are arriving in the warehouses on time.

"It was just about believing that people could be very productive in a four-day week, and that having three days off, having that extra day, to take care of life, and having flexibility to catch up on all things, would position us actually to be in in even a better way to achieve our goals," explained Christina Carbonell, Primary's co-founder and co-CEO.

However, there is one potential casualty of the increased focus on work tasks: team building.

When Buffer, a social media software company, launched its pilot in 2020, the New York-based firm intentionally reduced the number of hangouts and casual events so employees could fit five days of work into four. It saw its engagement scores decrease, so it plans to dive back into intentional team building within the four-day workweek this year.

However, the response at Buffer to the shortened workweek has been overwhelmingly positive, with 91% of the team reporting they are happier and more productive.

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For those who prefer, they can also spread out their hours into five shorter days.

"If you can cut out 20% of your workweek, but still maintain your goals and projects and deadlines, then I think that's a testament to the workweek being a little bit more flexible," said Nicole Miller, Buffer's director of people.

"Maybe we had a little bit more wiggle room before and so we're seeing very good results there," she added.

"We've also just really felt the anecdotal happiness and contentment and freedom and trust that it shows our teammates."

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