Benefits and Drawbacks of a Four-Day Workweek

Both Employers and Employees Can Benefit From a Four-Day Workweek

Employees sitting in cubicles at the office
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Everybody loves a three-day weekend, but would you if you had one every week? A four-day workweek sounds like a fabulous idea, but it’s not for everyone. Here are several factors to think about before switching to a four-day workweek.

What Is a Four-Day Workweek?

The standard full-time workweek for Americans is eight hours per day, five days a week. When you switch to a four-day workweek, you still work 40 hours, but you work 10 hours per day.

You do not have to have everyone on the staff work a four-day week; you can decide based on employee wants and business needs. The extra day off doesn’t have to be on a Monday or Friday so that the employee gets a three-day weekend. You can designate any day of the week based on the business needs and the employees’ preference.

Pay for a Four-Day Workweek

If an employee is salaried exempt and is not eligible for overtime pay, then there is no pay problem associated with a shortened workweek. The employee receives the same amount of pay every week, regardless of the number of hours worked or the number of days worked.

If an employee is non-exempt (whether salaried or hourly), the employee is eligible for overtime pay. In most of the United States, an employee is eligible for overtime if she works more than 40 hours in a single week. The paycheck for an employee who works five eight hour days would be identical to the paycheck for an employee who works four ten-hour days.

However, in California and a few other locations, an employee receives overtime pay after working more than eight hours in a single day. So, a California non-exempt employee on a four-day workweek would receive 32 hours of straight pay and eight hours of overtime every week.

Vacation for a Four-Day Workweek 

A lot of businesses talk about vacation based on hours or days.

If everyone in the office works a four-day workweek, the day references are fine, but be careful if you have some people working a traditional workweek and some working an alternate schedule. 

Instead of stating that employees receive ten days of vacation, use the language “80 hours.” That way, it’s clear that a person working four 10 hour days gets two weeks of vacation, just like an employee on a flexible schedule. Otherwise, your employee could claim she’s owed 100 hours of vacation.

Generally, laws allow business to develop their vacation plans, but those businesses are bound by their handbooks, so make sure that your vacation plan states exactly what time off you want to provide for your employees.

Advantages of the Four-Day Workweek

The employee side can be pretty clear: having another day with no work and no commute can free up personal time in a big way. But the employee isn’t the only one who could benefit from a shortened workweek.

Several studies show various benefits such as reduced stress, increased productivity, and happier more engaged employees. Giving up an extra day off work per week can be a pretty big hurdle to your good employees moving to a new company.

Disadvantages of the Four-Day Workweek

First, the four-day workweek doesn’t work for every business and certainly not for every employee.

If your customers expect people to be available five days a week, then an employee who is unavailable every Friday could cause problems.

A four-day workweek can also make child care more difficult. Many daycare and after-school care programs function around the idea that a parent works on an 8 am to 5 pm type schedule. They don’t open at 6 am or stay open until 8 pm to accommodate a parent’s unusual schedule.

People may feel refreshed by having an extra day off of work each week but they may also experience a drop in productivity after so many hours at work in a single day.

In the case of an exempt employee who has an alternate schedule while others work the traditional Monday-Friday schedule, that person may feel pressure to call into meetings or respond to messages on her day off. This is not fair but you need to assess whether the alternative schedule is adversely affecting the employee's team.

Keep in mind that you must pay a nonexempt employee for any additional time she puts into work outside of the four-day workweek.

Should You Implement This Type of Schedule?

The answer really depends on your business’ needs and your employees’ wants. If you have an employee ask about working a four-day week, it makes sense to look and see if it would work for this person in this position.

Perhaps try a temporary run for a few months to see how it works out for you. Flexibility is a benefit that many employees look for from an employer, and having this as an option makes you more desirable to many job seekers. But before you change your company schedule, make sure this will make your business more productive and your employees happier. Otherwise, a four-day workweek is not worth the change.