The 4-Day Work Week

A few years ago we offered our employees the option to work 20% less in exchange for a 10% pay-cut. The results and reactions surprised us.

A few years ago Fresh Air Educators performed an HR experiment: We offered all our full time salaried employees the option to pick between 2 work schedules:

  • Status quo: 5 days @ 7.5hrs at current pay
  • 4-day work week: 4 days @ 7.5hrs – Every Friday off
    Work 20% less but take  a 10% pay cut

For me, this seemed like a no-brainer:

Very Little Change to Take-Home Pay

The 10% of salary that was being given up would have been taxed at highest tax rate if it was earned (in Canada). So the net “take-home” amount was probably closer to 95% of what the employee was making previously.

Better Hourly Pay

Employees would now be getting 90% of their salary for only 80% of the work, so the pre-tax hourly wage was higher.

Happier, more rested, more productive

The 4 day work week gives employees a long weekend every weekend. That’s 52 extra days off a year.

Obvious Employee Perk

Offering a 4 day work-week is an obvious perk which should make it easier to hire top talent, and should lead to less employee turnover.

Cost Savings for the Business

The 10% salary savings for the business goes directly towards profits.

Very Little Productivity Loss

Working 20% less DOES NOT mean 20% less productivity.  The 80/20 rule kicks in: The most important things still get done while the 20% dropped will be the least important things (which probably only account for 5% of weekly productivity). By only working 80% of the time, you will still reap 95% of value.

Negatives: No Work Gets Done on Friday

The only negatives seemed to be that no work would get done on Friday. This was an issue for departments such as Customer Service, but most of those employees were hourly and already working non-standard work hours.

Employee Reactions to the Proposal

I was extremely surprised that we had almost zero adoption of the 4-day work week. A few employees tried it for a few months during the summer, but everyone eventually switched back to the 5 day work week.

Ultimately it seemed that:

  • Many of our employees were living paycheck to paycheck, and the reduced income simply wasn’t feasible for them.
  • Some employees were suspicious that this was some long-term scheme to permanently reduce their salaries
  • Some employees thought that they would be forced to make up the 20% of missing time for free.

So in the end, I am sad to say that this experiment was a failure, and we cancelled the program 12 months after starting it due to non-adoption. (However, I still believe in it, and I think I will try to implement this from the get-go in my next startup)

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