HR Strategy

Considering a four-day workweek? These employers experimented with different approaches

Three executives share with HR Brew how their companies have embraced flexible workweeks.
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Francis Scialabba

4 min read

Remember that J.G. Wentworth commercial from the early 2000s where people shout, “It’s my money, and I need it now!” Well, nowadays, some workers may want to shout, “It’s my four-day workweek, and I need it now!”

Some 54% of employees say they’d work longer days if they could have a three-day weekend, while 37% would switch companies or industries to do the same, according to an August Bankrate survey. Gen Z workers in particular want a shorter workweek.

“We’re starting to see just this general trend towards wanting to be much more flexible and fluid in the way that people live, and this starts with young people…[Gen Z] wants to have flexibility in how [they] approach work,” Eric Solomon, former chief marketing officer at Bonobos, said during a virtual roundtable hosted by A.Team on May 6.

But a four-day workweek doesn’t just stand to benefit employees—employers are reaping the rewards, too. Some European companies that have tried adopting a shortened workweek have seen higher levels of employee productivity and happiness, and lower levels of absenteeism and quits, as a result, according to the World Economic Forum. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 30% of US CEOs surveyed by KPMG in February said they were considering work schedule shifts, including shortened workweeks, for their organization.

HR Brew spoke with three leaders whose companies have adopted a shortened workweek. In doing so, they learned that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Different teams, different strokes. Safeguard Global, a workforce management company, piloted a four-day workweek with one executive and 20 engineers last year in an effort to “appeal to the modern workforce,” CEO Bjorn Reynolds previously told HR Brew.

He said he wanted employees in different positions to participate in the pilot so he could compare their experiences. While the executive found it challenging to not work on Fridays, as her colleagues did not operate on the same schedule, he said the engineers responded well, in part because their work could be completed asynchronously.

“If you’re doing this, or any change, you have to rigorously defend that decision and enforce that decision because otherwise, everybody might remember it for a month, but then suddenly somebody is texting you on a Friday because, hey, they’re just used to doing it,” Reynolds said.

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The company, he said, has offered this flexibility company-wide.

Not completely on. As Reynolds learned during Safeguard Global’s pilot, a four-day workweek may not be realistic for all employees. That’s why Codeword started an initiative called “soft Fridays” in January, in which the communication design agency’s roughly 100 employees, and their managers, can decide if and how they work on Fridays.

“Soft Fridays [mean] that we are trusting each other to get our work done and log off when we can on Friday,” Chief of Staff Alli Ray previously told HR Brew.

So, rather than shortening the workweek for all, the company has no meetings on Fridays, allowing employees to focus on independent work, and sign off when they’re done.

Codeword, she said, plans to make “soft Fridays” a permanent part of its culture.

Doing you. Exos, a corporate wellness company, has found success with a program similar to Codeword’s “soft Fridays.” After trying various approaches to a shortened workweek, its chief people officer, Greg Hill, previously told HR Brew that the company landed on an initiative called “You Do You Fridays,” in which Fridays are meeting-free, and employees have the freedom to sign off whenever their work is done.

He noted, though, that the company is continuing to iterate on the initiative, especially since its non-corporate employees—including the performance coaches, dieticians, and physical therapists who work with its staff and clients—aren’t always able to have flexibility on Fridays. They sometimes take “You Do You” days on alternative days of the week.

“Our sites are still figuring out how often, and when, to have team members in…whether that’s a Friday, or they come in Tuesdays, Thursdays,” Hill said. “Depending on what that site’s schedules are, their staffing needs are, and where they are, and how they want us to show up, we’re taking this playbook…to say, ‘How will it work here?’”

It seems embracing a four-day workweek in a way that benefits an entire organization is a lot like shopping for jeans—it takes a lot of trial and error, and no one style works for everyone.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.