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According to Mercer, the number of Australian organisations embracing a 4-day workweek has risen by 29 percent in recent years.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, businesses that implement this policy find it easier to attract and retain talent. Employees who have adjusted to the shorter week feel happier and less stressed.

Plenty of research has highlighted the benefits of the 4-day workweek and fuelled the hype circulating in office corridors, zoom meetings and social media feeds. It seems that society is heading in this direction and a change in mindset and planning is the only obstacle on the way to the adoption of this new format. 

But are we sure about it? Could it be that all that glitters is not gold? That’s what we’ll find out in this article, by going ‘under the hood’ of short week policies to understand if they really are the promised land everyone keeps raving about.

Why a 4-Day Workweek?

The length of the workweek has been discussed for decades. Henry Ford believed that reducing the working days without changing the pay would increase productivity.

His theory was that workers would put more effort into a condensed amount of time. In 1926, the Ford Motor company moved from a 6-day workweek, with only Sundays off, to a 5-day workweek, and most companies followed suit.

More recently, and in line with the same principle, researchers have challenged the Monday-to-Friday pattern, and looked closely at the relationship between productivity and the number of hours worked in a week.

Economist Juliet Schor, has observed that countries with reduced working hours during the week, such as Norway and Denmark, have higher productivity, compared to nations with longer hours, like UK and Italy.

In the quest for increased productivity, several organisations have trialled a reduced working week over the years.

In Iceland, between 2015 and 2019, 2,500 government employees adjusted to a 35-hours-week without pay reduction. According to the Icelandic Association for Sustainable Democracy, this resulted in "dramatically increased" well-being, no decline of productivity or service, and improved work-life balance and stress ratings from employees.

A New Zealand estate planning firm conducted one of the most talked about experiments of the last few years. In 2018, Perpetual Guardian went down to four days a week and saw a 20% increase in productivity, improvement in staff satisfaction and reduction in their stress levels.

On our shores, Melbourne digital agency Versa introduced “No Work Wednesdays” in 2019.

To allow their staff to enjoy a day off midweek, the company reduced the workweek to 37.7 hours (which differs from the 32 hours of the classic 4-day workweek) and spread the extra hours over the remaining four days.

In the 12-month trial period, the agency’s revenue grew by 46 percent and profit almost tripled. Now the agency has permanently moved to a short schedule.

Beside employee satisfaction, wellbeing and productivity, cost savings are another reason behind the switch to a shorter week.

During Microsoft Japan’s 3-day weekend test, the electricity use went down 23 percent and employees printed 59 percent fewer pages. 

Savings are on the employee’s side, too. One less day spent in the office means lower expenses for childcare, takeaway food, dry cleaning, parking and transportation (which people are very sensitive to, especially in times of rising fuel costs).

But not all trial results point in the same direction.

Sweden experimented with 6-hours days with full pay. During the first 18 months, Gothenburg's nurses logged less sick leave, reported better health and higher productivity levels. But to cover the hours that had been cut, 17 extra jobs were added. These and other expenses associated with the trial cost the city 12 million kronor (AU$1.7m), and the project was eventually axed.

The productivity dilemma

Looking so closely at productivity raises the question: how is productivity measured?

In the knowledge economy, success is measured in terms of generated ideas, improved processes, established relationships, and deals closed. To achieve these outcomes, focus and cognitive energy are crucial – that’s why having a full tank of fresh energy plays such an important role.

The organisations that invest resources to analyse the factors that influence their productivity often revolutionise the way they approach staff performance, and shift the company focus from hours worked to problems solved.

This exercise may also force some companies to critically look at their processes and cut out the least productive activities – yes, meetings we’re looking at you! Of course, some meetings are necessary, but a day of ‘back-to-backs’ forces employees to use their day off to act on what was discussed in the boardroom.

And whilst the 4-day working week can increase productivity in tech, banking, marketing and PR, it’s not the same across all industries.

Manufacturing, retail, and construction businesses — those with direct and predictable relationships between inputs and outputs — can’t cut hours without sacrificing productivity and revenue.

There are also those who have trialled the shorter week and went back to the Monday-to-Friday model. Ryan Carson, CEO of the technology education company Treehouse, implemented the new model in 2013. Two years later, he was publicly praising the benefits it brought, such as improved productivity and a more balanced life.

But in 2016, Carson said the 32-hour week negatively affected his work ethic, which was detrimental to the business and its mission. Forced to lay some employees off, he then reinstated the traditional 40-hour workweek in the organisation.

One size doesn’t fit all

Usually, a 4-day working week is a 32-hour week with the same employee pay, benefits and productivity levels of a traditional 5-day/40 hours week.

But instead of working Monday through to Thursday and making the weekend one day longer, many companies have taken a different approach.

Here are some alternative ways the 4-day workweek has been implemented:

1. Four days, less pay

Contrary to its core principle, some companies have shortened the workweek to justify a reduction in salary. Especially during the pandemic, the organisations that needed to cut costs but didn’t want to lay off employees adopted this arrangement. It makes sense for those types of jobs where less work hours mean reduced output, as shown in the previous section.

2. Longer hours for four days

In order to gain a 3-day weekend without reducing the hours worked, some companies have adopted the “four tens” approach. This means that employees endure longer, 10-hour shifts four days a week, but then are rewarded with a full additional day off. The question around this model is if the companies adopting it have been able to maintain their productivity as long days impact staff’s energy levels and their ability to focus.

3. Shorter days

Many employers are also implementing a 30-hour week across five days, which allows employees to have shorter days each day of the week. This structure comprises five 6-hour days across the week.

As we dig deeper, we realise things are not as straightforward as they initially looked. To get a clear picture, let’s recap the advantages and disadvantages of a compressed workweek.

4-Day workweek: Pros and Cons

Thinking of applying with a company breaking away from the Monday-to-Friday mould? Here is what to expect.


  1. More time for personal endeavours and better work-life balance 

  2. Increased mental wellbeing, physical health and job satisfaction

  3. More focus - with an additional day off up your sleeves, you won’t be tempted to “home” from work and will make the most of your time in the office

  4. Reduction of all work-related costs (transport, parking, childcare, takeaway food, dry cleaning, etc.) and lower carbon footprint.


  1. The same workload is concentrated over a shorter time 

  2. You’ll need to organise your time more efficiently or work longer hours

  3. Shorter working weeks may entail longer shifts or a reduction in pay or benefits

  4. Less time for teamwork and collaboration.

The promised land…  but not for everyone

After taking this journey to the land of the 4-day workweek, you can see that the benefits are there, but not all promises have been kept.

In times of hybrid working, flexibility and organisations driven by values and results, you need to ask yourself if there are other ways to achieve the same benefits of a shorter workweek.

If you have good organisation skills and can work independently you'll thrive in a 4-day workweek environment. But if that’s the case, why not consider an organisation that gives you the freedom to achieve your KPIs whenever and however suits you, rather than one with just a flashy “3-day weekend” sign dangling on the door?

Here is another important question for you: is there anything you value more than an additional day off?

If you are saving for a big goal, maybe a property in the next few years, a higher salary should be your focus.

Do you value time with your manager? A compressed week might limit the opportunities for feedback and guidance, which could impact your motivation, engagement and career progression.

Whatever you do, remember that the most important thing is to focus on your goals and values, rather than following the latest trend.


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Francesco Solfrini Headshot

Francesco Solfrini


For 15 years, Francesco has approached communication from various angles: client-side advertising manager, agency account director, freelance photographer and content writer. Working for several global and Australian finance brands (Morningstar, CBA, American Express, uno Home Loans, OFX and InvestSmart) he has learnt to understand how people save, spend, invest and feel about their money. Today, Francesco develops online content that addresses the real needs and aspirations of Australians when it comes to personal finance.

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