By Indeed Editorial Team
In 2021, Jon Leland proposed a four-day, 32-hour work week for Kickstarter, where he is the chief strategy officer. The working principle was 100:80:100 — 100% of pay for working 80% of the time, maintaining 100% productivity.
“My biggest concern was that people would think I was crazy.”
The concept no longer feels far-fetched or impractical. Today, many companies have experimented with the four-day work week, and new research suggests that it works. In a recent pilot program supported by the U.K.-based 4 Day Week Campaign, in partnership with think tank Autonomy and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College, more than 60 U.K. companies tried a four-day work week from June to December 2022.
To some, the findings signify a breakthrough moment for the four-day work week. In survey results from the program, which represent 2,900 workers across industries including marketing, finance, digital manufacturing and food retail, 39% of workers reported that they were less stressed, with 71% of employees reporting lower levels of burnout. Some 40% reported having better sleep, while 54% said it was easier to balance work and home responsibilities.
There was good news for leaders and employers too. The majority of employers reported that productivity levels and business revenue remained consistent. Meanwhile, the number of sick days used fell by 65%, while 57% fewer workers resigned compared with the same period a year earlier.
Of the participating companies, 92% elected to carry on with the four-day work week after the pilot, with 18% making it a permanent commitment. Some 15% of employees said that no amount of money would persuade them to return to a five-day schedule.
According to Indeed data, the number of U.K. job postings mentioning a four-day work week has increased slightly — the latest figure is 0.9%, compared to less than 0.3% in 2018. “It’s less than one percent, but it’s an upward trend,” says Jack Kennedy, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab focused on the U.K./Ireland labour market. “It’s slowly gathering momentum.”
Furthermore, he says, “It’s not just office-based, white-collar professionals, exclusively. We’re actually seeing it in certain health care categories, manufacturing and other in-person services.”
According to a recent Indeed Hiring Lab analysis focused on work trends in Australia, the number of job postings in early 2023 mentioning a four-day work week, while still only 0.5% of job postings, was almost 50% higher than the average for the period between January 2018 and June 2021. In 2022, the share of Australian searches on Indeed mentioning a four-day work week, though well below 1% of all job searches, was twice as high as it was three years previously.
To really understand the four-day work week, including the complexities it can entail, we spoke with leaders at three companies (not involved in the study) that have successfully made the switch.
Kickstarter: A Global Crowdfunding Giant Improves Retention
Kickstarter embarked on a four-day work week pilot program in April 2021. The hope for the Brooklyn, New York–based company, Leland explains, was to shift how the crowdfunding platform measured productivity by focusing on output rather than hours worked. “I hoped to give people back some time and rest in their week while maintaining organizational performance.”
Employees understood that the six-month pilot was an experiment. “We had to be upfront with staff that we would have to return to a five-day work week if we weren’t able to maintain productivity with the shorter working week.”
It took some teams more than a month to get their standard working week down to 32 hours. That process required leadership investment in some cases, and employees didn’t all work the same four days. For the community support team, which responds to user support tickets, leadership provided better tools and outside support, increasing the ability to fulfill requests in a timely manner. Ultimately, a rotating roster ensured coverage on Fridays when the rest of the company was off.
The four-day work week has improved retention levels at Kickstarter, allowing the company to keep its best employees and teams together and avoid the costs of losing employees and training new ones. “It’s had a dramatic impact on our ability to execute,” Leland says. “At a time when a lot of tech companies are downsizing, we’re continuing to hire.”
Today, Kickstarter’s four-day work week is official, but that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone or that productivity has dropped off. “We also know we need to get the work done,” Leland says. “In crunch time, work can spill over into six or seven days. We just don’t think that needs to be the norm. With clear leadership, better meeting and organizational practices, we can usually get done what we need to get done in 32 hours.”
DNSFilter: A Security Software Company Combats Burnout
A year into the pandemic, DNSFilter, a security software company based in Washington, D.C., wanted to explore new ways to avoid the risk of burnout on the team.
“We knew the risk of burnout existed as we entered the ‘hyper growth’ phase of our company’s journey,” says Ken Carnesi, CEO and co-founder. “The team had heard from other tech companies that a four-day work week was a powerful way to mitigate this risk.”
First, they established some vital criteria for success: “Numbers don’t slip and we don’t miss deadlines.”
In 2021, DNSFilter shifted to a rotating four-day work roster. Employees were separated into two groups, with each group getting every second Friday off. “We felt this was going to be the best approach for the stage we’re at, as having an entire company off on Friday — or only folks who are on call working on Fridays — was not an ideal setup.”
According to Carnesi, the shift to a four-day work week greatly improved employees’ work-life balance, stress levels and satisfaction. As a result, productivity rates improved too. “With a three-day weekend, employees can devote more time to personal matters and appointments. And they tend to accomplish much more in the four days they are actually at work.”
The four-day work week has also helped with recruitment efforts; Carnesi cites it as a big factor in the company’s 94% acceptance rate. “It is a valuable differentiator,” he says.
G2i: A hiring platform accomplishes more in less time
G2i, a hiring platform based in Florida that connects developers with companies, ran a four-day work week trial “to help employees slow down and live healthier work lives,” says Maebellyne Ventura, director of growth marketing.
The 100% remote organization made careful preparations before kicking off its six-month pilot program in September 2021, gathering baseline measurements to compare happiness, engagement, stress and productivity levels before and after the pilot. Teams audited and refined their work processes, and workers were encouraged, in Ventura’s words, to “say ‘yes’ to only the ‘hell yeses.’” The guiding principle is “doing more in less time” by focusing on fewer, higher-impact projects.
Team members got better at communicating and collaborating asynchronously, affording each other 24 hours to respond to queries and tasks that aren’t time-sensitive. “It means that people don’t feel compelled to respond instantaneously, especially on their days off,” Ventura says. And if anyone was seen to not be taking their time off seriously? “We’d just gently remind each other that it’s a day off.”
The resulting “slower response” culture has reduced workplace stress, Ventura says. The work itself has improved too. “In my opinion, it has resulted in more focused work as well as generally better, more thought-out responses.” To stay up to speed with clients, the company uses a roster system, with one team working Monday to Thursday and the other working Tuesday to Friday.
The improvements affected all levels of the company: “We saw an increase in team members sharing what they did during their days off. It helped create stronger connections,” Ventura says. From a management point of view, the four-day work week helped employee retention — and helped attract new candidates. “It has enabled us to be more competitive. It attracts top-tier talent more so than any other perk or benefit out there.”
The Four-Day Work Week as an Important Differentiator
Far from being the “crazy” prospect it seemed to some a couple of years ago, the four-day work week has been widely, enthusiastically embraced. At Kickstarter, Leland says, there’s no coming back from it. “The impact for our staff is enormous. People are happier and more engaged.”
The data, including data from Indeed, suggests that the trend will continue to be an important differentiator in the talent marketplace. “I certainly see it as a growing phenomenon,” Indeed’s Kennedy says. “When it gains critical mass and becomes mainstream is a bit of an open question. Within the next five to 10 years, that might be on the cards."
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.