The numbers behind four-day work weeks and paid mental health days
We’ve experienced a historic shift in the way people work. Physical and digital workplaces have become one, and many companies are throwing out the old playbook and testing new ideas to enhance employee satisfaction, well-being and productivity, including shorter work weeks and paid mental health days.
What is a four-day work week and how does it help?
As the name suggests, a four-day work week means reducing the number of working days for employees. That might mean employees are completing the same number of working hours in longer chunks, also known as a compressed work schedule.
Or it may mean reducing hours worked by turning a working day into a free one – giving employees an extra day off. This is often a Friday, which results in a shorter work week and a three-day weekend.
The idea of a four day work week is to shift the norm away from a 40 or 50 working week so that employees can enjoy better work-life balance, time with their families, and rest. Some studies suggest that all this can be achieved without a loss of productivity for employers, creating a win-win situation where workers are less stressed and enjoy better health, leading to more job satisfaction.
In fact, it may even result in increased productivity if initial trials are anything to go by. In 2019, Microsoft tested a 4 day week in a Japanese subsidiary and reported a 40% productivity increase.
Why do we work five days a week anyway?
The standard 5 day week that most companies still observe dates right back to the industrial revolution, when most work was manual and expectations of work and employment were very different. There has never been concrete evidence that 5 days of work is the optimum for productivity, which has led many to explore whether a different approach works better. The destabilization and re-appraisal of work that came with the pandemic provided additional scope for change and experimentation.
Interest in the four-day week surged following a successful 2018 pilot project at Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand estate planning firm. The project was spearheaded by 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit organization promoting four day week working. The Perpetual Guardian story has since become one of many case studies illustrating the value of the approach, as many other organizations explore the potential of a shorter work week.
Paid mental health days
Another artifact of our changing relationship with work is paid mental health days. These are paid time off allocations specifically intended to help employees manage their mental and emotional well-being – a consideration that became especially important during the pandemic. Even without a highly stressful global emergency in the picture, taking care of mental well being is extremely important for employee retention and a sustainable work-life balance.
The challenge: providing new solutions in flexible ways
As a society, we are all still exploring the impact of changing work styles and the way people feel about them. Despite the initial buzz around a four-day week working, we’re far from establishing a status quo, with approaches varying widely from company to company even within closely aligned industries. But with 58% of employees saying their job is the main source of their mental health challenges, one thing is clear – there is no one solution for every worker in every industry.
A change that offers huge improvements for some employees can be a detrimental step for others, and to fully understand what’s best for people we need to listen closely and observe carefully. Business leaders are tasked with really understanding what employees are experiencing and then building flexible policies to fit the diverse and unique needs of their workforce.
With that in mind, we carried out a study of 1,021 full-time employees in the US to uncover their thoughts and feelings about the four-day work week and paid mental health days. This study was fielded in January 2022, and respondents were selected from a randomized panel, with those who didn’t meet quality standards being removed.
How do employees really feel about four-day work weeks?
The headline is that working fewer hours is a welcome prospect for most. We found that the majority of employees say a four-day work week and paid days off would improve their mental health.
But it’s not an unequivocal result. The majority also acknowledge tradeoffs, including potentially having to work longer hours to make up missed work.
- 92% of employees would support their employer implementing a four day work week
- There was concern about the impact of reduced working hours on customer experience. 55% percent of employees say a four-day work week would likely frustrate customers.
- When asked to choose between two options, 50% of employees said they’d prefer increased flexibility to work when they want, compared to 47% who said they would rather have a four-day work week – supporting other Qualtrics research that shows employees prioritize flexibility and control.
We’re living through a historic shift in the way people work. Physical and digital workplaces have become one, and many companies are throwing out the old playbook and testing new ideas to enhance employee satisfaction, well-being and productivity, including shorter work weeks and paid mental health days.
With 58% of employees saying their job is the main source of their mental health challenges, there is no one solution for every worker in every industry. Instead, leaders are tasked with listening to really understand what employees are experiencing and then building flexible policies to fit the diverse and unique needs of a workforce.
Qualtrics asked more than 1,000 full-time employees about the pros and cons of four-day work weeks and paid mental health days. We found that most employees say a four-day work week and paid days off would improve their mental health. But the majority also acknowledge tradeoffs, including potentially having to work longer hours to make up missed work. Fifty-five percent of employees say a four-day work week would likely frustrate customers.
When asked to choose between two options, 50% of employees said they’d prefer increased flexibility to work when they want, compared to 47% who said they would rather have a four-day work week — supporting other Qualtrics research that shows employees prioritize flexibility and control.
Employee priorities: work-life balance and mental health
The way we feel about our work and how it fits into our lives has also undergone a shift. Many employees report that the pandemic caused them to consider their priorities, and they want to make sure their jobs allow for flexibility and control. Those desires are driving the popularity of a shorter week.
- 92% of employees would support their employer implementing a four-day work week
- 88% say it would improve their work-life balance
- 79% say it would improve their mental health
- 82% say it would make them more productive
- A four-day work week could help with retention and recruitment
- 81% say a four-day work week would make the feel more loyal to their employer
- 82% say a four-day work week would help their company recruit talent
Many fear four-day work weeks could hurt revenue and relationships with customers
Employees are split when it comes to how a shorter work week would impact sales, revenue and relationships with customers.
- 46% say a four-day work week would have a negative impact on sales and revenue vs. 47% who say it wouldn’t
- 55% say a four-day work week would frustrate customers vs. 41% who say it wouldn’t
- 38% say a four-day work week would encourage employees to slack off vs. 60% who say it wouldn’t
- Managers and senior leaders are the most worried:
- 40% of individual contributors say there would be a negative impact on sales and revenue vs. 46% of managers and 53% of senior leaders
- 29% of individual contributors say employees would slack off vs. 40% of managers and 48% of senior leaders
Employees are willing to consider tradeoffs
Many employees are willing to consider tradeoffs, like working longer hours on workdays or taking a pay cut, in order to have recurring three-day weekends.
- Most employees say they would have to work longer hours
- 74% say they could complete the same amount of work in four days
- 72% say a four-day work week would mean they’d have to work longer hours on workdays
- 37% of employees would be willing to take a 5% pay cut or more in exchange for a four-day work week
- Just 8% of employees would be willing to take a 20% pay cut or more
Employees say paid mental health days would reduce burnout
Paid mental health days are another benefit employers are increasingly offering as an antidote to burnout. Most employees are in favor of this benefit and say it’s more than a gimmick — it’s a long-term solution to ensuring good mental health among employees.
- 92% of employees want their employer to implement paid mental health days
- 95% say paid mental health days are a long-term solution to ensuring good mental health among employees
- Employees say paid mental health days will help with burnout and encourage them to stay at a company:
- 89% say paid mental health days would help them recharge and be more productive
- 87% say paid mental health days would reduce burnout and improve mental health
- 86% say paid mental health days would help their company recruit talent
- 41% say a paid company-wide mental health day would influence them to stay at a company longer
- 39% say a paid company-wide mental health week would influence them to stay at a company longer
Paid mental health days may not benefit everyone
Although employees are very supportive of paid mental health days, they aren’t certain they would benefit everyone.
- 63% say some employees would have to continue working, even on paid mental health days
- 49% say paid mental health days would mean they’d have to work longer hours to catch up on work
- 38% say paid mental health days would create more stress for them
Discover how to measure the impact of your employee satisfaction
What’s best for your business?
Statistics and case studies are a valuable starting point, but they’re general indications and don’t necessarily apply to every situation. There’s no guarantee that being able to work differently will benefit the employees working at your company, or that one approach will be better than another for your people.
To develop an approach that’s made to measure, you need to listen continually, building a deep understanding of what drives productivity, well being and a great employee experience at your company.
Employee experience (EX) management programs can do all of this and more, helping you design and improve experiences that build employee engagement, retention, talent management, innovation and diversity and inclusion, to name just a few.
Learn more about Employee Experience
This study was fielded between Jan. 10 and Jan. 12, 2022. Respondents were selected from a randomized panel and considered eligible if they live in the United States, are at least 18 years of age and are employed full-time. The total number of respondents was 1,021. Respondents who did not pass quality standards were removed.
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