Among the tumultuous and unpredictable landscape of labor trends, workers and managers alike have expressed interest in changes to how, when, and where employees work.
From quiet quitting to demands of flexible work environments, employee empowerment is high. While the economy has forced a slight shift of power back towards employers, the lack of quality talent throughout labor markets has allowed many skilled workers to continue requesting alterations to how and when they work.
Within these adjustments, the idea of a four-day workweek has become a legitimate notion in numerous organizations at an international level. Private companies and school districts have shown interest in making the switch; even politicians have attempted to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to shorten the standard workweek to 32 hours in the United States.
Regardless of their views on the change, CFOs should be aware of the efforts to eliminate a work day entirely and be up to date on the movement’s details. Employees or investors might ask the executive team’s thoughts on the subject. Executives ready to communicate about a four-day workweek — whether they favor it or not — will be better positioned to make an informed, authentic decision while being prepared for employee pushback.
How Should CFOs Approach the Issue
Nick Araco, the founder of the CFO Alliance, said eliminating a day of the workweek is not as clean-cut a process as it sounds. According to him, the four-day workweek may remedy some ongoing talent issues, but it needs to be evaluated by executives with productivity and costs top-of-mind.
“Given the current talent acquisition, engagement, and retention issues plaguing so many businesses, there is no denying that the idea of a four-day workweek is an interesting concept that merits real and immediate consideration and exploration,” said Araco. “Frankly, there is no uniform right or wrong answer to this question. In my opinion, any changes to the standard workweek would need to be carefully evaluated to ensure if and how they are beneficial for both workers and businesses.”
CFOs, already balancing many other duties, would have to weigh the cost and benefits of a company-wide schedule adjustment. Although employees may be happier, having output slashed by 20% may outweigh the benefits of boosting morale.
There are also real questions that need to be considered about how a four-day workweek would affect different industries and professions, as well as the potential short and long-term financial impact on workers' wages and benefits. — Nick Araco Jr., CFO Alliance
“While the idea of a four-day work week may serve as a way to improve work-life balance and increase productivity, there are also real concerns about reduced productivity and increased costs,” Araco said.
“Many advocates of a four-day workweek argue it can lead to greater employee satisfaction, reduced stress and burnout, improved health and well-being, and in some cases, increased productivity and creativity. [However], there are also real questions that need to be considered about how a four-day workweek would affect different industries and professions, as well as the potential short and long-term financial impact on workers' wages and benefits.”
Let Autonomy Triumph
The modern work environment allows many professionals to come and go from their workloads as desired. As long as deadlines are met, communication is consistent, clients are happy, and work is completed, the hours it is completed are becoming far less structured.
Innventure founder and CEO Bill Haskell has spent decades evaluating and managing the success and growth trajectories of multinationals. According to him, employee autonomy is pivotal to those that wish to have happy employees. The notion of telling employees to work certain days of the week may be less flexible than the current policies many companies like his currently have.
“In many organizations, including Innventure, we leave it up to the employees to decide how they want to allocate their time,” said Haskell. “If the expected work is being completed successfully, the amount of time spent to accomplish it is not very relevant, [and] given the freedom to choose typically frees up employees to perform the work when they are most productive.”
“It is certainly true that different individuals thrive at different times of the day and have bursts of productivity,” he added.
Haskell notes that employees who choose when they want to work can be much more productive than those who are told to work within the confines of a set schedule. With this in mind, he believes the viability of a set four-day workweek largely depends on a company's industry.
"[A four-day work week] depends greatly on the type of business,” he said. “If it is manufacturing, for example, the question comes down to productivity. If it is a professional services business, studies show that shorter periods with greater focus can often produce as much or more output with a four-day week versus a five-day week."
As employee work environments have become so dynamic, those who oversee human resources believe if a sound infrastructure of communication and workflow is in place, a desire for a four-day workweek from employees may not even come up.
One thing we don’t do is spy on our employees to ensure day-to-day productivity. — Rachel Olchowka, Fetch
“This is a business model that works well for some organizations and industries and not as well for others,” said Rachel Olchowka, chief people officer and general counsel at the retail consumer engagement platform Fetch. “As a fast-growing tech company, we take a different approach by offering folks the ability to have a hybrid or remote schedule and treating our employees like the adults they are.”
“We don’t require everyone to be at their desks at all times during ordinary business hours,” Olchowka continued. “This gives folks the flexibility they need all week long to find balance, pursue educational and developmental opportunities, and relax and recharge.”
When it comes to putting a figure on individual output, Olchowka doesn’t believe keeping a watchful eye on employees' minute-to-minute outputs is beneficial. According to her, monitoring a working professional can be demeaning and disrespectful.
“One thing we don’t do is spy on our employees to ensure day-to-day productivity,” she said. “We treat adults like adults, and we don’t install spyware on our employees’ computers. We ensure that folks across our business have ample opportunity to grow and develop; when people feel fulfilled by their work and are developing, they are naturally more productive — no tracking necessary.”