Charlotte Rush1 February 2024

Signs Your Company Isn’t Ready for a Four-Day Work Week

Medibank is the latest (and one of the largest) organisation to commit to a four-day week trial. With each organisation that puts their hand up to experiment with this new way of work, I give a little cheer and look forward to a future when everyone can have access to this initiative. 

But, through my work with organisations seeking to embrace the four-day week, I know that not every company is ready to take the plunge into this innovative way of working. Here are three clear signs that your organisation might need to reassess its readiness for a four-day week:

1. Valuing Hours Over Outputs:

The essence of the four-day week lies in embracing the 100-80-100 principle—achieving the same productivity in less time (while receiving the same salary). This approach is not exclusive to certain industries, as even law firms have found ways to adapt. The key is the mindset of leaders—are they willing to explore new working methods and let go of an obsession with long or fixed hours?

Leadership that rigidly focuses on hours rather than outputs are likely to struggle with the transition. To succeed, companies should foster a culture that encourages efficiency and values the quality of work over the quantity of hours spent. A habit of checking when your employees are clocking on and off will not serve you well if you seek to make the four-day week work. 

2. Return-to-Office Mandate:

A return-to-office mandate signals a lack of commitment to flexibility and trust in employees. In essence, the four-day week provides employees with ultra-trust and flexibility. If your company enforces a return-to-office policy, it suggests resistance to the flexibility required for a successful four-day week.

Conversely, organisations with existing flexible practices will find it easier to integrate the four-day week. For instance, one of my healthcare clients has a workforce of mostly part-time employees. They were able to tap into this existing culture of flexibility to enable their four-day week – for example, working around team members’ days off was already a common practice when organising projects and meetings. Recognising and tapping into pre-existing flexibility practices can be a strength in ensuring a smooth transition to a four-day week.

3. Lack of Diversity in Leadership:

If your executive team resembles a lineup of men predominantly named James or John, your organisation may be lacking in diversity. The infamous 2015 New York Times article, “Fewer Women Run Big Companies than Men Named John,” shed light on the gender imbalance in leadership. Beyond gender, the issue extends to people with ethnic, religious or sexual diversity and those living with a disability. 

Companies that neglect diversity and inclusivity in their leadership teams (and across their workforce) are less likely to support and facilitate the success of a four-day week. And in a time of greater resistance and criticism of Diversity & Inclusion initiatives, flexible work practices provide a beacon of hope. The four-day week, like other work practices that deliver greater flexibility to employees, benefits the majority while also benefiting minority groups. Everyone, no matter their individual circumstances, can benefit from an additional day off each week (or a 20% reduction in work hours). But without the backing of an inclusive executive team, implementing a four-day week may face significant challenges.

In conclusion, before committing to a four-day week, organisations should critically assess their readiness. A shift in mindset toward valuing outputs over hours, embracing flexibility, and fostering diversity in leadership will pave the way for a successful transition to this progressive way of working. By addressing these criteria, companies can position themselves to thrive in the evolving landscape of modern work practices.