Everybody's Working for the Weekend


A Look at the Four-Day Workweek

In my role as a researcher at GrantStation, I visit foundation websites. Lots of websites. And whenever I see a "careers" link, my curiosity gets the better of me. I live in Oregon, but when I see a job in Ohio or Maine, I'm still compelled to take a peek. (Note to any GrantStation bosses who may be reading this: It's just curiosity. I love my job!)

One thing I've noticed over the years is that the nonprofit/philanthropy field, in general, has a commitment to work/life balance. While many job postings are for 40 hours a week, or more if necessary, particularly for smaller organizations, I've seen numerous postings that offer schedules of 35 to 37 hours a week. For many folks, that extra half hour or hour a day is a powerful perk.

In the greater job world, a new concept has started to take hold in the past couple years: the push for a four-day workweek. This concept has been proposed in a couple different ways. While some folks are hyping a week of four ten-hour days, which offers a three-day break at the cost of four longer days, other advocates are pushing for a 32-hour workweek.

Earlier this year, the results came out from a recent study in the U.K. For a six-month stretch from June to December 2022, 61 different companies, totaling about 2,900 employees, implemented a four-day workweek (one less day but with the same hours the other days) while maintaining the same level of pay.

At the end of the study, 92% of the companies decided to continue the policy, with 18 of the companies choosing to permanently keep the reduced hours. The study found that productivity stayed high while employee well-being increased. Both the companies and employees benefited. For example, "The number of staff leaving participating companies decreased significantly, dropping by 57% over the trial period. For many, the positive effects of a four-day week were worth more than their weight in money. 15% of employees said that no amount of money would induce them to accept a five-day schedule over the four-day week to which they were now accustomed."

There is a saying we've all heard that gets passed around often in the charitable sector: Be the change you want to see in the world. (While usually attributed to Gandhi, that's not quite what he actually said.) If organizations are looking to improve not just the lives of their constituents, but also of their employees, a four-day workweek might be a powerful option.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently offered some tips about instituting a shorter week. Here are a few of the suggestions:

  • Get staff input. If your team isn't on board, this probably isn't a change your organization should make.
  • Start as a test. Before going all in, consider a trial period. You'll need to determine how to measure and quantify the effectiveness of the change. In line with that, also consider a bit of practice by taking a day off from certain commitments. For example, one organization implemented a rule that banned Friday meetings.
  • Set expectations with those outside the organization. If you make this shift, the other entities you work with need to be alerted of the situation.
  • Leaders must set an example. Staff will keep an eye on the behavior of their supervisors and managers. If the higher-ups are taking meetings and calls on days off, this may create expectations that conflict with official policy.
  • Flexibility is key. No plan is one-size-fits-all. For example, staff members who are caregivers may be more appreciative of schedule flexibility than an extra day off.

The Chronicle points out several limits to the policy. The change may be more difficult for organizations that provide seven-day-a-week services. In addition, "There are also concerns that the idea works only for charities with a preponderance of white-collar office jobs, widening inequality for frontline workers."

The BBC took a look at the small group of companies from the U.K. study that didn't make or further test the switch. A handful of companies found that the days in the shorter week could be much more hectic. Some customer-facing businesses had to hire more people to make up for the now open time. For businesses with a broad mix of employee duties, the shorter workweek could be successful for parts of the company but not for other divisions. Such uneven application can lead to difficulties across departments.

Implementing a four-day workweek may not work for all organizations. But for many, it can create greater employee well-being and further develop loyalty to your organization. Working in the charitable field can be stressful, so organizations must look for ways to improve the lives of their employees. Many nonprofit and charitable organizations are viewed as social change leaders; we can take heed of what Gandhi sort of said, and be the change.

Action steps you can take today
  • Read the research.
  • Discuss with your team their thoughts about such a change.
  • Check out GrantStation's online course Creating Time to learn how to make the most of the time you have available.