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Tech Career Insights: The pros and cons of implementing a 4-day work week in 2023
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The pros and cons of implementing a 4-day work week in 2023

24 April 2023, by Simone Markham

Work-life balance is the top reason 58% of South African devs stay in a job. Retaining this talent is hard. Here we explore the pros and cons of implementing a 4-day work week.

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4 Day Week Global recently conducted a 4-day work week trial in the UK with 61 companies and around 2 900 employees, working 80% of their normal hours for 100% of their pay from June to December 2022. The trial yielded positive results, however, there are some complications both employers need to consider before implementing such a change.

Pros: A 4-day work week could be a competitive benefit for companies

This is not the first time there has been a global shift in thinking around weekly working hours. In 1926, Ford was one of the first companies in America to adopt the 5-day work week. Soon after, companies all over the world followed suit and the standard Monday-to-Friday work week was established.

According to the recent UK pilot supported by 4 Day Week Global, the change didn’t affect company revenue. In fact, the results were mostly in favour of the change:

56 of the 61 participating companies will continue to adopt a 4-day work week.

More and more companies may adopt this working model moving forwards, similar to how we saw a shift to remote work.

We asked the OfferZen community if they would like to work four days a week. Out of the 623 votes, 84% said they would:

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A 4-day work week is clearly an attractive benefit for developers. If your company can offer this benefit sooner, you may have a competitive advantage over others.

Implementing shorter working weeks could improve your employees’ work-life balance

The comparison between the before and after results of 4 Day Week Global’s UK pilot showed that 54% of employees had a better work-life balance. They said there was more time to spend on household admin and finances.

Employees felt more in control of how they spent their time.

60% found they could better manage their time to care for their children and family members, and 62% said it was easier to have a social life.

Improving work-life balance will help you retain developers

Work-life balance is the number 1 reason South African developers stay in a job. It has grown by 13% year on year since our 2021 report, overtaking growth and learning opportunities. It’s even more important for senior developers, with 61.5% choosing it as their number one reason for remaining at a job.

It is also an essential factor for Dutch developers: as poor work-life balance was one of the top three reasons developers would leave a job.

Good work-life balance will help you retain your top tech talent.

Participants in the UK pilot were 57% less likely to leave their jobs after they had experienced a 4-day work week with their companies.

Improving employee well-being could increase their productivity

Of the participating employees in the UK pilot, 39% were less stressed and 71% had reduced levels of burnout at the end of the trial. They found anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues decreased. Employees also had improved mental and physical health.

Having healthier employees will increase productivity, job satisfaction and, in turn, retention.

Not needing to take sick days or shift their focus when feeling stressed allows employees more time to concentrate on their work. If your employees can also focus on their work more during working hours, there will be even more time for learning and growth opportunities – one of the top reasons employees remain in a job.

It may be an alternative to unaffordable pay raises

Implementing a 4-day work week sounds like the obvious option for tech companies trying to retain top tech talent in a difficult economy. When salary increases are just no longer achievable, removing a day of work from their employees’ week may help developers still feel sufficiently compensated for their work.

Most employees in the UK pilot highly valued the extra day for themselves.

15% of the employees confirmed that no amount of money would persuade them to work five days a week again. Most participants said they would need an out-of-market salary increase to work five days a week again:

Developers may be more interested in a 4-day work week over a pay raise.

58% of South African developers say good work-life balance is the most important reason they stay at a job while 44% said it is their current earning potential. While most developers’ salaries are hugely important to them, it does fall 14% behind good work-life balance.

Cons: A 4-day work week comes with its challenges

There can be limitations for some companies implementing a 4-day work week. 66% of the companies that participated in the UK pilot had 25 or fewer employees and had implemented some kind of flexible working policy before (i.e. flexible working hours, remote working options).

Larger companies and different industries, such as healthcare, may find it more difficult to implement such a change. In addition, the trial only ran for 7 months. 32-hour work weeks may be less sustainable in the long run.

Give your employees a space to be productive on the extra day

For those that enjoy their work as a way to get out of their house or to focus their energy on challenging tasks, the shift towards 4-day work weeks may not be such an attractive option.

In 4 Day Week Global’s UK pilot, there was one employee that raised this concern. They suggested a soft 4-day work week: the fifth working day can be used to pursue personal projects in the office.

This could be easily addressed for developers that have a working setup at home, but not for others that depend on going into the office for their software engineering work.

One less day of work a week will already give employees additional time for their personal development.

For in-office companies, consider offering a space for your employees to do productive work.

Growth opportunities are another important reason developers stay in a job, offering a space in which they can develop may set you apart from other companies offering 4-day work weeks.

There could be a decrease in customer satisfaction

In customer-facing roles, customers may be less satisfied with decreased employee availability.

There are ways to address this, such as making use of chatbot systems. It’ll be essential for the company to determine a new operations structure with regard to customer service prior to implementing the 4-day work week change.

Competitors may get ahead of your company

In a rapidly changing market such as the tech industry, companies working 4 days a week may find themselves falling behind their competitors.

Although the UK pilot found no companies had a reduction in revenue during the experiment, it is possible that changing working hours for a business puts them on the back foot of their competitors. Especially at the beginning of implementing the change since employees will still be getting used to the new way of working.

Establishing an implementation strategy is crucial

If the change to working four days/week is implemented poorly, it could be destructive for a tech company and subsequently developers.

4-Day work weeks could address many different issues for both employees and employers, but employers need to make a huge effort to restructure how teams operate before implementing a permanent change.

Organisations like 4 Day Week Global offer resources to support employers in effectively adopting the model, but not all companies can afford to use time and resources on something like this.

A 4-day work week can be a competitive benefit to offer your employees setting you apart from other companies. However, it’s important to consider how you’d implement the change, what support you’d require, what complications may arise and how to address them.

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