ArticlePDF Available


Work four days a week, but get paid for five? It sounds too good to be true, but this debate is front and center within numerous European economies, not only because of a culture shift toward accommodating flexible working but also because some evidence suggests it's good for business. Many organizations in Europe are cutting workweeks, though not wages, from 36 hours (five days) to 28 hours (four days) to reduce burnout and make workers happier, more productive, and more committed to their employers.
Will the 4-Day Workweek Take
Hold in Europe?
by Ben Laker and Thomas Roulet
AUGUST 05, 2019
Work four days a week, but get paid for five? It sounds too good to be true, but this debate is front
and center within numerous European economies, not only because of a culture shift toward
accommodating flexible working but also because some evidence suggests it’s good for business.
Many organizations in Europe are cutting workweeks, though not wages, from 36 hours (five
days) to 28 hours (four days) to reduce burnout and make workers happier, more productive, and
more committed to their employers.
The four-day workweek is not a new idea: France implemented a reduction of working hours (les
35 heures) almost 20 years ago to create better work-life balance for the nation. The measure is
still heavily debated, with proponents saying it created jobs and preserves work-life balance and
critics saying it reduces the competitiveness of French firms.
Leading today’s trend is the Netherlands, where the average weekly working time (taking into
account both full-time and part-time workers) is about 29 hours — the lowest of any
industrialized nation, according to the OECD. Dutch laws passed in 2000 to protect and promote
work-life balance entitle all workers to fully paid vacation days and maternity and paternity
Many UK organizations are also playing with the idea. Last month, one of us (Ben) worked with
colleagues at Henley Business School to survey 505 business leaders and more than 2,000
employees in the UK to better understand the impact of the four-day week on Britain’s modern
workforce. The results show a mixed bag of benefits and costs.
Half of the UK business leaders we surveyed reported that they’ve enabled a four-day workweek
for some or all of their full-time employees, noting that employee satisfaction has improved,
employee sickness has reduced, and savings of almost £92 billion (around 2% of total turnover)
are being made each year.
Among workers, 77% identified a clear link between the four-day week and better quality of life.
The practice is judged particularly attractive by 75% of the Gen Z and Gen X people we surveyed
— and rather than relaxing, they’re using their additional time to upskill, volunteer, and build
side hustles. Two-thirds (67%) of Gen Z respondents said a four-day workweek influences who
they want to work for.
In organizations in which a shorter workweek has been implemented, nearly two-thirds (64%) of
leaders reported increases in staff productivity and work quality due to a reduction of sick days
and overall increased well-being. Another benefit to well-being, respondents noted, was the
reduction of commutes. One less day at work helps make the weekly commute more bearable.
How have most firms implemented a shorter week? Respondents often said the practice is
adopted by splitting employees into a rotating schedule, in which half do not work Mondays and
the other half do not work Fridays. This allows firms to meet their customers’ demands by
keeping premises open all week.
But the four-day workweek is not yet a silver bullet. While it enables firms to build competitive
advantages with regards to their employer brand, the survey found that nearly three-quarters
(73%) of leaders cited concerns: regulations regarding work contracts, and the associated
bureaucracy to implement the four-day week, as well as challenges around staffing. All these
elements make it unlikely, from our point of view, that the practice will spread en masse in the
near future.
Some organizations have also scrapped efforts toward a four-day week. In 2019 the London-
based Wellcome Trust, the world’s second-biggest research donor, ended a four-day week for its
800 head office staff; it was “too operationally complex to implement.” In the U.S., Treehouse, a
large tech HR firm, implemented a four-day week in 2016, but as the firm failed to keep up with
competition, it reverted to a five-day week.
Since the Wellcome Trust backtracking, business groups including the Confederation of British
Industry havewarnedthat mandating shorter workweeks weakens industry while hurting
employment by increasing the cost of labor. Take Swedish health care,for example: The city of
Gothenburg needed to hire more nurses to cover hours lost when implementing a six-hour
workday in 2015, costing the city $1.3 million. Critics filed a motion that called on the city
council to kill the plan, arguing it was unfair to continue investing taxpayers’ money in a scheme
that was not economically sustainable. The plan was subsequently scrapped in 2017, and Daniel
Bernmar, the councilor responsible for running Gothenburg’s elderly care said, “Could we do this
[again]? The answer is no, it will be too expensive.
Workers too have reservations. Nearly half (45%) of those we surveyed worried that spending less
time at work would make colleagues think they’re lazy. This suggests there is a paradox in how
employees perceive the practice: They want it implemented but are afraid to engage with it as
first movers.
The recent attempts in the UK suggest the debate around the four-day workweek is only starting.
While it can bring clear benefits with regards to employees’ well-being and ability to focus,
implementation across organizations is made difficult by competitive and structural pressures in
some sectors. In addition, there are still some negativeperceptions of the practice, as well as
concerns among workers regarding the way they will be seen by their peers and superiors.
Still, the idea requires proper consideration, and the potential benefits suggest a trial-and-error
approach is the best way forward. Such a path would help us understand under which conditions
a shorter workweek might succeed and when the benefits can outweigh the costs. The countries
and organizations that can crack the code of the four-day week first could build a competitive
advantage, if they can implement it in a way that maximizes the well-being benefit on the longer
term while minimizing the short-term rise in labor and operational costs.
Ben Laker is a Professor of Leadership at Henley Business School and a Global Affairs Commentator for Bloomberg
and Sky News. He specialises in Brexit and advises Governments and Global Corporations around the world. Follow him
Thomas Roulet is a Senior Lecturer in Organisation Theory at the Judge Business School and a Fellow of Girton
College, both at the University of Cambridge. He has provided sociological analyses on different aspects of Brexit in
various media outlets (the Telegraph, l’Humanite, Die Zeit). Follow him @thomroulet.
Related Topics: Personnel Policies | Generational Issues
This article is about WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Follow This Topic
Leave a Comment
Post Comment
James (JT) Turner 2 months ago
The full white paper can be downloaded from
Reply 0 0
We hope the conversations that take place on will be energetic, constructive, and thought-provoking. To comment, readers must sign in or
register. And to ensure the quality of the discussion, our moderating team will review all comments and may edit them for clarity, length, and
relevance. Comments that are overly promotional, mean-spirited, or off-topic may be deleted per the moderators' judgment. All postings become
the property of Harvard Business Publishing.
Join The Conversation
... Moreover, when UK business pioneers authorized a four-day of work for some of their full-time representatives, they witnessed that employees' satisfaction was enhanced. They also witnessed an increase in staff efficiency/productivity and lower turnover (Laker and Roulet, 2019). Unmistakably, there is a connection between the four-day workweek and better personal satisfaction (Laker and Roulet, 2019). ...
... They also witnessed an increase in staff efficiency/productivity and lower turnover (Laker and Roulet, 2019). Unmistakably, there is a connection between the four-day workweek and better personal satisfaction (Laker and Roulet, 2019). However, the notion is not yet universally accepted or adhered to as the needs of individual institutes must be considered and studied further. ...
Purpose To give insight into human resource (HR) policy makers of the impact of the abrupt change in working conditions as reported from their primary stakeholders – the employees. Design/methodology/approach Reported from a first-person point of view, 192 employees from Kuwait who are currently working from home were surveyed as to how the lockdown circumstances have impacted their conventional work expectations. The study compares the old working conditions (OWC) to the current working conditions (CWC) to give insight into the overall sentiments of the abrupt changes to the workplace. Findings It was found that most employees agreed that OWC need to be reviewed, and that the general sentiment was almost equally split on the efficiency of CWC in comparison to OWC, yet the majority was enjoying the flexible conditions. Moreover, the majority of respondents found that overall conventional work elements either remained the same or had been impacted positively rather than negatively. Also, if given an option of a hybrid model inclusive of partly working remotely and partly working on-site, a considerable majority reported that they are able to efficiently conduct atleast 80% of their work expectation. Finally, it was found that employee expectation is changing as they consider post COVID-19 conditions. Research limitations/implications This research was conducted using virtual crowd-sourcing methods to administer the survey and may have been enhanced should other methods have been integrated for data gathering. Also, a more comprehensive phenomenological approach could have been incorporated to add a qualitative method to the investigation. This could have freed the results of answer limitation and experience bias. Moreover, it is good practice to involve both quantitative and qualitative elements to any research when possible. Finally, future research can benefit from a bigger pool of participants so as to gain a clearer picture. Originality/value This research will give policy makers a look at what needs to be reviewed/changed for a successful roll-out of remote work in accordance with their original strategies.
... In the UK, when the business sector introduced a four-day working week for some full-time employees, employee satisfaction was noted to have increased. They also observed an increase in employees efficiency/productivity and less turnover (Laker & Roulet, 2019). Positive perceived conditions, such as reduced commuting and family responsibilities, do not necessarily promote motivation. ...
Full-text available
Motivation: Working conditions have changed significantly as remote working has become widespread in many countries. These changes were caused by a pandemic, as a result of which the possibility of direct communication as well as control and integration of employees was limited. There are also new cost categories for employees and employers, such as installing a better internet connection, purchasing new hardware and software, and implementing better security for data transmission outside the company’s premises. These changes resulted in changes in the employee motivation factors against the background of organizational and cost conditions, which is important for the proper development of the organization.Aim: The aim of the article is to assess motivation to work remotely, based on a survey of opinions among 450 employees in total in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. The assessment was performed by verifying, using the logistic regression method, ten hypotheses describing organizational and cost conditions as well as individual effects, such as career opportunities, increase in knowledge and skills, and the occurrence of stress that arose as a result of working remotely. The motivation to work remotely was verified by establishing the willingness to continue working through an opinion.Results: Motivation in remote work is influenced by both efficient communication and technical assistance provided to the employee remotely. Motivation resulting from the independent organization of working time is also important, and it is based on the decision to choose the duration of work, hours and intensity of its performance. Organizational and cost-related factors are related to motivation, as well as individual effects experienced by the employee. Directly from the survey, it appears that only 26.8% of the respondents incurred higher costs related to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the respondents want to continue it with their current earnings. The study found that employees are motivated to work remotely because the organizational conditions and earnings meet their needs. They also admitted that thanks to remote work, they have a better chance of developing a professional career, as well as a higher level of their knowledge and skills, which is also associated with the motivation to continue working remotely.
... One specific intervention in this context is the modification of exposure time to potential stressors, e.g., by reducing the time the worker is exposed to stressful elements [8]. Relatedly, offering part-time options and shorter working weeks to employees are increasingly advocated as strategies to prevent burnout [8][9][10][11][12]. ...
Full-text available
Job burnout affects countless workers and constitutes a major issue in working life. Prevention strategies such as offering part-time options and shorter working weeks have been widely advocated to address this issue. However, the relationship between shorter work regimes and burnout risk has not yet been investigated across diverse working populations applying validated measures and frameworks for job burnout. Building on the most recent operationalisation of job burnout and the seminal job demands–resources theory, the purpose of the current study is to investigate whether shorter work regimes are associated with lower burnout risk and whether the job demands–resources explain this association. To this end, a heterogenous sample of 1006 employees representative for age and gender completed the Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT) and Workplace Stressors Assessment Questionnaire (WSAQ). Our mediation analyses yield a very small but significant indirect association between work regimes and burnout risk through job demands, but no significant total or direct association between work regimes and burnout risk. Our result suggests that employees in shorter work regimes experience slightly fewer job demands, but are equally prone to developing burnout as their full-time counterparts. The latter finding raises concerns about the sustainability of burnout prevention that focuses on mere work regimes instead of the root causes of burnout.
... A four-day working week is another tool to limit direct contact. Four-day week formats vary across organizations (Laker & Roulet, 2019), and so is its definition. We understand a four-day week as a working model for the employees to work for four days instead of five (with fitted fulltime working hours into four days) while still being paid full-time. ...
Full-text available
The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the urgency of discussing more flexible working models like a four-day workweek. Many employees with social anxiety still fear staying longer in their office premises but do not want to reduce their jobs and professional activities. For them, reducing the number of days is about working smarter within a more flexible schedule. Is working four days a week but earning a full salary: a dream or reality for many employees? From each participating country (Austria, Czech Republic, and Slovakia), 200 on-site employees participated in this study. The research methodology includes quantitative data using WhatsApp as a research tool. The obtained data shows that a four-day work week is having a moment with a different attitude to a five-day working week. The workers ready to accept it are most frequent in Austria, followed by the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In all countries, older employees preferring a shorter workweek prevail over younger ones, as well as men over women.
... Millennial and Generation Z workers list work schedule flexibility as a major influence in considering potential employers. 11 The Flex Jobs 2019 Annual Survey found that 30% of workers reported leaving a position because of non-flexible work options. 12 One potential mechanism to create work flexibility is to adopt a four-day work week, as one 2020 Harris Poll found that 82% of US employees surveyed said they preferred a reduced work week, even if they had to work longer days. ...
Full-text available
Objective. To explore methods that pharmacy programs can use to redefine their work environment to reduce stress, improve well-being, and increase productivity. Findings. To demonstrate a culture of support, organizations should consider a five-fold approach to enhancing and maintaining faculty well-being including, optimizing faculty and staff support, establishing a faculty development and mentoring program, permitting flexibility in work schedules, improving productivity of meetings, and managing communication tools. Individuals can also take measures to improve their well-being including controlling email, giving attention to faculty citizenship, implementing stress reduction and coping techniques, and maintaining boundaries between work and home. Summary. This article discusses approaches that have been shown to reduce burnout and provides strategies organizations and individuals can implement to improve productivity and faculty well-being. While certain areas such as faculty wellness and productivity are well studied in the pharmacy and health professions literature, significant gaps were identified in other areas, including alternate work arrangements. In some cases, data from the business sector can be extrapolated to pharmacy education; however, inferences from effect ive corporate strategies may not be transferable to the culture and expectations of academia. While there is significant overlap between institutional and individual strategies, a culture of communication, collaboration, support and citizenship is foundational. There is no one strategy that will work for everyone and flexibility is important to develop an individualized approach.
Full-text available
This study investigated the case of working arrangement and employee productivity in the service industry in CALABARZON during the pandemic. It determined the profile of organizations and respondents, assessed the extent of practices of adopted AWA, ascertained the significant difference between AWA when grouped according to profile, determined the productivity after adopting AWA, the significant relationship between AWA and productivity, identified the challenges encountered in AWA practice, determined the significant relationship between AWA and the challenges encountered by the employees and develop a framework and strategic action plan to improve/sustain employee productivity. This study used a mixed method of research. The 250 respondents were purposively selected from 25 organizations across three sectors of CALABARZON, namely: hotel and restaurant, education and government. The findings of the study revealed a weak association between the adopted AWA and productivity while a significant relationship between the extent of AWA practice and the challenges encountered by employees. The employees’ challenges are more electricity consumption for hotels and restaurants and government while in education are too much time spent in calls, texts, and emails when working from home, workplace health and safety in the skeleton workforce. Thus, the researchers developed a working arrangement, employee productivity framework, and strategic action plan to improve/sustain employee productivity. Keywords: Alternative working arrangement, employee productivity, COVID-19 pandemic, hotel and restaurant, education, government
The global outbreak of COVID-19 led to a rapid shift to Working from Home (WFH). In universities and other parts of the education sector, on-line teaching and assessment become mandatory. We use research from a representative large-scale (n = 2,287) survey of business, management and economics academics in the UK to examine how prior on-line experience, learning during the ‘lockdown’, and work engagement, impacted their perceptions of on-line education. Results show that: (1) experience of on-line activity prior to the lockdown was substantially positively related to perceptions of working virtually, though perceptions differed by seniority; (2) experience of working on-line during lockdown did not enhance academic’s views of on-line delivery or any bias against on-line delivery, but it did increase positive attitudes towards on-line marking; (3) those able to maintain mental resilience and energy are considerably more likely to perceive on-line activity positively; but being more ‘dedicated’ or more ‘ensconced in work’ did not play a role. We explore the implications of these findings for the future of on-line work.KeywordsCOVID-19LockdownTeachingEngagementUK business schools
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The global outbreak of Covid-19 led to a government ‘lockdown’ in the UK requiring people to stay in their homes, except for necessary visits to shops and for exercise immediate communities, for three months. All universities were forced into a rapid shift to on-line teaching and assessment. We use research from a representative sample of 2,287 business, management and economics academics in the UK to examine how prior on-line experience, learning during the ‘lockdown’, and work engagement, impacted academics’ views of teaching delivery and assessment. The data shows that: 1. experience of on-line activity prior to the lockdown is positively related to perceptions of working virtually, though perceptions differed by seniority; 2. experience of on-line activity during the lockdown does not impact academic’s views of on-line delivery, but increases positive attitudes to on-line marking; 3. online activity is considered as more time consuming than face to face delivery. Those able to maintain mental resilience and energy are considerably more likely to perceive on-line activity positively. Perceived job insecurity affects how academics assess on-line activity.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.