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  • Writer's pictureVeit Hailperin

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Adopt the 4-Day Week

Do you run a company and your employees are pushing you to introduce the 4-day week? They say the 4-day week is good for revenue, the mental health of the employees, free advertising for the company, currently still a unique selling proposition to increase the attractiveness as an employer? Don't worry—here are five reasons why you shouldn't adopt the 4-day week.

You would have to change


That's a fact. Everyone involved in such a big transformation needs to change. The 4-day week doesn't stop at titles or the amount of time an employee has been with a company. As the pilot phase begins, everyone critically examines their own work practices to identify options for increasing efficiency and productivity. The job is not done with identification, though. The next step is change. Implicitly, this also means: I may not have been as 120% efficient or productive as I like to claim. Admitting this to others and to yourself is uncomfortable at best.

There is a widespread belief that managers or directors must work at least, if not more than, 100%. This can also be part of the self-image—I am someone who works a lot. In the 4-day week, this self-image is challenged. A key element of the 4-day week is the reduction of work time. The self-image would have to be adjusted—a truly difficult undertaking.

A departure from the familiar

For years, you have been evoking and celebrating your in-house culture and values at company events. Your processes run smoothly—the image you like to use is the well-oiled machine. The 4-day week is more than just reduced working hours. It is an impulse of change for the entire organizational system. During the pilot phase, non-optimal and missing processes become visible. Blind spots and negative implications, of otherwise positively perceived characteristics of the culture, may also emerge.

By the end of the successful pilot (de) of seerow, for example, there was significantly more transparency and delegation of competencies. This allows employees to make competent decisions regardless of absent team members.

As with one's own options for increasing efficiency and productivity, adjustments must be made to blind spots in culture and processes. This is not only an improvement, but simultaneously a departure from the familiar, a loss. This aspect is often overlooked in transformations and can also generate resistance. Judit Teichert and Elisabeth Heid, experts in development and change processes, highlight this in the article Shared Pain is Taboo.

Change creates instability

Change not only potentially shifts self-image and culture, it also creates instability. In the transition from a 5-day to a 4-day workweek, the system goes from one stable state to the next stable state. The transition, however, is unstable.

Instability can create uncertainty. The pilot phase is designed to alleviate this. It creates a more manageable time frame for the transition. At the end of the pilot phase, management decides whether to go back to the old model or to keep the 4-day week. This generates a degree of certainty. This unstable phase, albeit temporary, must be endured.

You lose control

Regardless of whether you perceive the loss consciously or subconsciously, if you are not in the office every day, you cannot control whether and how employees work. Behind this desire for control is a lack of trust or the belief that employees are only looking for the highest possible gain for themselves. One such belief might be, “As soon as I walk out of the room, employees stop working.” That this loss of control is not negligible can be illustrated by the attitude toward home office work. Forced to do so by the pandemic, many companies reluctantly adopted home offices. One control mechanism was the widespread camera requirement during meetings. Others immediately suspended home office work when the state removed the mandate.

Implementation can fail

No journey guarantees arrival. Of course, any number of classic project management tools can be applied to the pilot. Measurements of various indicators, such as employee satisfaction, revenue and sick days, can provide clues about how the pilot is going. But on the one hand, these numbers can change for completely different reasons than the pilot, and on the other hand, the existence of numbers does not change anything for the time being.

This is not a counterargument to indicators. Perpetual Guardian was able to identify a department based on indicators in which the pilot was not performing well. As a result, the department was put back to 5 days of work in the meantime. Subsequently, the company together with the department resolved the problem. These employees now also work a 4-day week.

However, control cannot replace trust in the employees. The trust that they make the 4-day week possible. The inner process, the activation to take responsibility for one's own actions and work, cannot be coerced. This trust is especially important when the path is not exactly straight or when regression occurs.

Those who do not believe that their employees can achieve the necessary increase in performance will fail. Those who do not believe in the successful implementation of the 4-day week will also fail. It is irrelevant whether I don't believe in the 4-day week because I don't trust the employees or because I believe that we have already exhausted everything in terms of efficiency and productivity. Beliefs have reality-creating effects.

One of the few public cases of failed adoption is that of Swedish bioprinting manufacturer Cellink. CEO Erik Gatenholm said in a 2018 interview “I was not convinced it was a viable option, but I was willing to give it a shot to test the waters.” In this context, the failure was certainly partly due to a lack of conviction. As an employee, why should I seriously try to improve my performance if the CEO does not believe in success anyway?

This does not mean that the 4-day week works everywhere, just because people believe in its success. Businesses primarily selling working hours would have to rethink their contracts and business model. This is quite an effort and not always possible. Doctors can't treat two sick people at the same time. Even if they could, health insurance billing doesn't allow for it.

Adopting the 4-day week is a risk. Thanks to Nobel Prize-winning economist Kahneman and his colleague Tversky, we know that fear of loss, as opposed to potential gain, tends to be overrated. The name for this is loss aversion. Meaning, the equally existent risk that arises from not adopting goes under the radar.

These are five valid reasons why you should not adopt the 4-day week. If you do want to dare to go ahead with the pilot, this is a list of secondary gains and potential psychological resistances to watch out for during the introduction.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels


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