This U.S. company tried a 4-day workweek—and claims it boosted employee happiness and productivity

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Testing a four-day workweek could combat employee burnout.

The findings from a six-month study involving thousands of workers indicate that working four days instead of the usual five can decrease employee burnout while enhancing productivity, retention rates, and team morale.

Exos, a U.S.-based company with over 3,000 global employees, recently shared the outcomes from the initial six months of its trial with a four-day workweek, which commenced last spring and is currently ongoing. Exos is a coaching enterprise that trains professional athletes and manages corporate wellness programs for nearly a quarter of the Fortune 100, including companies like Adobe and Humana.

During the experiment, most employees worked for four days and had “You Do You Fridays,” where they could take time off, catch up on tasks, or use the day for leisure at their discretion.

Engaged salaried employees at Exos shifted to a four-day 40-hour workweek with no pay adjustment, while hourly employees were given the choice to work between 32 and 40 hours during the four-day week based on their preferences and agreement with their supervisor, as stated by Greg Hill, Exos’ Chief People Officer to CNBC Make It.

The intention behind this policy is to offer flexibility to employees to engage in deliberate recovery or incorporate rest into their schedule in a manner that suits them effectively. The only restriction is that employees cannot communicate with others or schedule meetings on Fridays.

Exos evaluated the impact of the four-day workweek on its staff—with the assistance of organizational psychologist Adam Grant and Marissa Shandell, a doctoral candidate at Wharton School of Business—and discovered significant advantages that align with results from other trials on four-day workweeks.

Key Advantages of a Four-Day Workweek: Happier, More Productive Employees

Exos reported that after six months of implementing the four-day workweek, business performance and productivity stayed high, revenue grew, and turnover decreased.

Following the introduction of “You Do You Fridays,” 91% of Exos employees stated they utilized their time more efficiently at work compared to 64% before the trial. Furthermore, manager evaluations showed consistent performance levels pre and post the trial period.

Exos also witnessed a significant rise in staff retention: the turnover rate plummeted from 47% in 2022 to 29% in 2023 (although it must be noted that Exos’ trial coincided with a slowing hiring market).

The most significant benefit of adopting a four-day workweek has been heightened efficiency, according to Hill. Essentially, with a shorter workweek, employees accomplished more in less time.

Hill mentioned that Exos introduced measures to allow employees to focus on their work without pushing themselves excessively from Monday to Thursday to complete their workload.

Managers promoted “microbreaks” by keeping most meetings to 25 minutes and endorsed asynchronous work whenever feasible, Hill explained. Exos also designated Tuesdays and Thursdays for meetings and reserved Mondays and Wednesdays for individual tasks to aid employees in avoiding the productivity-decreasing “task switching.”

Employees who couldn’t take a full day off every week because they were on-site with a client received flexible time blocks throughout the week. Approximately 85% of Exos’ employees worked in-person, while the remaining 15% worked in a hybrid or remote setup.

An Additional Day Off Is More Than Just Vacation Time

One of the challenges of implementing a four-day workweek was ensuring that employees understood that having Fridays off was not simply another paid vacation, Hill emphasized. Instead, it was an opportunity to recharge, handle personal tasks, or complete pending work to reduce stress and distractions during the workweek.

“We had to ensure everyone understood that we weren’t just randomly adding a day off to their schedules, but that those days should be utilized for strategic recovery, aligning with Exos’ belief that work + rest = success,” Hill added.

The Growing Popularity of the Four-Day Workweek

Even though the five-day workweek remains prevalent in the U.S., global experiments investigating a four-day workweek have gained acceptance from workers and employers alike.

Several countries such as Ireland, Spain, and the UK trialed a 4-day workweek with overwhelmingly positive outcomes: Businesses involved in a UK six-month trial that ended in December 2022 revealed that transitioning to a four-day workweek improved productivity, morale, and team dynamics.

In the U.S., nearly 81% of full-time employees back a four-day workweek, as per a July 2023 Bankrate survey conducted on 2,367 adults.

The advocacy for a four-day workweek is gaining traction in Congress as well: Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced a bill in March to reduce the standard workweek to 32 hours without cutting pay.

This bill complements a counterpart in the House of Representatives, reintroduced by Democratic Representative Mark Takano of California in March 2023. Takano initially proposed the bill in 2021, but it did not progress through Congress.

Industry leaders and prominent figures anticipate the normalization of flexible workweeks.

Barry Diller, chairman of IAC and Expedia, envisions a shift towards working in the office for four days a week, with the option of a flexible Friday.

“I believe reasonably— not necessarily a four-day workweek, but four days in the office, and on Fridays, you can work from home or choose your own schedule,” Diller expressed during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” recently. He added, “I believe that will be the sensible evolution of all this, but it must be standardized.”

Steve, a billionaire financier and owner of the Mets, also shares similar sentiments on the shift towards more flexible work arrangements.

Cohen believes that a four-day workweek will become commonplace, influencing his investment in the golf startup league TGL in 2023. He expressed his views on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” stating that the advancement of artificial intelligence and lower productivity levels on Fridays will likely lead to a shorter workweek. Cohen sees this shift as inevitable, leading to more leisure time for people, potentially increasing interest in activities like golf and causing courses to be busier.

Hill warns that companies that do not adopt a four-day workweek or offer flexibility to their employees may lose a competitive advantage in hiring. He highlights the concept of “quiet quitting,” where workers are already seeking flexibility in their schedules, with or without official approval. Hill suggests that implementing measures like meeting-free afternoons can be a starting point for organizations that are not ready for a full four-day workweek. Providing employees with opportunities to recharge is essential for optimal performance.

Companies looking to stay ahead in attracting talent may need to consider adapting to the changing landscape of work hours and flexibility to remain competitive in the job market.

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