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It’s time for US small businesses to offer a four-day workweek

By January 23, 2022No Comments

(This article originally appeared in The Guardian)

Every small business owner I talk to has the same problem: we can’t find enough people to do the work we need. Well, I have an answer: perhaps we should be offering a four-day workweek.

“What? A four-day workweek?” I’ll often hear when I propose this. “I need my people to work more, not less!”

Sure, it sounds a little crazy, particularly for the typical small business owner — who, according to the Small Business Administration — is generally over the age of 55. But to those people — many of whom are my clients — I say, keep an open mind. The reality is that a four-day workweek is steadily becoming a workplace reality. And leveraging it could be a huge benefit for a small business owner.

The four-day workweek concept is already growing in acceptance. A test of this model from 2015 to 2019 in Iceland of more than 2,500 workers (which represents more than 1% of the country’s working population, or the equivalent of more than 16 million workers in the US) proved to be an “overwhelming success”. Iceland’s experiment has motivated governmentsin New Zealand, Singapore and Spain to consider four-day workweek models in their countries.

The Icelandic test is also behind a group of more than 100 progressives in Congress — led by Congressman Mark Takano — to introduce legislation requiring US companies to limit their workweeks to 32 hours. And although it’s unlikely that this legislation will see the light of day here in the near term, many US companies are already taking it upon themselves to try out their own versions of the four-day workweek. And for good reasons.

For example, a San Francisco-based e-commerce company called Bolt started the policy for its 550 employees this year. “It’s actually not about trying to cram five days into four days,” the company’s chief people officer told a local news outlet. “The way we think about it is actually changing the way we work, and being more effective and efficient during those four days.”

Panasonic is also offering a four-day workweek as an option to its employees. Microsoft did the same in Japan, and claims a 40% increase in productivity as a result. Kickstarter is testing the concept this year. Thirty companies in the United Kingdom are participating in a pilot program to test its effectiveness.

This is clearly a trend, and like all trends it has early adopters and naysayers. But is this something that only big brands should consider? Absolutely not. A four-day workweek should be seriously considered by smaller businesses and for one big reason: it would help to solve our current labor woes.

Just think about it: if you’re a small business owner, you’re having a very difficult time finding people and keeping your best people around. It’s the Great Resignation, right? You’re competing against bigger companies with more resources. And yet here’s a benefit that more than two-thirds of workers want and yet only 17% of employers are offering, according to a recent study from employment recruiter Robert Half. And some studieshave shown that these types of working arrangements also increase productivity, effectiveness and morale.

Small businesses are particularly well-suited to offer a four-day workweek because, as a small business owner, we simply have more flexibility than our larger counterparts.

We can tailor our four-day workweek program to whatever we want it to be. Those “four days” could be four 10-hour days. Or it could be four eight-hour days, as long as employees meet their agreed-upon deliverables, rather than just logging in time. It can be implemented during certain less-busy times of the year. We can eliminate — or curtail — our current vacation plans. We can make the program available in lieu of a work from home arrangement — or to complement it. Within reason, we can offer it to some employees but not to others, based on their job requirements. If it’s not working out for certain people you can change the rules.

The biggest attraction? Unlike most other employee benefits, it doesn’t have to cost us anything.

Because in the end, if we’re getting the work we need out of our people then what do we care whether they do it in four days or two days? This is just compensation for a job performed. And smaller companies have much more flexibility in how we can apply these rules compared with our larger competitors. And let’s not forget: being the first small business in your town to offer a four-day workweek is going to generate quite a lot of positive PR too.

The four-day workweek is trending. It’s an attractive, no-cost benefit to offer (if done correctly). It’s a great recruiting tool for a small business. And it’s a great way for that same small business to retain its best workers in these times of tight labor supply.

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