The Rise of the Four Day Week

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 16 September 2021
Caroline Reidy
The HR Suite
Issues covered: The four day week; Work-life balance; Productivity

Since Covid-19, the debate around the optimal working week has strengthened as conversations circulate around the new way of working. In order for companies to achieve the maximum benefit for both employers and their staff members, certain factors need to be considered when adjusting their working week.  

The first and most important factor a Company needs to consider is how to work smarter rather than longer, as this is the alleged key to greater productivity.  The second factor that needs to be considered is how to increase leisure time for full time employees. Increasing employee’s leisure time not only increases motivation levels but can also decrease employees’ chances of experiencing burnout. 

Condensed Working Hours  

The idea of working a four-day week (i.e., reduced hours) is captivating for many people within the workforce who work 5 or more days a week. For the vast majority of individuals in the workforce, having a longer weekend would improve their work-life balance. One principle that has been spoken about is the Pareto principle as a way to manage your workload when given a shorter work week. This principle stipulates that 20% of an employee’s tasks will create 80% of the value; so, although many employees may believe that they cannot get all their tasks completed if their working week is shortened, the principle specifies that it’s about focusing on your high-value tasks as opposed to putting yourself under pressure to get all tasks complete. 

Working a condensed week – i.e., working full-time hours across four days rather than five is one way that many employees currently achieve a four-day week.  However, studies have also indicated that full-time employees who work this way have showed decreased levels of productivity and reduced levels of engagement.  According to the UK Health and Safety Executive in 2017, it is estimated that approximately 44% of work-related stress in the UK is caused by workload resulting in an economic cost of £5 billion per year. When redistributing working hours in this way, it is imperative that this factor is taken into consideration as this may not be the best option for employer and employees. 

Working Smarter Not Harder 

From an employer’s perspective, a reduced working week can only be advantageous when the hours spent at work are the hours when the workforce are functioning at the most productive level or in flow. Furthermore, the quality of work improves over a shorter length of time. It raises the question whether employers should focus on the volume of tasks to be performed and completed, as opposed to focusing on contracting employees to sit X number of hours in an office.  

Four-Day Week Trials  

There have been many reports of successful trials of four-day week trial in the media of late, including in IcelandNew Zealand and Japan, where employees work a reduced working week and Spain and Scotland are the latest countries to announce four-day week trials. In Ireland a 6-month four-day week trial will commence in January 2022 and supports will be made available for businesses who sign up to participate in the pilot including training, coaching and mentoring, etc. You can find out how to sign up here:   

In Japan, Microsoft implemented a 4-day working week as an experiment to investigate whether or not employee productivity would be boosted within the Company. According to Microsoft Japan, sales increased by approximately 40%.    

One would wonder why a four-day week isn’t enjoyed worldwide with such positive results? One of the main reasons why the four-day working week is perhaps not universal is because many work cultures celebrate long working hours and an employee’s devotion to work.  

Elon Musk, a famous engineer and entrepreneur, has claimed that a company’s employees need to work long hours to effect big changes. As well as this, many companies believe that a four-day working week is unrealistic and a cost to the business. The director of employee relations at IBEC claims that, although it promotes worker flexibility, for certain business sectors it would be unrealistic. For example, within the healthcare industry there is a demand for seven-day staff – so a four-day week may not suit all roles within all industries.   

It would appear logical that a shorter working week would allow more time for nurturing personal relationships.  Having more time for leisure activities, family and friends significantly boosts people’s overall wellbeing which, in turn, often results in increased levels of employee engagement and performance in the workplace. The real challenge is to establish the optimal number of weekly hours to be completed within the working week to maximise productivity and performance for employers.  

 4-day week pros: 

 4-day week cons: 

 Improved work/life balance 

 Possible longer working day 

 Increased productivity 

 Availability of childcare facilities   etc.  

 Improved wellbeing 

 Availability of services to   customers 

 Higher level of employee engagement  

 More complex contractual issues 

 Talent retention and attraction of talent 

 May not suit all employees 

 Reduced energy costs and carbon footprint for   employers 


If you are considering what impact a four-day week working arrangement might have on your organisation then you may wish to explore the Q&A section on the which includes,  

  • Does reduced working time always mean a 4 -day week?  
  • Is reduced work time feasible for employers? 
  • So, what might reduced worktime mean for the Irish workforce?  

The answers to these and other questions is available here:  

This article is correct at 16/09/2021

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Caroline Reidy
The HR Suite

The main content of this article was provided by Caroline Reidy. Contact telephone number is +353 66 710 2887 / +353 86 775 2064 or email

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