Looking for a job with a 4-day workweek? Here’s how to decode exactly what it entails

Nov 27, 2023

9 mins

Looking for a job with a 4-day workweek? Here’s how to decode exactly what it entails

The 4-day workweek sounds too good to be true: one less day of work for the same pay—it almost makes you wonder how and why a company would want to implement it in the first place. But the workplace phenomenon is gaining traction worldwide, and job seekers are here for it. One survey from YouGov showed that 3 out of 5 employees would opt for their workplace to implement a 4-day workweek over a pay raise.

If you’re a job seeker excited by the idea of a 4-day workweek, there are already a number of companies with the program in full swing for you to set your sights on. Yet, not all businesses are doing it the same way. As companies run pilot programs and work out the kinks that come with breaking the mold, some are doing a better job than others at getting the 4-day workweek right.

For some workplaces, a 4-day workweek means 10-hour work days in four days instead of five; for others, it means working until your work is done. Some have playbooks and policies in place, and some don’t. There are businesses that choose the 4-day workweek for talent acquisition goals, while there are others who opt for an employee-first approach.

Uncovering the truth about the 4-day workweek

How can you assess a company’s approach to the 4-day workweek in an interview and ensure it aligns with your needs and working style—and isn’t just a way to lure you in? It starts with going back to being curious about why a company wants to implement it in the first place. From there, it requires asking the right questions, interpreting the answers, and spotting the potential warning signs.

To better understand how to gauge a company’s commitment to the trend, we turned to two experts on the 4-day workweek for their advice: David Rodriguez, founder of Rethinking Work, an organization aimed at teaching all companies how to implement the 4-day workweek, and chief operations officer for California Intercontinental University (CIU), and Dale Whelehan, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, a global non-profit whose mission to “create a million new years of free time” is bolstered by courses, consulting work, and pilot programs.

“It addresses many of the issues that organizations face … by giving them what they really want: more time off.”

Why are businesses implementing the 4-day workweek to begin with?

Why is the 4-day workweek becoming popular? Apart from the obvious implications of achieving a healthier work-life balance, the reasons are more nuanced.

For Rodriguez, it all started with the motivation to make his employees happy. “I wanted to make CIU the best place to work and challenge the status quo, which is how I founded Rethinking Work to help other businesses do the same,” he begins. “We’ve taken a people-first approach to implementing the 4-day workweek and ensure people are happy with the results,”

Rodriguez notes that employees complete a weekly employee engagement survey using a people management platform. He believes that supporting your policy with data, rather than your interpretation, is vital to the 4-day workweek’s success.

Whelehan’s entry into the world of the 4-day workweek started with a background in healthcare. Originally trained as a physiotherapist, he went on to complete a PhD in Behavioral Science and joined 4-Day Week Global after getting involved in their campaign to pilot the 4-day workweek in Ireland; the organization has since conducted pilot studies to understand the relationship between working hours and its impacts on individual business and societal outcomes in the UK, Ireland, the US, Australia, and Asia, with more pilots and results in more countries to come. They aim to encourage organizations to trial their trademark principle of 100% pay and 80% time for 100% output, which they’ve now tested on over 350 companies.

“I’ve been particularly interested in leveraging my knowledge in behavioral science and understanding why people behave the way they do to improve the health and wellbeing of people,” Whelehan says. “That’s where 4 Day Week became a natural fit; it addresses many of the issues that organizations face around leadership and culture and inefficient processes and technology while building and fueling intrinsic motivation of the workforce by giving them what they really want: more time off.”

“Companies should use the 100% pay, 80% time, and 100% output principle to understand what reduced working hours look like in the context of their business requirements.”

How does a company successfully implement a 4-day workweek, and what should job seekers look for during the interview process?

A successful 4-day workweek can be measured in many ways, whether it’s happier employees or boosted efficiency. Both experts agree that the crux of a successful 4-day workweek is understanding the company’s why. As Whelehan puts it, the first thing a company needs is “a compelling story and a change narrative as to why they’re embarking on this 4-day workweek in the first place.”

Whelehan continues that for some organizations, the motivation is external, using the 4-day workweek to recruit better talent. However, he believes a better approach starts from the inside. “Other organizations are recognizing that some of these complex cultural issues are causing burnout, and they know a 4-day week might help to address that,” he notes.

Rodriguez echoes this sentiment, agreeing that companies who don’t take a people-first approach to the 4-day workweek are missing the plot, and the consequences will fall squarely on the employee. “If the company is not keeping their employees in mind, then people will be forced to deliver projects on a timeline that just has them working longer days Monday through Thursday,” Rodriguez says, pointing out that this can lead to more overwhelm and burnout for the employee, the opposite of the goal.

Whelehan points out that some companies realize that by reducing the burnout of their workforce, they can increase productivity. Meanwhile, others’ approach centers around the potential benefits of a 4-day week for broader societal outcomes, like improved gender equality and sustainability outcomes. “We all know that businesses in the future will play a vital role in making a more sustainable and equal world. So having that narrative and being clear about why you’re doing it is key,” Whelehan reinforces.

How a company translates its motives into something that’s going to be practical is where you start to see the differences between approaches. Whelehan believes companies should use the 100% pay, 80% time, and 100% output principle to understand what reduced working hours look like in the context of their business requirements, and job seekers should establish what those requirements are. “Some organizations think of the 4-day week as your traditional Monday to Thursday and close business on Friday, but others might say they can’t afford to close on a Friday and will look at [having] some staff working Monday, some staff working Friday and a shift pattern,” he uses as an example.

“Asking a company about standard policies is crucial to understanding their seriousness about working one day less a week.”

How can candidates inquire about a company’s 4-day workweek policies during a job interview, and what should they look out for in the responses?

Getting to the bottom of a company’s 4-day workweek policy starts by tactfully asking the right questions and interpreting the responses. For Rodriguez, it’s learning about the company culture. “The 4-day workweek thrives in a collaborative culture where everybody’s supporting each other,” he begins, noting companies need clear objectives and key results to support their 4-day workweek. “Why are you doing it? Is it aligned with your organization’s mission and vision? These are the types of questions you want answers to,” he says.

Rodriguez also identifies that culture starts from the top. If employees are expected to work one less day a week, then leadership has to, too. “We have a standard operating procedure of what our online/offline statuses have to look like, and it starts with the leadership team,” he says, reinforcing that asking a company about similar standard policies is crucial to understanding their seriousness about working one day less a week.

“Job seekers should ask for examples of how the 4-day workweek works in one part of the business versus another.”

Another way to understand a company’s approach to the 4-day workweek that Whelehan flags is to look at what other employees say about it. “[A job seeker] will go to Glassdoor or through a recruitment agency website and see these benefits exist, but how well are those benefits implemented?” he says.

Whelehan agrees that assessing employee satisfaction, policy, and the role of leadership can help you make some assessments. “Looking at things like whether there is technology, processes, or policies in place to ensure it’s clear whether the 4-day week is an entitlement, a gift, or based on conditions of work being achieved,” he says. To find out, Whelehan suggests job seekers should ask for examples of how the 4-day workweek works in one part of the business versus another to determine company-wide adoption and how teams collaborate if they’re on different schedules to understand how things play out in practice.

Lastly, Whelehan says candidates need to ask themselves a question, too: does this feel like a nice place to work? “‘Does the company invest in thinking that its staff can autonomously do good work?’” Whelehan asks, “Or do they feel like their staff needs to be micromanaged and constantly under surveillance?” Whelehan reminds us that some 4-day week policies come with a lot of mouse-monitoring and micromanaging, which undermines the intrinsic motivation of a company’s workforce. “[Employees] will be doing their work because they know they’re being watched, rather than because they want to and will get time off. It’s about building that trust of your workforce,” he says.

What are the red flags to look out for when assessing a company’s approach to the 4-day workweek?

You might need to pay close attention to find the red flags. As we’ve learned, they likely won’t be glaring but rather in the everyday culture and behaviors of a business. Whelehan, drawing upon his background in behavioral science, boils it down to the company’s ability to address psychological needs, regardless of a 4-day workweek in place. Candidates should assess if the company can meet their needs on a holistic level and consider an inability to do so as a potential strike against their success.

“When you look at the intrinsic motivation of a workforce, there are psychological needs that make us feel motivated,” Whelehan starts. “When we feel like we have control and autonomy over our work, when we feel close and connected or related to our colleagues or to a greater cause, and when we feel that we are doing a good job, strong leadership will design work around facilitating access to all of those.”

As for how this relates to you and your role, Rodriguez reinforces establishing how your performance will be measured. “When you’re interviewing, ask: what are my goals?” he says. He shares an example of how CIU approaches new hires. “When they’re signing a contract, we include their key results. It’s a time-bound goal, and they have a whole quarter to fulfill it.” Rodriguez mentions how this is an important element of the 4-day workweek, saying that it doesn’t matter when the employee works on the project or how it gets done, but it’s what they need to fulfill. “That is what we’re basing your performance on. If a company can’t provide you with a clear goal for your job, then you’re going to be lost. You have to have clear metrics,” he affirms.

Key takeaways: How to assess a company’s approach to the 4-day workweek in an interview

Want to determine if a company’s 4-day workweek policy is as rock-solid as they’re making it out to be or whether it’s all just smoke and mirrors? Here are the key aspects both experts on the 4-day workweek agree will help you:

  • Is it for the people or the perception? Start by asking why. The 4-day workweek has many benefits and advantages, like a happier workforce, company attraction and retention, and work-life balance. Find out what the company’s intentions are: what’s their story, and what’s the motivation? Look for companies that take a people-first approach to the 4-day workweek and will consider the needs of their staff versus being more concerned with their outside appearance.
  • Inquire about clear policies. Any company with a 4-day workweek should have a blueprint of how it works. It’s not enough to talk about what they do; it should be in writing and have defined expectations that apply across the board or clearly state any nuances/specifications for each department.
  • Ask for specific examples. Once you know there are standard operating procedures and policies in place, ask for scenarios for a better understanding of how it works in practice; for example, how different teams might work together when they’re on different 4-day workweek schedules.
  • Get clear expectations on your goals. Ensure you understand the requirements of your role and get clarity about any potential time constraints to help you determine whether you’re expected to do the same amount of work as you would in five days in four or if your goals can be achieved on your own timeline.
  • Assess yourself. If your potential new workplace seems to have all the boxes checked on an effective 4-day workweek, both experts agree that the final assessment—and arguably the most important one—is the one you do on yourself.

Working a 4-day workweek requires knowing yourself, how you work, and understanding the habits you will have to break. You can ask an employer all the questions in the world, and they can get them right, but how will you adapt? Whelehan says, “The missing conversation from the 4-day week puzzle is that you can lead the horse to water, and you can nudge the horse to drink the water, but ultimately the horse has to drink the water. Training people to manage their own performance is key to long-term success.” Rodriguez agrees that self-management is vital. “We have to hire folks who are critical thinkers and highly self-motivated. Not everyone can manage the four-day workweek,” Rodriguez says. “We knew when implementing that some folks are not going to be able to transition, and that’s a reality.”

Still, Whelehan encourages young workers to test the waters and determine what a 4-day workweek would mean to them. “I think young workers need to learn how to fuel their own level of life satisfaction, motivation, and happiness. That means experiment. Go wild, try different things, and don’t feel like you need to subscribe to a protocol of how your career should go.”

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

Follow Welcome to the Jungle on FacebookLinkedIn, and Instagram, and subscribe to our newsletter to get our latest articles every week!