Flexibility, Not Fridays: Why the Four-Day Workweek Doesn’t Work

May 2, 2022

The buzz about the four-day workweek is everywhere, from LinkedIn posts and Twitter threads to possible federal legislation. I’ve seen so much praise for the idea, which makes sense—who doesn’t love a three-day weekend? But something about the conversation wasn’t clicking for me. I’ve seen research showing that we all need more rest, more boundaries. And I agree we need our companies to help us do that. But as I scrolled through CEOs bragging about four-day workweeks on social media, I got frustrated. I remembered the discussion around unlimited PTO and how it actually leads to people taking less time off, hurtling toward burnout. Finally, I just said it: The proclamation of a Friday-free, four-day workweek is a sham—at least for the majority of us.

Proponents of the four-day workweek make ambitious claims about its power to fix the way we work. Here’s why I think this fad would actually make work less equitable and less flexible.

Not Feasible

The world is still open on Fridays. I can’t think of anyone—at my own company or at others—who can truly say they and their teams won’t have to work on a Friday. For many industries, it’s not feasible to turn off completely. Not until our customers, investors and partners don’t work on Fridays, either.

I can tell my team, “Congratulations! Here’s my gift to you of Fridays off,” and score points on social media for being a forward-thinking leader. But the reality is that members of our customer success team, sales team, HR, finance—the list goes on—will have to attend to the needs of customers, prospects and candidates on Fridays. They’re going to take that call, answer that email and solve that problem five days a week.

People have suggested rethinking business goals to make it feasible to close down on Fridays, even if it impacts a company’s bottom line. But most companies don’t have that luxury. Asking people to fit their work into fewer days sets them up for a crash.

That introduces the other failing of the four-day workweek: To achieve corporate goals in four days every week, teams will have to work harder—and probably more. It’s not feasible to mandate a day off.

Not Equitable

Since day one, I’ve sought to give our team true flexibility. I don’t care if people take a three-hour lunch break, Tuesday afternoons off, or work out in the middle of the day. I want them to have the flexibility to navigate school drop-offs and doggy daycare as well as to care for themselves and their loved ones. Each member of our team is different, a unique individual with unique needs.

The blanket assignment of Fridays off assumes that everybody can take advantage of identical opportunities. The strategies they’ve developed to care for their kids, parents, animals—and themselves—must magically shift to Friday. Because how can someone take a Tuesday afternoon off or start late on a Thursday when they have Friday off? How can they take that mind-clearing run on Wednesday when they’ve got to pack five days into four? What my employees need to thrive is flexibility, not Fridays.

Dynamic Teams Need Flexibility

Dictating one-size-fits-all flexibility negates the point. Some weeks are busier than others. Sometimes flexibility does mean a Friday off, but other times, it’s something else. We must prioritize rest and boundaries. It’s silly to replace dynamic, flexible work with a mandated day off.

As a leader, it’s easy to announce a four-day workweek. The greater challenge comes from saying, “I trust you. You have autonomy. Here are my expectations, and here’s how we’ll communicate as a team.” It’s more challenging, but it’s worth it. Here are four ways we’re making it work as a team at my own company.

  1. We use Slack to communicate work status. We indicate when we’re fully working at our desks; when we’re semi-working but responsive and available for needs; when we’re mostly unavailable but happy to take a call; and finally, when we’re completely offline and unavailable. No one’s walking on eggshells about reaching out to teammates. No one’s responsible for remembering everyone’s schedule. And no one’s nudged by work because their teammates didn’t know they were taking time away.
  2. We aim for no meetings on Fridays. We work toward this goal with the understanding people can still schedule meetings if we need to—we just try to avoid it and check with teammates first. It gives us a shared day that’s a little lighter and allows for deeper, more creative work requiring uninterrupted concentration.
  3. We set clear goals. If you’re going to offer the flexibility for employees to live their lives, they need to know what “good work” looks like. Leaders must set clear goals and expectations so teams feel comfortable taking flex time. Those expectations also create an environment of clarity and accountability that discourages abusing flexibility.
  4. We lead by example. My hair appointments, kids’ doctor appointments and lunches with friends are on my calendar for anyone to see. When a leader on our team wants to take the afternoon off, they say so. Being open from the top down about flexibility is important in establishing psychological safety and is a powerful confirmation that we mean what we say.

The four-day workweek may seem like a simple solution to the struggles of modern work, but it doesn’t offer the flexibility your employees deserve or support the goals of a growing business. When it’s what’s best for our people, I’ll take the more challenging path any day.

By Lindsay Tjepkema