Interest in a four-day workweek is spreading around the world, but a lot of questions remain. Maybe the biggest: Can companies really rely on at least the same amount and quality of work getting done with employees working fewer days?

At the recent Wall Street Journal CEO Council Summit in London, Hillary Canada, a Journal editor, explored the issues with CEOs Tom Moore of financial-services firm WBR Group and Ed Siegel of Charity Bank, both of which have implemented a four-day workweek, and Dale Whelehan of 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit that helps businesses transition to a shorter workweek.

Following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Why try it?

WSJ:   Dale, why should we go to a four-day week?

DALE WHELEHAN: The four-day week is already here—people are only working the equivalent of productivity of around four days. But there’s a huge amount of unproductive time in the workweek due to long meetings, inefficient technology, poor communication, poor process. And so what 4 Day Week does is we work with organizations to get them to work smarter, but not longer. Productivity is the main driver of our work.

WSJ:   Tom, you’re the head of a financial-advisory firm. That seems like a solidly five-day-a-week gig. What made you want to try the four-day week?

TOM MOORE: Where we are at the moment is we are running a trial. So we’re into the fifth month of that, and all is going fine.

What we’re saying to all our staff is, if you can find a way to do your job in four days a week instead of five days a week, you get a gift day, as we term it. You get a day off a week.

Our theory is that when people find a way to do their job more productively in those four days, that spills over. They don’t just fit five days into four days. They’re generally better employees. They’re generally doing everything better.

WSJ: What does it look like in reality? It’s not that everyone’s off on Friday, right? How have you been doing this at Charity Bank, Ed?

ED SIEGEL: In our organization, most people are off either on Monday or Friday. The teams are left to decide what that arrangement will be and that there is sufficient coverage in place so that a certain service of the bank doesn’t completely shut down on a day a week.

WSJ: And Tom, you said it’s a gift day, so it’s any day of the week that works for you.

MOORE: There are a lot of small teams, and the team leaders have discretion about how that’s run.

WSJ: Ed, you guys formed a productivity task force. Can you tell us about that?

SIEGEL: We have a productivity working group task force that is constantly getting together, sharing ideas, disseminating those across the organization, and that will never end.

WSJ:   And that goes beyond the four-day week, that’s to tackle everything that makes the business most efficient.

SIEGEL: It tackles every aspect of operations, but it enables that four-day week to be permanent.

Powerful motivation

WSJ:   What’s the conversation you had with your customers or your clients?

MOORE: We don’t. Lots of clients know, of course, lots of people that we deal with know; it’s dripping out by osmosis. This is an operational thing. We don’t tell clients when we do things differently with other HR procedures that we introduce.

And the given is that this does not affect delivery, because if it does, and if the stats start to show that delivery is going down and output is going down and billing is going down, then the gift day isn’t available to the team. So it’s a fantastically powerful management tool.

WSJ:   How does it become a management tool? Because you can use it as a cudgel?

MOORE: If you want to put it that way, but in a very positive way it’s a management tool. One of my team leaders will be speaking to their team and we’ll be saying something along the lines of, “Guys, look, the standard metrics that we’re measured by, when these go to the board next week, they’re not going to be happy about that figure there. How are we going to turn this around? And to be honest, the gift days next week, I’m not sure I can authorize them.”

WSJ: Ed, is it a similar conversation within Charity Bank?

SIEGEL: Not that last part. At Charity Bank, everyone’s contract has been amended now, everyone who wants to participate, and that’s just about everybody. We don’t really have those kinds of conversations.

We’ve got a bunch of very happy campers in the organization. And people really treasure that three-day weekend. That is a big part of the theory, that the fact that they value that three-day weekend means when they come in on Monday, or Tuesday if that’s the case, they put their heads down and they get it done.

WSJ: Is there a benchmark, though, where you would consider rolling it back?

SIEGEL: If somehow those productivity gains were lost and it started to trickle into the business, then we’d have to ask ourselves some tough questions.

The verdict

WSJ:   Tom, you are in the middle of the trial now or nearing the end. What’s the forecast? Do you think it’s going to stick around ?

MOORE: Yes, it’s no longer whether we do it, it’s how we do it. You’re looking constantly at how it’s working, what results it’s producing, and how you then operate it. Once you open the door to it, I think it is quite difficult to go back on it.

WSJ: What are the sticking points as you rolled this out?

MOORE: There’s very little that I can say that’s been problematic. There’s stuff in the details. So, for example, what do you do with part-time workers? What do you do with people who have variable work patterns already? How do you fit it in with hybrid working and with people wanting to work from home? Those practicalities do require some work.

The only problem, if I can call it that, is that people who are senior in businesses, it’s their life, we live and breathe it. And we’re trying to set an example. So, I do take a gift day, and I don’t succeed all the time.

The other thing we encourage people to do is to shout about what you’re doing on your gift day, because we don’t want people to be at home catching up on emails. We want people to be doing something else. We want people to be writing the novel they wanted to write, visiting their sick relatives, training for a marathon, having a singing lesson, whatever it is. They’re more-rounded people that way, and more-rounded people are better in the workplace.

WSJ: Ed, has it been a problem to get people to take their three-day weekends or are people taking it pretty regularly?

SIEGEL: That is, for us, the most challenging aspect. I’d say for about 75% of the staff, it’s a dream. It works very well overall for the organization. It’s been fantastic for our culture and for employee well-being. But for the highfliers, the senior team, the people who had a hard time getting their jobs done five days a week, it has been challenging to get down to four.

WSJ: Dale, we’ve got folks in the room who have thousands and tens of thousands of people at their companies. Does this scale?

WHELEHAN: We have seen in the last eight, nine months larger organizations starting to look at how they might do a version of work-time reduction, albeit maybe not the four-day week. We see it now in versions of four-and-a-half-day weeks.

I’ve worked in a few different sectors now. I’ve worked in healthcare, I worked in professional services, I worked in academia. I’ve done versions of a four-day week in all of them. And they all need to be addressed in slightly different ways.

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