Whether you’re working remotely from a sunny beach or making a bold mid-career switch, you’ve likely wondered about where the world of work is headed as the economy makes a post-pandemic recovery. The last two years have pushed companies to reevaluate their business approach and motivated employees to reassess their priorities. In particular, today’s employees are increasingly prioritising a good work-life balance.

As more people return to their workplaces, organisations are experimenting with different working schedules to see what works best for them. Some companies across the globe are also trying out shorter workweeks to ensure that everyone gets enough time off.

After having the chance to work from home, employees around the world are realising that having a job with a high salary is longer worth sacrificing their health for. In our Employer Brand Research conducted this year, 60% of Hong Kong working professionals said that “work-life balance” is the most important employee value proposition (EVP) they look for in an ideal employer.

This statistic represents the first time in a decade of research in Hong Kong that respondents are prioritising “work-life balance” as the top employee value proposition. The desire to work remotely has grown over the years as people enjoy the convenience of working from home and the extra time they get to spend with family and friends. 

However, today’s professionals face new challenges beyond these added benefits. People have myriad responsibilities to juggle besides work, from caring for elderly relatives and children to doing household chores. These added tasks can make for a more challenging schedule than your typical five-day workweek. Furthermore, people tend to clock extra hours when working from home, which can often be mistaken for increased productivity.

This is especially clear in our bi-annual Workmonitor survey, with 48% of Hongkongers stating that they would resign from their jobs if their jobs prevented them from enjoying their lives - pointing to a strong desire for better work-life balance.

3 in 5 hongkongers say work-life balance is the top value proposition.
3 in 5 hongkongers say work-life balance is the top value proposition.

Business leaders need to step up to meet these changing expectations. While some employers have introduced HR initiatives such as hybrid work and mental health support, others are taking a different track - by adopting a four-day workweek. Companies are finally recognising the advantages of implementing a shorter workweek, including having greater productivity and more flexible schedules for employees.

Helping employees maintain a good work-life balance should be a staple benefit offered by companies. However, work-life balance is different for everyone. For instance, a working parent would rather have the option to work from home to save on childcare expenditure, while someone else would rather start work later to avoid the rush hour during their commute. 

In this article, we dive into the benefits and challenges of a four-day workweek and why the modern workforce finds it so desirable.

what are the benefits of a four-day workweek?

Having a four-day workweek allows employees to be able to work fewer days while being paid the same salary and fulfilling the same deliverables. As a result, workers can improve their well-being for a better work-life balance for workers without incurring a loss in productivity for businesses.

employee advantages of having a four day workweek
employee advantages of having a four day workweek

Working a shorter week gives employees the ability to:

  • Finish their tasks on time
  • Spend more time with loved ones
  • Have ample time to rest
  • Maintain their homes
  • Recharge and prepare for the next week
  • Experience less stress and take less sick leave

For the company, having a shorter workweek incentivises employees to be more productive. It motivates them to finish their tasks so they can enjoy a longer weekend. When employees are better able to care for themselves during their personal time, they return to work feeling more refreshed.

We often hear about employee burnout occurring, and having a four-day work schedule may be part of the solution. Beyond the business productivity benefits, there are pros such as reduced overhead and other costs as the office no longer needs to operate five days a week. Some organisations, such as Stanley Black & Decker and the Los Angeles Times have trimmed 20% from payroll costs for three months just by implementing a four-day week.

how employers can benefit from four day work week
how employers can benefit from four day work week

Employers can expect these benefits:

  • Increase in productivity
  • Reduced employee burnout
  • Improved employee retention
  • Increased sales
  • Lower operating costs
  • Better workplace culture

In the age of remote work and digital innovation, employees value being able to manage their own time. After all, work should be measured by outcomes rather than processes or the time spent on tasks - especially if one can deliver quality work within the new timeframe. Having a more flexible working schedule is a rare incentive that not only keeps existing employees motivated and engaged week-on-week, but it also helps to attract fresh talent.

what are the challenges of implementing a four-day workweek?

Enforcing a four-day workweek may sound ideal, but the concept comes with its own challenges. For example, should business leaders expect their workforce to work the same number of hours each day? Or should they compress their weekly working hours into a four-day timeframe, leading to longer days?

According to a LinkedIn poll run by Randstad which garnered 1,356 responses, a whopping 72% of respondents said they prefer to work four days a week with longer working hours over a five-day workweek. 

Compressed hours can turn up the pressure at work, causing employees to fast-track their deliverables as they now have just four days to complete their work if they want to properly enjoy their three-day weekend. This situation creates the real risk of employees burning out even faster than before. Being productive at work will always be about being smart about it, and not simply clocking the hours - and there’s only so much workers can accomplish before diminishing returns sets in.

In reality, most employees will be expected to work the same 40-hour weeks within four days. While it may sound tiring to have to work longer hours, others may think that it’s worth the sacrifice for a longer weekend. At software engineering company Elephant Ventures, this compressed version of the four-day workweek was so well-received by staff that it was permanently implemented last year.

However, it’s worth noting that this may not play out quite as successfully in Asian countries with cultures of overwork. It is not uncommon for employees in South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong, to work at least 10 hours every day due to presenteeism or poor management of time and workload.

how does the four-day workweek play out in southeast asia?

In 2019, Microsoft Japan experimented with a project which gave its 2,300-strong workforce five consecutive Fridays off without decreased pay. The shortened weeks led to more efficient meetings, happier workers and boosted productivity by a staggering 40%.

Surprisingly, Japan - a country known for its stringent work ethics - has been quick to lead the charge in this regard, with more companies across different industries implementing four-day workweeks. Panasonic and Shionogi & Co have reportedly started offering its staff the option to work a shorter week.

In other parts of the Asia-Pacific region, companies have been slower on the uptake - though a handful of employers are boldly taking to the trend. 

Indonesia Shariah lending firm Alami established a four-day workweek from 2021 to give employees more personal time. In Malaysia, Supercomputer and AI solutions provider Twistcode and marketing company Commission Factory have both implemented a four-day work schedule. 

why are asian companies slower to adopt a 4 day workweek?

For one thing, Western countries have been trialing this concept for much longer - a hallmark example being Iceland’s country-wide efforts to reduce the average workweek from 40 hours in 2015 to 35 to 36 hours in 2019. Today, Icelanders are naturally opting for shorter work hours.

Besides a smattering of companies across Asia, traditional workplace culture still prevails.

In Asian countries, the high levels of power distance between employers and employees mean that employees often feel unable to say “no” to employers. Faced with the unspoken pressure of jeopardising their careers over better work-life balance, many employees may clock additional unpaid overtime to maintain their job security.

Cross-cultural studies also found that the link between work-family conflict and both job satisfaction and turnover intention is stronger in individualistic Western countries than in collectivistic markets in Asia, Latin America and East Europe. This means that employees in individualistic cultures tend to speak out more about their job dissatisfaction. On the other hand, collectivists tended to remain loyal to their employers through thick and thin, as this is part of their culture.

Work dynamics have shifted dramatically in Asia over the past two years. Before the pandemic, some employees in Asia weren’t even issued laptops to work from home. Having to work using a new device, learn new routines and develop new management styles already presented a huge culture shock and logistical challenge for many Asian companies. 

Hybrid and remote working is a good first step towards establishing more flexible working measures, but to have the option to work four days per week may be too much to ask of some companies right now.

learn about evolving candidate expectations to effectively address them.

Realistically, a four-day workweek may not be suitable for every company or industry. However, every initiative that helps your workforce to maintain a better work-life balance goes towards strengthening your ability to attract, engage and retain good talent in turn.

Given the intense war for talent, job seekers have the autonomy to choose where they want to work and who they want to work for. Having a better understanding of how to attract and retain quality talent will allow you to develop a stronger HR strategy by striking the best balance between candidate and employer expectations.

Our Employer Brand Research provides you with the latest trends, observations and a clear vision on what talent is looking for in today’s work environment.

Find out more about our specialised talent recruitment services and let us help you build a winning talent attraction strategy.

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