Data Will Drive CEO Decisions on Four-Day Workweeks

By Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP February 28, 2020
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​Recently, I sat down with three Fortune 200 CEOs to explore issues relevant to their success. At first, I was intimidated: These captains of industry are responsible for the livelihoods of more than 1 million employees and $100 billion in annual revenues. Soon enough, though, our conversations reminded me that, whether you’re the head of the world’s largest manufacturers or a local restaurateur with 10 staff members, people are still people. In fact, people issues are precisely what these three CEOs wanted to chat about: primarily, employee engagement and the four-day workweek.

The CEOs went back and forth about every aspect of the four-day workweek, including whether it was a change worth pursuing and the best methods for implementation. I sat there like a sponge, wondering if four-day workweeks were really a critical issue. I finally asked why they were so interested in the matter.

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“Because all my staff keep arguing for it, and I can’t find one good data point about it,” one CEO answered without skipping a beat. Her statement made two things clear to me. First, data affects everything CEOs do. Second, CEOs apply the same sharp analysis to people matters that they apply to operational and financial matters.

Initially, I tried to contribute to the conversation with a data-driven opinion based on some quickly Googled facts, but that wasn’t going to fly. Only fresh, representative data would help to inform them. I took their questions back to SHRM’s headquarters to do some hard research.

What our research team discovered about four-day workweeks surprised me and the CEOs. Our nationally representative research found that nearly one-quarter of the organizations surveyed have already implemented a four-day workweek and another 30 percent are considering it. While a majority of employees reported a positive experience with the work model, nearly 2 in 5 workers don’t welcome the idea. That stunned me, as I had expected a smaller proportion of detractors.

The CEOs’ responses to these results were telling. One chose not to implement a four-day workweek, ignoring the will of the majority of the company’s employees; the other two said their decisions depended on how well their employees understood the four-day workweek model. It was clear that all three CEOs recognized a need for their own data to make an informed decision.

I was impressed by the amount of time these industry leaders spent thinking about the topic and was reassured by their approach. Their actions showed not only that they care about people matters, but that they care even more about matters important to their people.

Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP, is chief knowledge officer for SHRM.

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