Flexibility is the key: The 4-day workweek for developers
May 30, 2022
min read

Flexibility is the key: The 4-day workweek for developers

Barbara Oberrauter-Zabransky
Barbara Oberrauter-Zabransky

In the last few years, stricken by the pandemic, working attitudes and working time models have changed toward more flexibility and better work-life balance. After a pioneering attempt in Iceland to introduce a four-day week in 2015, many European countries currently try to copy their working model. At the same time, tech industry leaders describe a five-day week as an outdated model in the age of digital and agile collaboration.

However, only a few local companies dare to introduce a permanent four-day week. Here you can read why this model is particularly interesting for developers and can be an ace in the sleeve for tech recruiters when looking to attract tech talent.

What is the 4-day week?

In the simplest form, a four-day week means that employees do their work four days a week instead of the previous five.

The media and political topic discussion revolve primarily around how to organize the four-day model in detail. Initially, the four-day week's concept envisaged a pattern of 100/80/100 - 100% productivity, 80% of the time, with 100% pay.

Flexibility 4-day workweek

In practice, several models have been tried so far:

  • The Icelandic model is a pioneered and the best-known example of a nationwide four-day week. For already five years, 2.500 employees switched to a four-day, 35-hour workweek model with the same pay as the 40-hour model.
  • Working time intensification makes the basis of the Belgian variant. The workload of 40 hours spreads over four days with around ten working hours per week, while the salary remains the same.
  • Some companies have integrated the four-day workweek with a voluntary reduction in working hours and reduced salary.
  • The occasional introduction of a four-day workweek is also popular with companies: for example, some offer a seasonally shortened week in the summer months. Other companies make a fifth working day off every two weeks.

What are the advantages of the 4-day workweek model?

Regardless of how companies organize the model, the four-day workweek brings a number of advantages for employers and employees:

  1. Increased productivity and focus on results: Research results from the Icelandic project show that employee productivity remains the same or increases by up to 30% during a four-day workweek. This finding supports additional studies that rank part-time workers as more productive and efficient than full-time workers.
  2. More trust and autonomy for employees: The four-day workweek also means managers think more result-oriented and give their employees more freedom to allocate their time and work. This creates a culture of trust in the company that promotes a sense of responsibility and flatter hierarchies.
  3. Health benefits: The evaluations of international trials show a significant reduction in the number of sick leaves when using the four-day workweek model. Three days off per week ensure deeper relaxation and more time for sport and leisure or medical appointments. Last but not least, employers notice reduced effects of psychological factors such as stress and overwork.
  4. Better recruiting opportunities during ‘War on talent’: Since the four-day workweek model still isn’t very common, it can become a valuable asset for employer branding and recruiting tech talent, especially in times of skilled worker shortages. According to Leitbetriebe Austria and ZLÖ, 85% of young Austrians want innovative employers who provide flexible working hours.
  5. Higher satisfaction and less fluctuation: According to surveys by several companies, most employees didn’t want to go back to the classic model after a trial 4-day week period. Extra free time and flexibility increase personal satisfaction and motivation and a stronger bond with the team and company in the long term.

Why is the 4-day workweek so interesting for developers?

International waves of layoffs, the high shortage of tech talent, and the growing demand for digital products currently put developers in a position where they can choose jobs and employers more or less freely. In our Developer Report 2019, 69% of survey participants stated that the required and flexible working hours were the most important decision-making factors when looking for a new job.

Flexibility 4-day workweek

For many developers, during the peak of the pandemic, hectic work and time pressure resulted in health problems, including burnout. More time for family, sports, recreation, or your projects, suddenly became more and more attractive than prestige and a high salary. In addition, when using Scrum teams, DevOps, and other agile methods, developers get used to working in a self-organized and result-oriented manner.

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The four-day week strengthens the trust culture inside the company and protects against unrealistic workloads. The model requires employers and employees to rethink existing structures and processes to eliminate potential time wasters or bad habits.

When it comes to the four-day workweek pilot projects, Microsoft carried out one of the internationally best-known in 2019. With 2,300 employees, the Japanese branch tested the concept for a month and recorded up to a 40% higher productivity rate with increased employee satisfaction. However, since then, the model hasn’t been expanded or implemented at other locations.

International 4-day workweek best practice examples

Buffer, the social media platform, owes a large part of its success story to innovative employer branding, focused on employees and transparent processes. The company started 2020 with a one-month test phase. With 85% employees in 15 countries, the remote-first company extended this phase to six months and then adopted the model as a long-term solution. According to continuous employee surveys, most team members felt as productive or more productive than before. The advantages include the employees* better work-life balance, less stress, and greater concentration ability.

The Spanish software company Delsol after a year of four-day workweek testing period, also reports more employee satisfaction. Despite the pandemic peak phase, 28% reduction in reported sick days, while sales increased by 30% compared to the previous year. In this way, initially, high investments could be compensated for more staff in customer service, additional training, etc.

Companies in the DACH region

In Austria, a four-day workweek pioneer Magnetix, an online marketing company, switched to 30 hours a week with full-time pay in 2018. The original management incentive was to find more qualified applicants. The team could triple thanks to the special working time model when implemented. Scheduling flexible hours now is entirely team responsibility to staff feedback. Employees' productivity and satisfaction regularly are evaluated by external experts, and so far, the results have been positive.

Flexibility 4-day workweek

Bike Citizens, an innovation company behind the bike navigation app, have had Fridays off since 2014 while working 36 hours per week. Management dispelled initial concerns about high workloads with fewer working hours through the targeted work processes restructuring. After wage reductions in the early phase, the salary level is even higher today due to constant increases. If set from 9 am to 3 pm, core working hours provide more flexibility, and employees have their meetings scheduled in the afternoon. Activities such as breakfasts and lunches contribute to making up for the social exchange conducted together due to reduced frequency during full working hours. Thanks to these measures, rampant problems such as the lack of IT specialists, fluctuation or burnout cases haven’t been an issue for the company so far.

Conclusion: If you are looking for developers, you should rely on flexible working hours

Critics often dismiss the so-called ‘New work’ concepts as passing trends, while more traditional entrepreneurs perceive the four-day workweek as utopian. Too high costs for salaries with too little output, customer dissatisfaction, or more pressure to perform are some of the common concerns.

Best practice examples from Germany and abroad show us that the four-day workweek can’t be successful only in the long term. Still, above all, it represents a contemporary answer to problems such as the shortage of skilled workers, the Great Resignation phenomena, and upheavals in the labor market caused by the pandemic.

More than ⅔ of software developers are on the verge of changing jobs and looking for employers who will give them autonomy and flexibility to organize their work and time. Four-day workweek as a key card in an employer's sleeve might help companies struggling with recruiting IT professionals. The more managers decide to take this bold step, the better they will be accepted by customers and political decision-makers in the future.


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