- Buffer started testing a four-day workweek in May 2020 and made it permanent about a year ago.
- It’s come with challenges, including employees feeling less connected and engaged at work.
- But employees say they now feel happier, more productive, and less prone to burn-out.
For software engineer Mick Mahady, a typical Friday includes binge-watching TV, cleaning his apartment, and running errands.
What it doesn’t include is working.
That’s because Mahady and the rest of the his 83 colleagues at social-media-management startup Buffer work only four days each week, with the majority of the company taking Fridays off. It’s a schedule that began as an experiment in the early weeks of the pandemic and has been so successful for the company, it’s become permanent.
“I recall [in the beginning] not feeling like four days was enough time to get our work done,” Mahady told Insider. “But I think after maybe three, four weeks, when it came to Thursday evening and it was the end of the week, I wasn’t thinking ‘Woohoo! Weekend!’ — I still had a lot of energy.”
A four-day workweek may sound novel, but Buffer is part of a growing contingent of companies who are urging their employees to work fewer hours, not more. Advocates for the four-day workweek say it helps employees feel less burned out and more productive, which is what drove Buffer to adopt the shortened week back in early 2020 after it surveyed employees to see how it could help them during the pandemic.
“We were really trying to figure out what we could offer our team. Like, could we send you an iPad? Could we send you subscriptions? Should we reimburse your Netflix subscription?” Nicole Miller, Buffer’s director of people, told Insider. “And the overwhelming response to that survey was time off and flexibility.”
In May of that year, Buffer CEO Joel Gascoigne announced that Buffer would test a four-day workweek for the month of May — it was then extended throughout 2020, and in February 2021, Buffer announced that the shortened workweek would stick around for the foreseeable future.
Employees report higher productivity and lower stress
A four-day workweek has some obvious benefits to employees.
Employees who work four days report higher rates of “thriving well-being” and lower rates of burnout than employees who work five or six days each week, according to a March 2020 Gallup survey of 10,364 full-time US employees. The shorter workweek, Gallup found, provides “more opportunities for nurturing social, physical, and community well-being,” Gallup Chief Scientist Jim Harter said.
At Buffer, the shortened week has had a hidden upside for parents too: Employees who pay for childcare now only need to cover four days of daycare instead of five, and those whose children were in remote school have been better able to juggle helping their kids learn virtually, Miller said.
Buffer’s workweek is not just four days long, but 32 hours long, meaning employees aren’t expected to squeeze 40 hours of work into four days. Friday is treated as an “overflow day” just in case employees need to answer emails or catch up on work.
And while a 32-hour workweek would theoretically mean less work is getting done, that’s not what Buffer found: The company compared employee productivity in November 2019 to productivity in 2020 and found that engineers were writing more lines of code, not less. In a recent survey, 91% of Buffer’s employees reported feeling happier and more productive working four days each week.
“We cut out a lot of the fluff,” Miller said. “There’s the saying, ‘Work expands to fill the time you allow it.’ I think there is something to that.”
Four-day workweeks could become the new remote work
Of course, such a significant shift to the way an entire company operates comes with significant challenges.
When the experiment first started, employees were able to decide which day to take off, but it quickly became confusing — Buffer’s employees are spread across the globe, and the lack of consistency made it impossible to tell when you might get a response to an email, for example. Mahady, the software engineer, said taking Wednesday off made it hard to relax since everyone else was still working, and made it feel like Thursdays were always catch-up days.
The company’s customer advocacy team had the opposite problem: It was impossible to have every employee take the same day off and still offer robust customer support, said Åsa Nyström, Buffer’s vice president of customer advocacy.
To better avoid unsatisfied customers, Nyström’s team shifted to work on a staggered schedule — some employees are off on Thursdays, others on Fridays. Nyström takes Mondays off, which she said she prefers.
“You get to Friday and you’re almost in a weekend mode, but you’re working,” she said. “On a Sunday, I’m like, ‘oh yeah! I’m off tomorrow!’ That really feels like an unexpected day off still every week now.”
But Buffer has run into one other challenge working fewer hours. The company’s internal survey found that employees felt less engaged with their teams and the overall company than they did in 2021, which Gallup’s Harter warned about as well, writing in September that employees who feel disconnected from their employer “are more likely to drift even farther away” when working one fewer day per week. Team-building events, ideally in-person, are now a top priority for Buffer in the months ahead.
Still, the transition to a shortened workweek has been so beneficial overall that Mahady, Miller, and Nyström all said it would be very difficult to ever go back to working five days every week. Especially now, as remote work and flexible hours have become the norm, valuing hours worked over results delivered feels antiquated.
“Maybe soon four-day workweeks will become the new remote work,” Nyström said.