Is a Four-Day Workweek Best for Happiness and Productivity?

A four-day workweek has been shown to improve balance with personal obligations and professional responsibilities, as well as increase happiness and productivity of the entire staff – but is it right for you?

By Sharon Boyd, MA, RDH

For years now, many dentists have claimed they've chosen dentistry over traditional medicine because of the work-life balance it allows. But even in dentistry, it’s possible to become overworked, exhausted, and burned-out.

As younger professionals evolve into a larger percentage of the workforce, rigid 8-to-5, Monday-Friday workweeks are becoming a thing of the past. And it’s a win-win for everyone, especially with people feeling increasingly stressed and eager to gain more personal time.

Could a four-day workweek provide the answer to a healthier balance between your personal and professional life, as well as that of your staff?

More Time off, More Patients

When everyone in the dental practice is working a longer nine or 10-hour workday, you have the option of working on patients who can’t make it during traditional daytime hours. Some offices on a four-day workweek offer appointments as early as 6 a.m. and book recalls as late as 8 p.m.

Depending on your practice and the number of practitioners, you could expand office workdays to include weekends as well. By overlapping workdays and shifts, dental offices can—if they choose—continue to grow their practice and production by adding staff and expanding their operating hours. This concept works best if certain employees only want to work part-time, or outside traditional hours, as they can fill in the days that full-time staff are off.

It Isn’t a New Concept

Registered nurses are a classic example of working a compressed schedule. It’s extremely common to work three, 12-hour shifts for the week and have the other days off.

While 12-hour shifts may not be feasible in dentistry, a four-day workweek is. Simply coming in an hour early and leaving an hour later can provide a full extra day off from work every week without a reduction in hours.

Some businesses even work compressed workweeks, where they work one extra hour a day, with a personal day off every other week. Staff is still able to remain full-time (with the applicable benefits) while tapping into the advantage of increased personal time. It’s a benefit when you consider daily commutes and improved flexibility to choose your workdays.

More Popular with Younger Workers

With a free day off during the week, employees are given more time to take care of personal obligations that often need doing during weekdays. This means they're free from having to worry about it while they’re at work or taking time off. They're then more likely to focus and be happier when at work and relax when they aren't. They’ll be better rested, less stressed, and more driven in their careers.

During the age of the “Great Resignation,” companies—dentists included—are seeking ways to make their places of work more attractive to employees. Transitioning into a four-day workweek is a positive way to establish goodwill and loyalty with employees without altering pay or workloads.

It seems that the four-day workweek is more popular with younger managers and staff. In one survey by UK-based Chartered Management Institute (CMI), about 80 percent of professionals under age 35 wanted to adopt a four-day workweek, compared to only a little over half of those who were 55 or older.

According to an article by NBC, one company that implemented the four-day workweek found that over 90 percent of their employees wanted to keep it, and 80 percent of them felt more productive at work while enjoying increased personal time.

Forbes reported that employees felt more refreshed, and it increased morale at work after the extra day off. In fact, the concept is being introduced worldwide in countries like New Zealand, Japan, Ireland, and others. Those that have adapted to a four-day workweek report improved the overall quality of work in their places of business. 

Are Four-Day Workweeks Ideal for All Dental Staff?

Some dental staff may be more likely to adopt longer workdays than others. One major consideration is dental hygienists, who, during the COVID-19 pandemic, had to transition away from aerosol-producing instruments like ultrasonics and go back to manual hand scaling. Even with good ergonomic practices, there is an increased risk of occupational injury and burnout that must be considered, condensed workweek or not. Consulting staff and taking their input into account is important in creating a schedule that can work for everyone. This can take some time and flexibility.

How to Put it Into Action

A perfect place to start putting a four-day workweek into action is by taking up a vote among your current employees. The California Dental Association has provided detailed guidelines as a "how-to" for dentists and office managers in adopting what they call an “alternative workweek." Getting feedback from staff and following recommendations by those with experience makes it possible for any dental office to adopt a four-day workweek within about a month.


Author: Sharon Boyd, MA, RDH has over 20 years of experience in the dental industry and is the founder of DentaSpeak, LLC. In addition to being a registered hygienist, she serves as a full-time patient education professional, with special interests in strategic dental communications. She often works as a liaison between practitioners and patients, bridging the gap between care needs and patient concerns. In her spare time, Sharon enjoys triathlon and volunteering at her family’s church.

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