Having a two-day weekend to catch up on rest and socialise seems disproportionately short when compared to the eight-hour, five-day-a-week slog we dedicate to working. We might complain endlessly about weekends flying by and that it's already Monday again; however, is there a case for shorter workweeks in reality? Or is the notion too idealistic? Several businesses in countries across the world are trialling four day work week programmes and seeing a positive impact on their workers and the success of their business.
Why Should We Revise The 40-Hour Workweek?
Pioneer of the first successful 40-hour workweek and founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford, once said, "the five-day workweek isn't the ultimate, and neither is eight hours".
The 40-hour workweek might be the bedrock of modern working, but it can be viewed as outdated and not reflective of our 21st-century work lives. Five day work weeks are modelled off 19th-century factory jobs and not the information age we live in, where some of our work is automated or sped up by technology and bots. The future of work is continually evolving where five day work weeks aren't nearly as essential as they were once thought to be.
Change in the workplace might be inevitable, but what has accelerated the process and made 4 day work weeks an actuality for many has been the onslaught of the pandemic.
Following months of remote working during the spread of COVID-19, many workers are revaluating their lives and jobs, choosing workplace flexibility, a greater work-life balance, and having more choice over their schedules above overworking and risking burnout.
The possibility of a four day week ties in with the priorities and expectations employees have in the post-pandemic era.
Employers should consider 4 day work weeks to draw in recruits and retain old employees or face the risk of having their best workers resign or not attracting top talent.
Following months of remote working during the spread of COVID-19, many workers are revaluating their lives and jobs, choosing workplace flexibility, a greater work-life balance, and having more choice over their schedules above overworking and risking bur
What Would A 4 day Work Week Look Like?
Many companies with a 4 day work week employ the 100-80-100 model. With this approach, employers might expect employees to maintain 100% productivity for 80% of their time while receiving 100% of their usual salaries.
In other words, employees work as they previously would over less time - between 32 and 36 hours - without having their pay cut.
Of course, a four day work model varies among businesses, with some condensing a 40-hour workweek into four days, expecting employees to work ten-hour shifts. Though employees might receive an additional personal day, they risk burnout from overworking.
Which Countries Work Four Day Weeks?
Places worldwide are toying with the idea of four day weeks, but one country that first opened our eyes to the possibility is Iceland.
Between 2015 to 2019, Iceland's Association for Sustainable Democracy (Alda) conducted the world's largest work experiment involving 2500 participants across multiple industries. The goal was to cut working hours down from 40 to 36 by demonstrating a correlation between working to a better standard and fewer hours worked weekly.
Results of the trial revealed long term benefits like improved worker wellbeing, enhanced productivity, better focus and concentration and strengthened local businesses.
There are other countries jumping on the 4 day week bandwagon, including Spain, which plans to base its pilot study on Iceland's.
Very recently, Belgium's multi-coalition government has made strides toward improving workplace conditions by approving four-day workweeks in offices and giving employees the right to turn off their devices and ignore work requests after hours. Though putting these reforms into law might take time, it's a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, Wales will start their trial in 2023, while Scotland is entertaining the idea of one.
Currently, a massive trial study involving approximately 38 companies is underway and is set to last several months in the US and Canada.
New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Aldern, has also flagged the benefits of four-day businesses and other examples of flexible working to boost the local economy and promote tourism after the pandemic.
Japan, a country with chronically overworked citizens, are also reviewing the prospects of shorter workweeks for a more equitable work-life balance. Microsoft Japan and Panasonic have already joined the trend for a four day work week.
What Are The Benefits Of a Four Day Work Week?
It may seem contradictory, but employees who work less make better workers. When there are fewer hours to be productive, people are more likely to work efficiently and less likely to waste company resources and time.
A Stanford University study reveals that attempts to quantify the relationship between working hours and productivity shows a massive drop in productivity among workers who accumulate 50 work hours or more per week. Work martyrs aren't doing themselves any favours by working a couple of extra hours, and companies that expect people to work overtime regularly aren't reaping the rewards they think.
Employees who burn the midnight oil only lose valuable sleep, produce low-quality work and make costly errors.
In the same vein, people aren't programmed to work eight straight hours, and since we're working in a digital age, it's easier to procrastinate and distract ourselves online while pretending to be hard at work.
You might find that the majority of your employees support four-day workweeks.
Spending less time at the office helps workers achieve a greater work-life balance, allowing them to decompress longer while having more time to socialise and be with their families.
By spending less time at the office sitting behind their desks, employees are less likely to get sick and experience fewer sick days, especially among workers with chronic illnesses who may need additional rest and recovery.
At the same time, in not having to clock in additional hours, workers are less likely to suffer from mental burnout, depression and exhaustion.
With an entire or most of the workforce experiencing three-day weekends, teams might feel refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges of a new week.
They'll also probably be more motivated and capable of dealing with stress after a restful couple of days off. This spells for less sick-induced leave, fewer disruptions and dips in productivity resulting from worker burnout or disengagement.
At the same time, office workers have more time for handling personal responsibilities that won't feed into working hours.
While increased staff productivity, improved worker engagement, and an effective workforce are incredible benefits for a company, there are also cost-saving incentives linked to short work weeks.
By closing shop one day earlier, businesses might save money by reducing their electricity usage, printing costs and other operational charges.
It may seem contradictory, but employees who work less make better workers.
The Case Against A Four Day Work Week
There are flaws of four day work weeks every business should consider.
Despite the overwhelming advocacy for four-day weeks, not everyone on your team might be onboard.
For staff members that like to balance their work across five workdays, cramming a workload into four days might not be pleasant, ideal or even possible.
Additionally, reducing hours might mean less time for breaks, socialising and fun when all the focus is on finishing the work for that week and optimising productivity. In other words, the need to be productive appears might negate the importance of building a strong workplace culture.
Four day weeks aren't suitable for every business, especially those in customer-facing industries where 24/7 support is expected by clientele. Companies in these fields might struggle to keep up with demand or be unavailable when purchasers need them, which isn't good for business.
However, adapting the four-day workweek solution to match their company requirements might be a way to keep both customers and employees happy.
For example, employers can alternate employees' schedules - they might not be working the conventional Monday to Thursday or take three consecutive off-days. However, they'll still have an extra day a week for themselves. Another way customers can find other avenues of support is through AI chatbots and self-service knowledge libraries when real-time communication isn't immediately available.
In an ideal world, a four day week would mean fewer hours and days of work per week for an employee while maintaining productivity and the same salary.
Unfortunately, four day work week can be interpreted and modelled in various ways, including jamming 40-hours of work into four hectic days. Being expected to work long hours is backbreaking, can cause burnout and might not align with the needs of working parents.
How Far Away Are We From Achieving A Four-day Workweek?
A four day work week is a giant leap forward in achieving greater work flexibility and freedom, but it might not be the silver bullet everyone expects.
Exercise caution as you head towards it. Though there might be numerous countries and thousands of companies with four day work weeks, it's still a relatively new concept that's not yet widely practised. Its kinks are still being worked out - it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all.
That being said, now is the best time to experiment with four day work trials - the pandemic has opened our minds to new ways of working following months of forced WFH. Workers' views are transformed too, they expect more from their jobs and want more autonomy and freedom.
At the same time, lockdowns and hybrid working have also revolutionised businesses and their thinking about productivity. Being productive doesn't mean a five-day week under constant surveillance, and that's why four-day workweeks in this business climate have a genuine chance of becoming a reality for many.