The Four Day Workweek: Trendy Fad or New Work Environment?
Updated: Jun 30
Are you a full-time employee? If so, you probably spend about eight hours a day, five days a week working; the so-called 9 to 5 pace. However, the forty-hour workweek may soon be on its way to the history books. A group known as 4 Day Week Global seeks to transform workplace culture by promoting a new standard for work – a standard where working four days with five days' worth of pay is the norm. Every Friday would effectively be a paid holiday. It is easy to see why employees would gravitate to this new system – less stress, burnout, more time for family, friends, leisure, sleep, and better work-life balance would surely follow – but what about employers? Wouldn’t employers resist the four-day model because it would result in 25% less productivity? Well, no. The results were overwhelmingly positive when 3000 British employees tested the four-day model. The four-day employees reported improved mental health, improved sleep, and higher satisfaction with their lives. They were also less likely to quit their jobs. Moreover, companies following the four-day model spent 20% less on operating costs and raked in 35% higher revenues than in previous years even though their employees were working 25% less. In Japan, Microsoft found that employees took fewer sick days and were 40% more productive when the company switched to 32-hour weeks. Microsoft Japan has decided to permanently stick with the four-day workweek. Moreover, research surveying the length of the standard workweek across OECD countries finds that the countries logging the most hours are also the least productive. Mexicans spend an average of 2250 hours working each year and output just $18.50 per hour, making Mexico the most overworked and least efficient country in the OECD. On the other hand, Norwegians spend an average of 1368 hours working each year and output $49.67 per hour, making Norwegians much more efficient.
Looking at history as a guide, one can see that as technology has improved, humans have required less time to achieve equal productivity. In the 1800s, many Americans worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week on farms. Then when the Industrial Revolution arrived, many people flocked from farms to cities for the opportunity to work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in factories, often in unsafe conditions with unwieldy machines, little pay, and no paid leave or workplace compensation for accidents or injuries. In the 20th century, people began striking for shorter hours and better working conditions. Robert Owen, a Welsh activist, famously pushed the slogan of 8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, and 8 hours for recreation. In 1926, Henry Ford wound up normalizing the five-day workweek by reducing the number of days his employees worked each week from six to five with the same pay after experimenting with a shorter workweek. Not only did productivity not decrease, but Ford’s employees were also happier and proud to be part of his company. Ford also thought people needed an additional day off to give them adequate time to buy and consume the products they spent significant portions of their lives laboring for, which would in turn promote a healthy, lively economy. While Ford’s move was considered radical at the time by his fellow businessmen, it contributed to the 40-hour workweek becoming standard across the industrialized world. A similar transformation is taking place in our workplaces once again.
Implementing the four-day workweek may seem like a radical endeavor, but it would be just another shift in work culture. Just as the six-day workweek transformed into the five-day workweek a century ago, it is now time for the five-day workweek to blossom into the four-day workweek. Of course, there are jobs where shortening the number of days worked, such as emergency services, would not be feasible. In addition, more money or passion for one’s career will always prove to be an incentive for some to work more. However, the opportunity to spend one more day every week catching up on our favorite TV shows, hanging out with friends and family, shopping, traveling, lazing around, and other leisure activities simply sounds too good to pass up.