Have you heard the latest workplace buzz? A 4-day workweek may soon be a new reality. Work-life balance has always been a struggle. But an increased concern for workers’ rights paired with the power of automation has created a shift. Certain industries don’t require as many working hours anymore, and the global trend–especially in Europe–leans toward a four-day workweek. But does it work? Can people accomplish the same amount in four days as they can in five?
The 4-day workweek is an idea ahead of its time
In 1930, during the Great Depression, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that we’d all have a 15-hour workweek “within 100 years.” In his own time, Keynes saw the rise of industrialization and assumed the trend toward more efficient work methods would continue. Once a worker earned enough to pay for their necessities, he suggested, they’d opt to spend more time at home or in leisure, reducing the workweek to only two or three days.
As an attractive fantasy to beleaguered workers throughout the century, the idea never quite left the public consciousness. However, the idea remained just an idea for close to a century, until 1998, when France enacted the first of its two “Aubry” laws that reduced the national workweek to 35 hours instead of 39, with excess hours counting as overtime. (In subsequent years, revisions have eroded much of the original laws.) Their aim was to reduce their 12% unemployment rate (at the time) through work-sharing, but the success of the legislation got other countries revisiting their standard work schedules.
In more recent years, the idea of the four-day workweek has been growing in popularity. It’s not hard to see why: employees get an extra day off, and employers get a better-rested, more rejuvenated workforce. But the advantages go beyond those points—and the disadvantages need to be carefully considered as well.
What is a 4-day workweek?
A typical four-day workweek consists of four 10-hour workdays (for 40 total work hours a week) and three full days off. Some companies, like Amazon, have experimented with 30-hour workweeks; others have tried four full workdays or 32-hour workweeks. Another example, is the French startup Welcome to the Jungle which experimented with the four-day work week for five months, and ended up adopting it definitively for all its employees.
The PROS of a 4-day workweek?
If given the choice, around 75 per cent of workers would prefer to have a shorter workweek. Aside from having the luxury of a long weekend, there are several benefits to working just four days each week:
- Better productivity. Productivity during work hours increases to compensate for the lost day. There are several studies that show that overall productivity peaks at 25-30 hours per week for people over the age of 40.
- More efficient usage of time. Employees spend less time on inefficient tasks like meetings and are less likely to “run out the clock” with time wasters like social media or excessive breaks.
- Employee satisfaction. With less stress and a greater work-life balance, happy workers reportedly engage better with their work, along with increased motivation and creativity. Likewise, offering employees flexibility makes them feel valued, which leads to greater job satisfaction.
- Team building. The emphasis on efficiency tends to bring teams closer together, as there’s less time to waste on disputes, and the entire team’s goals are more focused.
- Lower unemployment rates. Under the notion of work-sharing, companies can fill open hours with new employees, employing multiple workers to fill standard one-person slots. (Of course, this doesn’t account for salaries.)
- Environmental benefits. A four-day workweek critically reduces each individual employee’s carbon footprint by removing commute pollution.
- More productivity innovations. By encouraging new time-saving methods, employees are more likely to think up newer and better productivity hacks.
- The risk is expensive. The most glaring drawback for employers is the costly risk that workers fail to meet their work requirements. This was most evident in Sweden’s two-year trial that reduced a 40-hour week to 30 hours while continuing a five-day structure. While the study recorded higher worker satisfaction, it ultimately became too costly to uphold.
- Childcare challenges: For employees with babies and young children, a four-day workweek may present problems for those who depend on childcare.
- Not all industries can participate. Some industries require a 24/7 presence or other such scheduling, making a four-day workweek impractical.
- Impact on teams and projects: If employees’ days off are scattered, it may become difficult to schedule meetings and manage projects. Employees may also feel pressured to call in on their days off so they don’t miss out on important updates or appear uncommitted.
How to decide?
While there are many advantages to a four-day workweek for employees and employers alike, there are drawbacks as well. These potential negative effects need to be thoroughly evaluated before introducing a shorter workweek.
If the working world continues on its current track, the four-day workweek is on its way in. Of course, its power depends a lot on context. A four-day workweek isn’t right for every business. Some workers prefer a standard five-day workweek. Smaller companies may not be able to operate with fewer people at work on a given day.
For companies considering implementing a four-day workweek, it’s best to gauge employee preferences through a survey. Do they even want a shorter workweek? What are their concerns? What ideas do they have to address potential challenges? After that, conduct a trial run followed by another survey to collect feedback. Employers can then use both sets of data to assess whether a four-day week is preferred and whether it will benefit their business.