It’s the last day of the work week, at exactly 5:00 pm and you’re getting ready to leave work. On your way home you can’t contain yourself. You’re thrilled about the three-day weekend ahead so you can finally spend some time with family and friends and get the chance to do some of the relaxing activities you have been holding off. That’s how most of your Thursdays were like since your company has decided to adopt the four-day work week. It’s now 32 working hours a week instead of 40, and three days off instead of just two. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?
This dream has actually been the reality of a considerable number of people all of last year.
The two-day weekend originally only rose to popularity in the 20th century. The five-day, 40-hour workweek became part of American labor law partly thanks to American industrialist Henry Ford. In 1926, the founder of the Ford Motor Company reduced the six-day-a-week operation down to five days per week, with no changes in employee compensation. By doing so, Ford sought to make his workers more productive, and more likely to spend cash during their downtime. After all, with one more day off, people would have more time for leisure activities and shopping. This landmark change made Ford one of the first companies in the nation to set the standard of a five-day workweek.
In 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic hit the globe, and the only solution to save the economy was for everyone to stay home and work remotely. Soon, it was brought to everyone’s attention that a true work-life balance doesn’t contradict productivity. This opened doors for more conversations about changes to the nature of work and its future.
In November 2022, 4 Day Week Global (4DWG), a New Zealand based nonprofit organization (NPO), released data taken from 33 participating companies that employed 969 people based in the US, Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Canada who all adopted a four-day work week. This was part of a pilot program the NPO called for over a six-month period, Business Insider reported. The experiment was described as a “resounding success on virtually every dimension.”
Who’s on the bandwagon?
The list of companies adopting a four-day work week is far from being dull. Tech.co says, “Between October 2021 and March 2022, almost one third of job listings for Amazon mentioned offering a four-day work week.”
Microsoft Japan, was one of the first few companies to test the new work model in 2019, and never looked back due to a 40 percent increase in productivity, reports CNBC.
Much like Microsoft, Panasonic also decided to test out the four-day work week in its Japan offices, and while results were excellent, the focus wasn’t on the bottom line of the company, but rather the overall health and well-being of employees in the long term.
Toshiba, the computers and electronic devices giant, is also one of the large corporations that adopted the four-day work week; albeit with some constraints, as it kept its 40-hour work week schedule intact.
In the Arab world, while the United Arab Emirates has not yet moved to a 4 day work week across the country, the government announced at the end of 2021 that government agencies and schools will be moving to a 4.5 day work week. Some companies in the UAE, though, have switched entirely to a four-day work week.
Other countries that engaged in the six-month trial included Scotland, Spain, Iceland, and Belgium.
Why the 4-day work week could be the future
Over the six-month trial period that companies chose to engage in, revenue among the participating companies rose 8.14 percent. “When compared to the same time period last year, revenue jumped 37.55 percent. And on the employee side, the findings were significant — 67 percent of employees reported being less burned-out, the extra day without work allowed physical exercise to increase by about 23 minutes per week, and sleep problems decreased by 8 percent.” reported Business Insider. Additionally, even with less time each week to complete work, employees who worked four days a week did not see a significant increase to their workload.
Moreover, research by Henley Business School shows that employees who enjoyed an extra day for “life” were more engaged, took fewer sick days and experienced less burnout.
A four-day work week might actually be good for the planet too. A research conducted by 4DWG on the results of the six month trial showed that commuting was somewhat reduced and the average time spent per week fell by nearly an hour. “Cumulatively, that could mean big change. By lopping off a day of commuting, one British study found the UK would reduce car travel by 691 million miles per week,” Time Magazine reported.
Surprisingly, a four-day work week also tackles the issue of gender equality at the workplace. Research on the Gender Pay Gap from the UK Government Equalities Office shows that roughly two million British people are currently unemployed due to childcare responsibilities, and 89 per cent of them are women, according to a Euronews article. “A four-day work week would promote an equal workplace as all employees would be able to spend more time with their families, and better juggle care and work commitments,” it said. All these arguments make the 40-hour work week seem severely outdated, according to Forbes.
The assessment by 4DWG shows the abridged findings of the trial, and why many companies have decided to apply the system permanently and turn it into more than just a temporary experiment.
Why employers resist the four-day work week
In defense of the traditional five day work week, Global human resources services provider Adecco Group reports that the four-day work week model is not one in which all industries can participate, so it cannot be generalized. “Some industries require a 24/7 presence or other similar scheduling for optimal flow, making a four-day work week hard to implement,” it said. This includes the service industry.
Another disadvantage to the progressive new modality that 4DWG calls for is the difficulty of managing several teams filling in for the decreased work hours. “Managing multiple teams on a four-day work week can be challenging, especially if the business runs 24/7. If these employee days off are scattered, it can be difficult to set up team meetings and it can be difficult to manage projects,” Adecco said.
People Hum HR Software Solutions argues that the morale boosted among employees from a four-day workweek may be short-lived, which means that all of the benefits reaped may also be short-lived. “The introduction of a four-day work week can only reduce the symptoms of workplace issues, it won’t address the hidden causes,” it said.
Work as we know it has been changing and will only continue to change in the future. Whether it’s less hours, more remote work, or less workdays, something new is on the horizon, and only time will tell what big changes will come up and be retained.