These days it seems like everyone is looking for the right work-life balance. You don’t want to feel overwhelmed with work hours, but at the same time, you need to be able to get your work done. An increase in job automation paired with the continual fight for workers’ rights, working hours are decreasing – thus leading us into a time where a 4-day workweek is more viable.
What is a 4 Day Workweek and Where Did it Come From?
The 4-day work week is pretty much how it sounds. You work for 4 days of the week and the other 3 days are free to use as you choose, whether that be a part-time, self-employment, hobbies, etc. The idea of a shorter workweek came from John Maynard Keynes’ prediction. He said that within 100 years we would all have a 15-hour workweek.
While this doesn’t exactly define as a 4-day workweek, it’s the same idea. The rise of industrialization (and now automation) means that our work can get done more efficiently and more cost-effectively. This results in fewer hours needed from workers and more time doing leisurely activities.
In the 1950s, Walter Reuther, an American labor union leader, brought up the possibility of implementing a 4 day work week. At the time, both workers and their bosses didn’t quite understand why someone would want to work less. Wouldn’t it mean less work being done and less money being made? Not exactly.
In 1998, France passed a law that reduced its national workweek by 4 hours, making it 35 hours as compared to 39. This was done to help counteract the unemployment rate via work sharing. The success of this is what raised the curiosity of surrounding countries. This is what makes the 4-day workweek is a more common practice in Europe than other parts of the world.
Why a 4 Day Workweek?
Let’s face it, nobody likes being drowned in work, and the United States is dealing with an extremely worked population. With over 80% of men and more than two-thirds of women employed working more than 40 hours in any given week, there has to be a way to figure out a more reasonable way to provide workers a decent wage while allowing them more freedom.
There is a common misconception that fewer hours worked will mean less pay. In most cases, this will be reworked with salaried jobs paying the same and hourly pay being recalculated so people can still earn their living wage. Working longer hours doesn’t bring all the achievements we believe we should get. So if a 4-day workweek is so great, how do we know it can work? It’s already been done before, and the results are telling.
The 4 Hour Workweek in Practice
Japan – August 2019
Microsoft ran a 4-day workweek trial in Japan over the summer. Known as the “Work-Life Choice Challenge,” the idea was to close offices every Friday during August, allowing employees an additional day off their usual workweek.
The results of this experiment were as follows:
- Sales by employee increased by almost 40% compared to the previous year
- Time used on meetings & emails were reduced to increase efficiency
- Savings were made on electricity
Microsoft plans on running another experiment, this time, including the employee feedback to improve their quality of life & work efficiency.
New Zealand – March & April 2018
In New Zealand, an experiment was run to validate the legitimacy of the 4-day workweek. The company undergoing the study was The Perpetual Guardian, an estate management firm dealing with trusts, wills, & EPAs. Work hours were reduced from 40 hours to 32 hours for 240 employees while maintaining the same salaries.
The researchers found the following positive outcomes:
- Stress was decreased for 7% of workers
- About a quarter of employees reported they felt a personal improvement in their work-life balance
- Overall satisfaction on the job was raised 5%
- The reduced hours promoted an improvement in work habits, meaning less time wasted on unnecessary breaks, on-time arrival, & improved attendance.
The study determined that productivity wasn’t increased nor decreased, but was about the same as before. With an improved employee mentality, the same amount of work was able to get done.
Women of children can benefit significantly from a 4-day workweek. Surveys report that over 40% of female doctors have work schedules where they work either 4 days or less. That doesn’t just mean more time off work, but more time to spend with children if they have any. We all know how valuable time with your kids is – it’s priceless.
Utah tried implementing the 4-day workweek for its state employees back in 2008. It was a big hit with increased productivity and improved employee satisfaction. The downside is they, unfortunately, reverted back to a 5-day workweek due to residents being unhappy about service not be available on Fridays.
Jason Fried, a software CEO, has his company follow a 32-hour, 4-day workweek between May & October. The result was an increase in productivity, simply because the weekly tasks need to get done in 4 days rather than 5 — less time to work means less time to waste. The CEO also mentioned that it made acquiring new employees easier.
Benefits of a 4 Day Workweek
- One of the biggest benefits of a 4-day workweek is increased productivity. Knowing there is one less day to do work during the week, the day doesn’t feel like such a drag.
- More productivity means better use of time. Employees are less likely to take excessive breaks knowing they need to get their tasks done within a shorter window of time.
- Improved employee satisfaction means less stress in the office & on the job. A better work-life balance helps increase levels of motivation, creativity, and improves moods significantly. Better moods are beneficial for employee-customer interaction as well as interaction within the workplace.
- Because everyone is looking to be more efficient, team building is emphasized. Employees will be closer and work more effectively to reach goals with more focus.
- The environmental benefits include less electricity use and reduced carbon footprint since employees won’t be making the commute to work on their extra day off.
- Having the office empty for an extra day of the week means savings when it comes to electricity, water, and various maintenance fees.
So…Should Everyone Switch to a 4 Day Workweek?
While there are obvious benefits that have been proven through the actual implementation of the 4-day workweek, it’s still a bit more complicated than just making the switch. For some jobs, the practice is impractical due to the need for 24/7 availability or other challenging types of schedules. Industries, such as real estate & mortgage, will miss out on benefits from an additional day off work.
Only time will tell if the 4-day workweek can make its way into normality in The States. If you have a company of your own, feel free to try it out for a month or two. Make sure to keep track of the work done and compare it to months where work went on as usual.