- A four-day workweek means the same pay, hours, and workload with an additional day off.
- The advantages can include better time management, increased productivity, and an opportunity to start a business venture or earn extra revenue.
- The disadvantages include more stress, pressure, and less time for socialising.
Stephen Hawking said, “Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it.” Once considered a luxury, today, the four-day workweek is already a reality. After all, employees are calling for more flexibility and better work-life balance.
Are people and companies ready to accept this new working schedule? This article sheds light on this topic by covering the pros and cons of the four-day week, as well as worldwide trials.
About Four-Day Working Week in General
Debates over the workweek length aren’t something new. In 1926, American industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company Henry Ford standardised a new Monday-to-Friday pattern, changing the previous six-day workweek.
According to Gallup’s chief scientist Jim Harter, Ford’s theory was that a five-day workweek would increase productivity. And we can observe the same now.
Since the Industrial Revolution (during the 18th and 19th centuries), the world adopted the working routine of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., five days a week. This revolution was about the change from an agrarian and handicraft economy to an economy dominated by industry and machine manufacturing.
In Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution, the Factories Act 1847, also called the ten-hour bill, was signed. Under the Act, the working hours of women and young people couldn’t exceed 10 hours a day and 63 hours a week.
Later, in 1850 and 1856, two major factory Acts of the Industrial Revolution were introduced. Under these newer Acts, women and children could work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the summer and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the winter.
Nowadays, during the Fourth Industrial Revolution, when the technological revolution is altering the way people live, how and when people work is also affected by this. As a result, new work trends such as remote work and a four-day workweek are expected to accelerate in the years to come.
Working Weeks in Different Countries
The average workweek varies in different countries and by industry. For example, Cambodia tops the list of countries with the most extended work week (47.6 hours as of 2019). On the other hand, Denmark tops the list of countries with the shortest work week (25.9 hours as of 2020).
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), people in Italy enjoy the best work-life balance. Denmark, Norway, Spain, and the Netherlands are also among the top countries regarding work-life balance. As for the U.S., it’s ranked 29th. Specifically, over a tenth of people in the country have long working hours.
Four-Day Working Week Countries
Several countries have already tested a four-day week schedule. For instance, Iceland conducted the most extensive pilot program of a shorter working week from 2015 to 2019. Specifically, 2,500 public-sector workers participated in two large trials and showed a dramatic increase in their well-being.
Additionally, New Zealand-based Perpetual Guardian has also tried a four-day week to boost productivity and improve employees’ quality of life. The company has witnessed heightened employee satisfaction, commitment, and teamwork and lowered stress levels. The company hasn’t noticed harm to employee productivity or company output.
Scotland and Wales are among the countries that will embrace the four-day workweek soon. Specifically, in Scotland, a government trial is to start in 2023.
Four-Day Working Week UK Trial
The UK is trying a pilot program organised by the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign, and think tank Autonomy, and in partnership with researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University, and Boston College.
The program will last six months. It involves 3,300 workers from 70 companies. The program participants receive full pay while working only 80% of their usual week, promising to be 100% productive.
According to Joe O’Connor, chief executive of 4 Day Week Global, more companies agree that the new frontier for the competition is quality of life. And the UK’s program is the world’s most extensive trial of a shorter workweek.
For example, Kickstarter is one of the companies participating in this pilot program. Its chief strategy officer Jon Leland notes that they aim to follow the next logical move after the company switched to a fully remote mode in 2021.
Almost 80% of senior managers under 35 are for adopting a four-day week compared with 56% of those aged 55 or older, as the Chartered Management Institute data reveals. So, what are the four-day workweek benefits?
Better Time Management
Employees get an additional day off each week while meeting deadlines and staying on top of to-do lists. As a result, they get an opportunity to better manage their hours each week.
For example, employees can spend their additional free hours with their family and friends, fulfil their childcare responsibilities, or spend this time on doctor appointments, hobbies and interests, travel, house maintenance and improvements, and personal development.
This is especially true of those employees who work in an always-on environment where the lines between home and work are blurred.
People often can’t start a new venture because they lack the necessary time to embark on it. A four-day working schedule is a nice chance to build an offline or online business. These can be podcasts, sales of handmade items, or article writing.
Lack of financing can be another hurdle one can easily overcome by applying for an online payday loan. The latter is a short-term loan of up to £5,000 to be repaid with the borrower’s next paycheck. If approved, funds may be deposited within a few business days.
In this case, it’s essential to have enough financial literacy to find the most suitable funding option for one’s wants and needs. Financial literacy is about being equipped with sufficient knowledge about personal finance to make proper spending and budgeting decisions. Also, financial literacy can help find the right lender in the field.
From an employee perspective, additional off hours are an opportunity to take on a freelance project to earn extra revenue. For instance, writing projects are available on freelancing platforms like Upwork.
On the other hand, companies can also cut their everyday expenses as the office would be closed for an extra day. And employees can also reduce costs, such as gas or commuting expenses.
Based on a Sanford University study, there is a clear correlation between the following factors: overworked employees show less productivity than those who work an average or typical working week.
According to a 2019 study from UK-based Henley Business School, when companies switched to a four-day week, 64% of them registered improvements in staff productivity. Furthermore, 78% of workers felt happier, and 70% were less stressed.
Employee engagement measures workers’ motivation and emotional connectedness to their work. Namely, employees are less stressed and avoid taking a sick day when they have time to rest. As a result, they become more committed to their work and ready to take on new challenges.
In turn, companies achieve increased production, customer satisfaction, and worker competency. And as an inspirational speaker and author Simon Sinek says, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
According to the Workplace Research Foundation, by investing in employee engagement by merely 10%, companies can increase their profits by more than $2,000 per employee.
Most workers want a four-day workweek. Based on a Qualtrics survey among 1,021 people, 92% of people support this idea and believe it’d improve their mental health and productivity.
Burnout is caused by excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress. Often, it’s the result of one’s job. A four-day week can help employees avoid being overwhelmed and emotionally drained.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that 822,000 workers suffered work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2020 and 2021. And stress, depression, or anxiety represented half of all work-related health cases.
Gone are the days when companies could only focus on benefits to engage the workforce and fight the competition, as David Ballard from the American Psychological Association says. As Ballard further notes, top companies must create an environment where workers feel more connected to the company and enjoy a positive work experience.
So, employees’ need for a better work-life balance can be achieved through an extra day off. As a result, employees will feel happier, and happier employees are more loyal to their companies. According to research by Henley Business School, a four-day week has enabled around 63% of companies to attract and retain talent.
The impact of working four days a week definitely has its advantages. But does a four-day workweek also come with disadvantages that can make people opt out of it?
A four-day week doesn’t suit every business model. For instance, some small businesses with a limited number of employees cannot afford to shut their doors for a day. As a result, it would significantly cut into the revenue of these service providers. Unfortunately, it can be challenging for these companies to follow this new working schedule without risking going out of business.
Longer Hours, More Stress, Less Productivity
Another downside is that working the same 40 hours in four days requires the shifts to last 10 hours. Longer days can be stressful for some employees and negatively affect their overall well-being and productivity.
According to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the risk of developing anxiety and depression increases for male and female employees who work overtime.
Here are some other interesting facts:
- Some enjoy the social aspects of their jobs or find their work so engaging that they don’t wish to have an additional day off.
- Some find that a compressed week puts a constant pre-vacation-type pressure on them to complete more tasks in less time, which is stressful for them.
- According to the Harvard Business Review, New Zealand’s move to the four-day week intensified the work and resulted in managerial pressures around performance measurement, monitoring, and productivity. And to fit in their work, employees took shorter breaks and spent less time socialising.
- The chief culture officer at a global company based in Salt Lake City notes that the biggest issue with a four-day week is that it’s still rigid. Employees most commonly request flexibility.
The four-day workweek is gaining more popularity and shaking work in ways that seemed unthinkable before. Namely, working days become fewer, but employees’ pay, benefits, and workload remain the same. Specifically, the UK has launched a four-day week trial from June to December 2022.
This new working schedule has pros like better time management and cons like closed doors for service providers. However, its fundamental goal is to improve workers’ quality of life.