- The 5-day, 40-hour+ workweek may be the norm for society, but is it the most productive? Is it healthy?
- With current technological advances, hours spent working could decrease once again, thus improving quality of life and wellness.
- Companies that have implemented shorter working weeks have seen increased productivity output from employees, increased satisfaction, and better levels of service.
For most of the 19th century, the typical American worker put in about 60 to 70 hours per week. The decline in working hours since then was made possible by productivity growth. The internal-combustion engine, electricity, and other advances have helped workers to get things done more quickly.
Still, people are working 40+ hours per week, but with current technological advances, hours spent working could decrease once again, thus improving quality of life and wellness.
The pandemic has shown that it is possible to change the way we work. Hybrid and remote working, and now the 4-day workweek, are gaining support.
Companies that have implemented shorter working weeks have seen increased productivity output from employees, increased satisfaction, and better levels of service.
Is a 4-day workweek feasible?
A 4-day workweek had a trial run in Iceland which was so successful that 86% of the country’s working population has now shortened their work hours or have gained the right to do so.
The shortened workweek showed improved wellbeing for workers, better work-life balance, and collaboration among workers. Importantly, there was no loss of revenue for the companies involved.
In the study in Iceland, workers reported feeling better, more energized, and less stressed. They had more energy to engage in non-work activities like exercise, hobbies, and home duties because they spent less time working.
The assumption that less hours spent working means that less work is done seems to be incorrect; productivity can be increased through working time reduction.
The New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian completed an eight-week trial which gave their 200 employees an extra day off every week, while pay and employment conditions remained unchanged. Despite the reduced hours, workers were 20% more productive.
Which companies have already implemented a 4-day workweek?
Before the pandemic, Microsoft Japan tried out the shortened workweek, which led to a 40% improvement in productivity, measured as sales per employee.
Shake Shack attempted the 4-day workweek with some employees with positive results. Shake Shack is going to a 32-hour week — without cutting pay.
Companies will need to decide what’s best for employee wellbeing
The 5-day, 40-hour+ workweek may be the norm for society, but is it the most productive? Is it healthy? How can we organize our work structure in a more beneficial way?
The increased awareness about how the wellbeing of workers impacts business productivity and performance will continue to create pressure for companies to figure out ways to better support those who work for them.
Jeff Bartel, chairman and managing director of Hamptons Group, implemented the shortened workweek even before the pandemic. After doing so, he found “increased benefits in terms of operational efficiency, a more motivated, and satisfied workforce, and an overall improvement in worker and company health and wellness.”
A 4-day workweek should not be confused with a compressed workweek. A compressed schedule would mean working a full 40-hour workweek in fewer days. Expecting team members to work about 10 hours each day can impact employee productivity and health, which would also lead to employee burnout.
It is not recommended to cram five days’ worth of work into four.
What benefits would a shortened workweek have?
People who work a 4-day week say they’re healthier, happier, and less time-pressured, according to a report in The Atlantic.
- Increased mental wellbeing and physical health: Workers who work fewer days reported many positive side effects, such as being able to exercise more, finding time to cope with the effects of the pandemic, and parents with children were less stressed out because they had more time to spend with their families.
- 74% of surveyed office workers said they support a 4-day workweek. Fewer hours at a desk or behind a computer each day will benefit workers who may have a chronic illness or disabilities, those who have to take care of young children, and caregivers of elderly parents.
- Narrowed workplace gender gaps: The 4-day workweek will allow women — who typically take more time off for caregiving — to have greater flexibility built into their schedule. Men will also have more time to help with their families.
- Lower carbon footprint: A 4-day workweek would reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by 45 million metric tons, which would improve the air quality and workers’ health.
Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, has said that the current version of office work defined by long hours and “always-on electronic chatter,” seems poorly suited to cognitive labor. This mode of working has been around for only a decade or two, and humanity has found better ways to work before. Newport said it would be “arrogant and ahistoric” to assume that the current approach is best.