- The 4-day work week is closer than ever to becoming a reality for workers in some countries.
- The question many have now is whether countries that adopt the 4-day work week will suffer in productivity when compared to countries that have longer than average workweeks.
- The assumption that less hours spent working means that less work is done is incorrect; productivity can be increased through working time reduction.
The latest technological developments could make it possible for employees to accomplish the same amount of work in less time, making the idea of the 4-day work week plausible.
Some may wonder how countries with a shorter workweek will compare to countries that have longer than average workweeks, such as Mexico, Russia, and Japan, which all work upwards of 48 hours per week.
Will countries that adopt the 4-day work model suffer in productivity?
The short answer: Not at all.
Some of the world’s most productive countries, like Norway, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands work around 27 hours a week.
Japan has some of the longest working hours in the world; nearly one quarter of Japanese companies require employees to work more than 80 hours a month, according to CNBC.
But Japan – a nation notoriously known for overworked employees – ranks as the 20th out of 35 countries for productivity. All the extra time people spend working does NOT translate to increased productivity.
In 2019, Microsoft tested a 4-day workweek in Japan. Employees were given five Fridays off with no pay cut to test whether this method would boost productivity and creativity.
Microsoft reported that productivity (sales per employee) climbed by nearly 40% in August 2019 compared with the previous year. Power consumption fell by 23% and more than 90% of workers liked the change, according to SHRM.
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.
In 2018, New Zealand estate planning firm Perpetual Guardian tested a 4-day workweek and paid staff for 37.5 hours but required only 30 hours and the same work output.
Based on the results, which included reduced stress and better employee engagement, Perpetual Guardian established a 4-day week on a long-term, voluntary basis.
Perpetual Guardian founder Andrew Barnes also helped launch a nonprofit global community, made up of business, union, political and academic leaders, dedicated to promoting the 4-day workweek.
Which countries are considering the shortened workweek?
The Japanese government announced its recommendation for a 4-day work week as part of its annual economic policy guidelines in June.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last year suggested employers consider flexible work options, including a 4-day week.
The Spanish government has agreed to distribute 50 million euros (approximately $60.13 million) among 200 companies that volunteer to test a 4-day, 32-hour workweek for 3,000 to 6,000 employees in Spain for up to three years.
There are many benefits of a reduced workweek
The assumption that less hours spent working means that less work is done is incorrect; productivity can be increased through working time reduction.
The shortened workweek has shown improved wellbeing for workers, better work-life balance, and collaboration among workers. Some additional benefits include:
- 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.
Workplace laws and conventions vary between countries; some countries place a large emphasis on work-life balance and have laws and conventions that are more favorable towards workers. This often translates to shorter workweeks and more vacation time.
Employees in countries with shorter workweeks tend to have higher life satisfaction and less stress. Countries that have longer workweeks have lower life satisfaction and a workforce that often feels burned out and depressed.
“With the four-day workweek, we’re launching into the real debate of our times. It’s an idea whose time has come. Spain is one of the countries where workers put in more hours than the European average. But we’re not among the most productive countries. I maintain that working more hours does not mean working better,” said Íñigo Errejón Galván, a Spanish political scientist and politician serving as a member of the 14th Congress of Deputies.
If workers can get done what is required of them in a shorter period of time, what’s stopping society from reducing the amount of time workers spend on the clock?