So what is the case for a four-day week?

The MCESD is proposing a four-day workweek pilot project. Surely we would all love a three day weekend, but what if this was made the norm and the traditional five-day week scrapped altogether? Would businesses soar? Would productivity take a hit? How would government employees be affected? If the working world continues on its current track, the four-day workweek is on its way in. But while we wait to see how it all pans out, it is a good time to start experimenting.

In 1930, during the Great Depression, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that we would all have a 15-hour workweek within 100 years. As an attractive fantasy to beleaguered workers throughout the century, the idea never quite left the public consciousness. Even Richard Nixon, during his vice presidency in 1956, predicted that the four-day workweek was coming in the not too distant future. Even business mogul Richard Branson supports the shift to a shorter workweek.

By working more efficiently, there is no reason why people cannot work fewer hours and be equally–if not more–effective. People will need to be paid more for working less time, so they can afford more leisure time. That is going to be a difficult balancing act to get right, but it can be done. Productivity is not influenced just by time. Employee mentality also plays an influential role.

There is an argument to be made that modern technology has significantly sped up the way we work and that the five-day week is no longer necessary. For example, long-winded spreadsheets are no longer needed and faffing around with paperwork is a thing of the past. Whilst the five-day week used to be a great model that got the most out of its workers, it was born in an era where factory work was the norm. In a 19th century factory, a 5-day week was ideal. People would get up, go to work, do their jobs and go home. That was all there was to it. However, with the evolution of technology and the increase in office jobs, the rule that longer hours equal to more productivity doesn’t necessarily ring true.

The five-day week was born in an era where factory work was the norm.

Recent trials of a four-day working week in Iceland have reportedly been successful. Microsoft’s Japan offices also trialled it and saw a whopping 40% increase in productivity. It has also proved successful in countries like New Zealand and Sweden.

Is all the hype surrounding this concept really justified? Does reducing the working days actually work? For one thing, employees are more focused and take fewer breaks when they must work four days a week. More importantly, they start to manage their time more efficiently and smartly. As a result, they do not waste their time on useless activities such as browsing the web endlessly, scrolling through social media feeds, and gossiping with their co-workers. It also boosts employee morale and helps them achieve a better work-life balance. Undoubtedly, a four-day workweek can reduce the carbon footprint of both machines and vehicles. Employees will not have to commute to and from the office. This minimizes carbon footprint.

A shorter workweek could take various forms. There is the four-day week, where working hours can be reduced by 20%. There are different models. Everyone at a company might take the same day off, or people chose the structure that works for them, like taking two afternoons off. Or one might just reduce the workweek by a certain number of hours, from 40 down to 36, for example. A commonality across all models is that there will be no cramming previous work span into a shorter timeframe, like working 40 hours in four days. It will be just removing a portion of the total work time for the week. Most importantly, salaries and leave entitlement remain the same.

In the age of the millennial, being able to offer a more flexible work pattern is definitely a perk that persuades employees to stay at a company. Knowing they will be getting a three-day weekend is one that keeps employees motivated week-on-week. It might be a relatively rare offering and can be a great way to get the best talent through the door – and keep them engaged, too. Then the idea of retirement might be to one day work a 40-hour week!

A four-day workweek can reduce the carbon footprint of both machines and vehicles.

Switching from a five-day workweek to a four-day workweek might disturb project timelines. Deadlines will have to be adjusted. Failing to do that will run the risk of missing project deadlines. Implementing a four-day workweek tends to make up the lost day by increasing the number of hours employees must work for a day. This forces them to reach the office a few hours earlier or stay for a few hours longer, which negatively impacts their daily routines and schedules. As a result, employees must clock in the same number of hours as they do on a five-day workweek, which kills the purpose of having a shorter work week and can present the employers as exploiters instead of facilitators.

One less business day a week could translate into lower sales, which can have a negative impact on the bottom line. What is even worse is the fact that when your prospects see that your business is closed, they might be tempted to use a competitor business instead of yours. Unfortunately, a four-day week model does not suit every business. It is an option that is only viable for companies who can re-adapt their whole business to a new way of working.

Instead of giving a final verdict, I leave it on you to decide whether a shorter workweek is worth it or not. However, usually what businesses fear doing most is usually what they most need to do. And there will always be those who love what they do, and, for them, even working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week is not work at all. It is just fun.

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Frans Camilleri
Frans Camilleri
2 years ago

Dr Said is seriously challenging me to write an opinion about the downside of this! For a start, it doesn’t benefit me, for I am mostly retired. But, let me not give the game away. He will have to read it about later on, the Editor permitting

Dr. Mark Said
Dr. Mark Said
2 years ago

I’ll be eagerly waiting for your challenge, then! 🙂