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The impact of the 4-day work week

The COVID-19 epidemic has had a tremendous impact on people's working lives, most recently driving a shift toward flexible work arrangements and popularizing concepts such as a four-day workweek. Employees on these adjusted schedules often work four days and have a three-day weekend – with no pay reduction.

Advocates have long argued that having employees work four days rather than five increases productivity, and the evidence is overwhelmingly positive. There has been much discussion on the potential benefits of working a four-day week rather than a five-day week. Making 32-hour work weeks the norm rather than 40-hour work weeks can boost worker well-being while reducing business productivity.

What exactly is a four-day work week?

You may already be aware of someone who works compressed hours and thus works full-time for 35 hours across four days. A four-day work week does not represent a compressed work schedule, but rather fewer hours. As a result, the individual would work approximately 28 hours over four days, with a three-day weekend.

A four-day work week may seem extreme, but since the late nineteenth century, we've gradually lowered the number of hours worked in a regular work week. In 1890, the US government estimated that a full-time employee in a manufacturing facility worked 100 hours per week on average. Manufacturing employees worked only 40 hours per week by the mid-twentieth century.

Who's jumping on the band-wagon?

Businesses throughout the world are becoming more interested in the benefits of giving their employees an extra day off, as seen by Microsoft's August 2019 trial of a four-day workweek in Japan, which resulted in a 40% increase in productivity. Many more organizations have now followed suit. Canon's British division is among the most recent to experiment with a four-day workweek without a pay cut. Kickstarter and Bolt are among the many companies experimenting with four-day weeks in the United States, as is Unilever, which announced in November that it would pilot such a schedule in New Zealand. As Atom Bank learned, a shorter week might result in a deluge of job applications; almost immediately after announcing a four-day week for its 430 employees, the company experienced a 500% surge in employment applications. Employees at the bank will now work 34 hours across four days (down from 37.5 hours previously), with Monday and Friday off.

How Many Hours Do We Actually Work?

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the average annual hours worked by employed persons in 2020 were lowest in Germany, at 1,332 hours (25.6 per week). Americans work 1,767 hours per week on average, while Canadians work 1,664 hours. Those in the United Kingdom work 26 hours per week, Spaniards work 30 hours per week, and Japanese work 31 hours per week, among other places experimenting with four-day workweeks. Looking at these figures, it appears that the average American aged 16 and above already has about the equivalent of a four-day workweek, while workers in several other nations have even more free time. However, a closer examination of the data from the United States reveals that high school and college-age workers drag down the average. In 2021, 16- to 19-year-olds worked 25 hours per week on average, while 20- to 24-year-olds worked 34.8 hours per week. People aged 25 and up worked 39.6 hours per week on average.

Benefits of the 4-day work week.

A four-day workweek's primary purpose is to improve workers' quality of life. People have more time for personal interests like these since they work fewer hours overall and have three full days off.

  • Quality time spent with family, friends, and pets

  • Caregiving

  • Appointments with doctors

  • Personal advancement

  • Education

  • Travel

  • Hobbies

  • Home upkeep and enhancements

  • Household administration

But the 4-day workweek can also have significant impact on the company implementing this new trend:

Productivity has increased

Sanford University did an in-depth analysis of the relationship and productivity and discovered a clear association between the two parameters. Employees that are overworked are less productive than those who work an average or typical work week.

Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based corporation, performed a four-day work week pilot study. Employees not only maintained the same production level, but they also improved in job satisfaction, teamwork, work/life balance, and corporate loyalty. Employees also reported decreased stress, with a drop from 45% to 38%.

Equality in the workplace

According to the Government Equalities Office's Equal Workplace Research on the Gender Pay Gap, around two million British workers are currently unemployed due to childcare duties, with 89% of these people being women. Employees would be able to spend more time with their families and better combine care and job commitments if the work week was reduced to four days.

Increased Employee Engagement

A four-day work week can result in happier and more committed employees. Employees are less likely to be anxious or to take sick absence since they have ample time to rest and recover. As a result, they return to work eager to tackle new problems.

Sweden performed a trial study on a shortened work week from 2015 to 2017. Nurses in a nursing home worked only six hours each day, five days a week. The results were mostly good, with nurses reporting fewer sick days, improved physical and mental well-being, and increased involvement as they planned 85% more activities for patients in their care.

Reduced Carbon Footprint

Countries with shorter working hours often have a lower carbon footprint, thus lowering our work week from 5 to 4 days could also assist the environment. Because our working week is shorter, employees don't have to commute as far, and enormous office buildings are only used four days a week.

A trial for government employees in the US state of Utah shown a considerable environmental impact by decreasing the typical work week from five to four days utilizing a compressed work schedule. During the first ten months, the scheme saved about US$1.8 million (£1.36 million) in energy expenditures and cut at least 6,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions by closing the enormous office complex on Fridays.

Retention and recruitment

Being able to offer a more flexible work schedule is clearly a bonus that persuades employees to stay at a company in the age of the millennial.

According to research, a four-day work week makes it easier for businesses to attract and retain quality employees. This work-life balance incentive is still a relatively uncommon provision, but it can be a terrific way to attract and retain top people.

The disadvantages of working four days a week

It is not appropriate for every business model.

Unfortunately, a four-day work week does not work for every company. It is a realistic alternative only for organizations that can re-adapt their entire operation to a new style of working. Adopting a new style of working is a huge step, so think about whether a four-day week is good for your firm.

Work-related stress and longer hours

In reality, most employees working a four-day week will most likely be expected to work the same 40-hour weeks as those working five days. Shifts could be prolonged to 10 hours in this situation. Longer days may have a big impact on your employees' stress levels, as well as their overall welfare and productivity. And, while it is true that additional time away from work enhances an employee's work-life balance, they may find that by working extra hard during their new 'working week,' their work-life balance suffers.

Customer Contentment

The Utah trial, which had excellent environmental results as well as employee and employer benefits, was forced to close due to low consumer satisfaction. Customers complained that they couldn't get access to government services because offices were closed on Friday. Using technology, such as chatbots and AI-powered websites, could improve customer satisfaction issues by providing clients with another route of support rather than relying on office-based staff personnel.

Finally, should you go to a four-day work week?

While we aren't quite there yet, technology, particularly AI, may soon outperform the capabilities of human personnel. We'll then have to make some critical judgments about the future of work and how to best safeguard and promote the well-being of human employees. A four-day work week is one conceivable alternative since technology allows businesses to continue operating as usual while humans can still have meaningful professions with a better work/life balance. The TUC's appeal for a four-day work week is an attempt to provide the framework for this transition and ensure that people, not just companies, benefit from this new technology.


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