In recent years, the concept of a 4-day work week has gained traction as some companies experiment with offering employees an extra day off without reducing pay or productivity.
According to Gallup, reducing the work week to four days is to respond to the disturbing levels of employee stress and burnout nowadays.
Gallup also indicated that this work model is advantageous for those who don’t have the option to work remotely. It can lessen the chance of employees seeing work as miserable and increase the chances of a thriving well-being.
Aside from these valid reasons, is a 4-day work week really worth it?
In this article, we’ll explore the origins of this work schedule, its positive and negative effects, and some of the countries that have embraced it.
How the 4-day work week started
The idea of a 4-day work week didn’t just pop out of thin air. It has roots in various experiments and discussions to optimize productivity and employee well-being.
The concept of this model dates back to the 19th century when labor activists began advocating for shorter work hours. That’s because, around the mid-1800s, workers were putting in 70-hour, 6-day weeks.
In the early 20th century, companies in some industries began experimenting with a 5-day work week. This was done in an effort to improve productivity and reduce the physical toll of long hours on their employees.
One notable pioneer was Henry Ford. In 1926, the Ford Motor Company began standardizing the work week to 40 hours.
Ford did this not only in response to the labor movement. The manufacturer also used better employment conditions as an opportunity to grow the middle class — Ford’s main customer base.
Since then, some companies have continued experimenting with different work schedules, including the 4-day work week.
Positive effects of a 4-day work week
Advocates of a 4-day work week argue it can benefit both employees and employers. Here are a few of the positive effects that supporters often cite:
Improved work-life balance
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of a 4-day work week is that it gives employees an extra day off each week. It allows more time for personal pursuits, hobbies, and family activities.
This can help reduce burnout and increase overall satisfaction with the job.
Contrary to common assumptions, companies adopting this schedule often report increased productivity. This may be because the staff are more focused and motivated, knowing they have a shorter work week overall.
Reduced stress and anxiety
A 4-day work week can also help reduce employee stress and anxiety levels.
Giving workers an extra day off each week allows them more time to rest and recharge. As a result, it can help improve both physical and mental health.
Fewer days commuting means fewer cars on the road and less energy consumption. The environmental benefits of a 4-day work week include reduced carbon emissions and a smaller ecological footprint.
A recent Platform London study highlighted the environmental impact of a shorter work week. According to the report, giving up shorter work schedules and longer vacations would consume 25% more energy.
Negative effects of a 4-day work week
While there are many potential benefits of a 4-day work week, there are also some drawbacks. Here are a few of the negative effects that opponents often cite:
Depending on how this model is implemented, it may result in a reduction in pay for employees.
This may be a deal-breaker for some workers, especially if they struggle to make ends meet.
Another potential downside is that employees may be expected to work longer hours to make up for the lost day. This can lead to increased stress and burnout and may cancel out some benefits of the extra day off.
This work schedule may create logistical challenges for some businesses with fewer days to schedule appointments and meetings.
It can be especially true if employees work different schedules and have different days off.
Not feasible for some industries
While a 4-day work week may work well for some companies, it may not be feasible or cost-effective in other industries.
Businesses that require round-the-clock customer service or other services may struggle to implement it without disrupting operations.
Countries that have embraced a 4-day work week
Despite the potential challenges of a 4-day work week, some countries have embraced this schedule as a way to improve work-life balance and employee satisfaction:
Belgium made waves in February 2022 as the first European country to embrace a 4-day work week through legislation. Belgian employees can now complete a full work week in just four days without any salary deductions.
According to Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, this move aims to inject flexibility into the country’s traditionally inflexible job market
From 2015 to 2019, Iceland took the lead in the global experiment of a 35 to 36-hour work week without insisting on a corresponding salary cut.
Researchers hailed the pilot as a triumph, prompting Icelandic trade unions to advocate for a reduction in working hours.
This study triggered a notable shift in Iceland, with almost 90% of the workforce now enjoying fewer hours or other flexible arrangements.
Major corporations in Japan are stepping into achieving a better work-life balance, spurred by the Japanese Government’s 2021 initiative.
This shift is especially crucial in a nation where overwork tragically claims numerous lives. The detrimental effects of extended work hours are evident as workers facing the brunt can experience health issues or even reach a point of despair.
In a bold move back in 2019, Microsoft dipped its toes into this approach, granting employees month-long three-day weekends. The results saw a remarkable 40% boost in productivity and more streamlined work.
Should you switch to a 4-day work week?
If you’re considering switching to a 4-day work week, keep a few things in mind.
First, think carefully about this schedule’s potential benefits and drawbacks, both as an employer and for your employees.
Consider whether this model is feasible in your industry and whether people in your company are open to the idea.
A 4-day work week may not be the right solution for everyone. Some workers prefer a more flexible schedule, while others are content with a traditional one.
Ultimately, the best approach will depend on various factors, including personal preferences, job roles, and workplace culture.