Would You Want to Work a Four-Day Week?

he trend for a four-day working week is having a renaissance. But is a day less in your work going to be as good as you think it is?

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Work four days, get paid for five. On the surface, it sounds like an absolute dream come true. Who wouldn’t want to work less and get paid the same? Or if you look at it another way, a four-day work week allows you to increase your pay by 20% and have a long weekend every weekend. This is what everyone aspires to – what could possibly be wrong with this setup? 

A lot, apparently. 

Throughout the pandemic, there’s been plenty discussion around burnout, including among procurement professionals. One solution that experts are increasingly recommending – and one that many companies are open to putting in place – is the idea of a four-day work week. Unfortunately though, it may not be the saving grace that many think. 

Here’s an overview of what experts are proposing, as well as the arguments for, and against, this initiative. 

What is the four day work week, and when did it start to gain traction?

Working part-time is certainly nothing new, and a version of the reduced working week, whether it be four, three, two or even one day, has been available for some time, and has often been utilised by return-to-work parents, or those approaching retirement. 

However, beyond these special groups, the five-day work week has reigned supreme since the early 1900s, when unions campaigned to reduce the then six-day week to five days. 

Throughout the twentieth century, many leading economists, including John Maynard Keynes, predicted that as technology helped us to become more productive, we’d reduce our work hours. In fact, in 1928, Keynes predicted that we’d all be working only a 15-hour work week within a century. 

And while that prediction (unfortunately?) hasn’t come true, many companies have begun adopting a four-day work week. Between 2015 and 2019, two trials of a 35-hour work week in Iceland, without a pay reduction, led to an increase in worker wellbeing, and the shorter work week was permanently adopted. 

Following this, Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand estate planning firm, adopted a four-day week. Then Microsoft Japan followed suit, which led to a number of important efficiencies. 

After Microsoft made the change permanent, many thought that companies worldwide would immediately follow suit. Despite the pandemic causing an exponential increase in flexible work, though, the four-day week has not yet become the norm. 

What are the benefits of a four-day week? 

As select companies all over the world now realise, the four-day week has many benefits. 

One of the most important benefits, especially given the state of the climate, is that a four-day week helps to decrease emissions, as employees are working less. Microsoft certainly found that a four-day week had a climate impact, with their trial resulting in a 23% decrease in electricity in the firm’s office. 

Outside of the climate impact, though, a reduced working week simply makes employees happier and – possibly – more productive. Perpetual Guardian reported a 20% increase in employee satisfaction following their trial, and Microsoft reported a whopping 40% increase in productivity. 

What are the disadvantages of a four-day week? 

With increases in employee satisfaction and productivity, it’s hard to imagine what could possibly be wrong with the notion of a four-day week. But for a few important reasons, it may not seem as idyllic as it seems. 

Firstly, opponents of the initiative believe that a compressed working week can be disadvantageous in a range of professions, as firms are not available to their customers on the all-important fifth day. 

Beyond this, some preliminary research has found that the reality of a four-day week differs from the stated ideal. For example, employees in performance-based jobs often find the change stressful, as they have less time to achieve results.  And even if employees are still able to achieve results, they often feel pressure to be available anyway, leading to a ‘shadow’ day of work. 

And, with this pressure, and the looming spectre of the volume of emails people are likely to come back to, it means many people will end up giving back this day anyway. And if this is the case, is it not better to stick with a five day week and avoid all the additional stress? Whether this becomes the norm, or remains the exception, the debate is likely to rage for some time to come.

Ultimately, like many elements of work, a four-day work week may work for some, but not for others. Would you like to work a four-day work week? Let us know in the comments below.