The Future of Work: It’s Time to Embrace the Four-Day Workweek

Let’s say goodbye to the high burnout, low morale, and overall inefficiency of the five-day workweek.

Down with the five-day workweek!

Fortunately, there’s a better way — one that maintains productivity, improves morale, and decreases burnout. @ActNormalOrElse summed up the four-day workweek nicely on Twitter…

Thankfully, the global pandemic has (slowly but surely) started to show countries and companies the error of their inefficient, outdated ways — that the social norm of a bloated five-day workweek leads to overstuffed calendars, overcrowded meetings, and overworked employees.

That’s why forward-looking countries like Spain, Iceland and Japan have begun testing those aforementioned four-day workweeks, and the early results confirm that it’s not about how many hours you work, it’s about how smart and efficient you are with those hours. Here’s what researchers have learned so far about four-day workweeks (h/t BBC)…

*Productivity in Iceland remained the same or improved in most workplaces

*Workers reported feeling less stressed and at risk of burnout

*Workers also said their health and work-life balance had improved

*Workers reported having more time to spend with their families

*A UK study found that shorter hours could cut the nation’s carbon footprint

Something that’s better for employees, companies, and the environment? Sounds like 3 for 3. No wonder the world’s largest ever trial of a shorter working week was deemed “an overwhelming success” in Iceland (BBC), while Japan’s annual economic policy guidelines “unveiled plans to push employers to adopt four-day workweeks, marking official acceptance of a once-fringe approach that has gained increasing purchase internationally amid workplace changes wrought by the coronavirus pandemic (The Washington Post).

Alvaro Dominguez/The Atlantic

And it’s not just countries — companies like Kickstarter have announced that they will reduce employees’ hours without reducing pay (The Atlantic), while Microsoft in Japan instituted a temporary three-day weekend in August 2019, which they said resulted in a 40 percent increase in productivity. In 2018, a New Zealand firm called Perpetual Guardian implemented a four-day workweek and found that “even though weekly working hours were cut by 20 percent, employees’ time spent on nonwork websites fell by 35 percent. It also helped that employees had more time outside of work to manage the rest of their lives, so nonwork responsibilities were less likely to intrude on the workday.” (The Atlantic)

Some traditionalists might argue against changing the way we’ve always done things, but it’s not as if we’d be messing with something that’s been around for thousands of years — the five-day workweek is barely a century old (h/t The Atlantic for the history lesson)…

“In the U.S., one of the earliest instances of a business implementing a five-day week was a mill in New England that in 1908 gave its Jewish workers a two-day weekend, to cover their Saturday sabbath. The practice caught on more widely in the following two decades, when unions pushed for it and business owners, applying the principles of “scientific management,” studied their production processes and concluded that a shorter week could increase productivity. In 1926, the Ford Motor Company adopted the five-day week, doubling the number of American workers with that schedule.”

Clearly things have hit a breaking point over these past 18 months, particularly as “employees have been putting in five to eight additional working hours a week during the pandemic” according to Rob Cross, a professor of global leadership at Babson College (WSJ). It’s time for countries and companies to make a statement, and “a four-day workweek sends a signal that the company cares about work-life balance” (The Washington Post).

Fortunately, that statement also comes with mutual benefit, because as the evidence increasingly shows, a four-day workweek also benefits companies by maintaining (or even increasing) productivity and improving employee morale (thus decreasing expensive turnover and burnout).

The time has finally come to say goodbye to the inefficient five-day workweek. The four-day workweek has arrived.

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