The four-day work week: An unattainable utopia or a real goal?

Work four days a week and start the weekend on Friday? It is not just the fanciful dream of every employee on a Thursday lunch break, but also an experiment that has already been tried several times. The results of studies and tests of the four-day work week are fascinating. Can such a system be implemented successfully in your company?

Possible benefits of a four-day work week

There are basically two main variants of the four-day work week. Companies either can maintain 40 hours of work per week and spread them over four days instead of the classic five (the result would be four days with 10 hours of work), or reduce not only the number of days but also the hours. An important condition in the latter scenario, however, is that for 32 hours of work per week, employees should receive the same remuneration as for 40 hours.

Why even consider a four-day work week? Companies and employees can have various reasons for reducing the number of working days, but the main ones include:

  • Better work-life balance: A real and functioning work-life balance is difficult for many people to achieve. A shorter work week would give people more time for family, friends and hobbies.
  • Improved productivity: A better work-life balance should mean less stress, higher life satisfaction and less fatigue. It can therefore be assumed that employees will be more motivated and less likely to take leave or miss work due to illness.
  • Environmental impact: Less time spent in the office is less time spent using energy, generating office waste, and producing emissions on the way to and from work.
So now we know the approximate reasons why companies should consider a four-day work week. But what does its implementation look like in practice?

Historical beginnings

Wall Street with traffic lights

How many hours?

A shorter work week was first considered in the US during the economic crisis of the 1920s and 1930s. Even industrial magnates like Henry Ford or W.K. Kellogg supported the reduction of working hours. In their case, there were even proposals for a six-hour workday. A 30-hour work week was supposed to be a way to keep employees rested and working to the maximum.

Coworking environment for employees

Shorter time,
lower wage

However, historian Benjamin Hunnicutt in his book Work Without End: Abandoning Shorter Hours for the Right to Work describes the rapid end of efforts to introduce
a shorter work week after the reduction in labour came with wage cuts. Workers in a difficult economic situation abandoned the effort to fight for shorter working hours and instead tried to simply maintain enough jobs.

Contemporary experiments

In the last decade, the desire to experiment with a four-day work week has returned and has resulted in several interesting practical experiments.

The industrial environment of the capital Auckland

New Zealand

In 2018, Perpetual Guardian, a company in New Zealand, introduced a shorter work week for six weeks in March and April. Each week, 240 employees voted on which day to completely remove from their work week and received exactly the same salary. The whole process was also monitored and evaluated by experts from the University of Auckland (you can read the whole study here).

The results largely described everything proponents of the four-day week were touting. Employees reported less stress, more involvement in work and a stronger sense of satisfaction with both work and company management. Since November 2018, Perpetual Guardian employees can work either on a classic five-day schedule or just four days a week.

Day view of Tokyo city

Japan

Even large multinational companies like Microsoft have decided to test what a four-day work week might look like in practice. The Japanese branch of Microsoft tested shorter working hours in August 2019, with the surprising finding that productivity was higher than in August 2018. The company's sales were up to 40% better during the shortened weeks than in the previous year. In addition, the company decided to reduce the maximum length of business meetings to half an hour and the maximum number of people in a meeting to five. Besides productivity, energy and office supplies management also improved.

Thus, the base of studies on which those interested in a four-day work week can build their requirements is gradually growing. But what still prevents the widespread introduction of a shorter work week?

Obstacles and problems

Sticky notes for notes

Current habits

Proponents of a shorter work week have to contend with current work culture and demands. We do not yet know the results of really long-term studies that would confirm that a four-day work week increases productivity in the longer term. Another question is the correct distribution of the workload with regard to the mental and physical health of employees. Not everyone can realistically get their work done in 32 hours a week (let's be honest, many us struggle to do so in 40 hours).

Shortening the work week also reduces the time that employees can devote to clients and their needs. Few customers will jump for joy when they suddenly find that a service or product provider stops picking up the phone on Friday.

Glazed offices in a skyscraper

Priority

With the looming economic crisis brought about by the pandemic we may face a situation similar to the 1930s, when many will be more concerned with keeping their jobs than experimenting with working hours. On the other hand, the coronavirus is changing office life on a large scale, so we may see new data about a four-day or even shorter work week soon.

In any case, CAPEXUS can help you create a more pleasant, efficient and modern work environment for your employees. Do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to present the latest trends in our showroom and to arrange a non-binding meeting with our experts on the topic of workplace consultancy.

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Photo authors: Unsplash,  Petr Andrlík

Published September 8, 2020

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