Though a five-day workweek is standard in the United States, many companies are increasingly pursuing the option of a four-day workweek. Studies suggest that a four-day workweek improves worker morale, psychological well-being, and productivity.
As a result of the evidence that the four-day workweek brings benefits, 50,000 companies across 10 different industries have become more likely to hire workers for flexible positions, including positions with a four-day workweek.
A Four-Day Workweek?
Positions in industries such as computer software/hardware development, information technology, medical, administrative, customer service, project management, and marketing are experimenting with a four-day work week and seeing surprising benefits from it. Recently a company in New Zealand, Perpetual Guardian (a trust, wills, and estates company), did a two-month trial of the four-day workweek and found it extremely successful. The company will now be making a permanent part of their company’s structure. In addition, a school district, 27J located outside Denver, has dropped Mondays from its timetables to try and attract staff and reduce overhead. Students in the district will be attending school for four longer days every week rather than five shorter days, so the year’s education will be packed into 144 days instead of 180 days.
Benefits Of A Four-Day Workweek
The benefits that a shorter work week seems to produce include heightened productivity, more free time for employees, less overhead costs, and better physical and mental health for employees.
While the enthusiasm for a four-day workweek is seeing a recent surge, the idea of a four-day workweek is far from new. Researchers and employees alike have been advocating the benefits of a four-day workweek since the 1970s, noting that it frequently both increases productivity and reduces overall costs. Back in 1974, the British government even experimented with a three-day workweek and saw an increase in productivity of approximately 5%.
According to a recent analysis done by internet job search site FlexJobs, the kinds of jobs that are most likely to adopt the four-day workweek model are those within the following fields: Administrative, Accounting & finance, HR & recruitment, Marketing, Medical & health, Computer & IT, Sales, Customer service, Account/project manager, Education & training.
With many jobs demanding more time form employees, the number of supporters for the four-day workweek seems to be growing. Jim Link, Randstad’s chief human resources officer for the North American continent, says that employers may want to pay close attention to the possible benefits of a four-day weekend. Link explains:
Savvy employers are catching on to the fact that employees are increasingly demanding better work-life balance and the opportunity to get work done at non-traditional places and times. The four-day workweek is a perfect example of that.
Though the idea often runs contrary to American culture, with a heavy emphasis on hours of work and productivity, if companies want to stay competitive they may wish to be more flexible with their hiring practices. Data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average American now works approximately 44 hours during the course of the work week, or an average of 8.8 hours every day.
Drawbacks To A Four-Day Workweek
In terms of how a four day workweek could be viable in the current American economy and work system, some suggest that simply adding an hour or two of work to the other days of the week could help compensate for the lost time. However, this idea does have its detractors. Adam Edwards, a director of business at the Hays recruitment firm notes that workers could feel pressured to keep up the same level of productivity during just four days that they previously accomplished in five days, which could exacerbate stress problems. Other negative effects could be reduced wages on average, which could harm those struggling to get by on their current work hours and potentially create friction amongst employees who can adapt to the new schedule and those who have impediments to their adoption of the new schedule.
Another critic of the idea of four-day work weeks is Allard Dembe, a professor of Public Health at Ohio State University. According to Dembe, who has studied the effects of long working hours for many years, additional risks are present when work demands pass a certain point. Dembe says there is a real risk of demanding too much of employees and substantially increasing the stress and fatigue that they experience. A study of Dembe’s found that there was a 61% increase in the chance that an individual would be involved in an industrial accident if an individual worked an overtime shift, and that working more than 60 hours a week increases one’s chance of injury by approximately 1/4th.
Dembe also reports that a long-term study of those who work long hours finds that long working hours increases the chance that one is diagnosed with a chronic disease in their later life, especially if the individual is a woman. Women who work more than 60 hours a week, or 12 hours a day, were on average three times more likely to develop a disease like diabetes, arthritis, cancer or heart disease. They were also approximately twice as likely to develop asthma or chronic lung disease. Dembe says that working just a bit more than others, between 41 to 50 hours a week, appears to noticeably increase one’s risk for developing disease over the long term. Dembe also argues that the effects of jamming 40 hours into just 4 days a week could reduce flexibility for families with children.
Link says that the biggest concern of employers is likely to be making sure that productivity doesn’t drop and that employees are still held just as accountable. Link says that just as with any change to work systems, the problems are best tackled by clear, regular communication between employees and supervisors. Still, amongst many workers there seems to be some support for the idea of a four-day workweek, with a recent study done by the Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated surveying some 3000 employees across 8 different countries and reporting that almost three-quarters employees saying they would take a four day or less workweek if pay remained consistent. Those surveyed said that much of their time was wasted by tasks not related to their main job and that if uninterrupted they felt that they could realistically complete their tasks in only five hours every day, with 75% of those surveyed saying they have more than enough time in the day to complete their required projects.