The idea of a four-day workweek was a hot-button topic in 2021. And as more and more large-scale organizations begin to test it, this polarizing debate is becoming even more prominent.
Largely inspired by frustrations about today’s always-on, round-the-clock working world and supercharged by the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of a four-day workweek is ultimately rooted in a desire to create better work-life balance for employees–and for businesses to benefit from happier staff.
But the big question mark is still the viability of the concept. So, let’s take a look at the facts.
The History of the 9-to-5
While you might think the “nine-to-five” workday has been around for as long as… well, work has, it’s actually a relatively new concept.
It was pioneered by Henry Ford in 1926 when he opted to shut down his seven-day auto factories for two days each week.
At the time that Ford implemented this policy, it was revolutionary: his goal was to create better work-life balance for his employees–and he achieved that goal effectively enough that “the 9-to-5” was embraced as the norm for more than 95 years.
But now, a new school of thought is emerging that a four-day workweek is not only plausible but actually in the best interests of businesses and their employees.
The 4-Day Workweek in Theory
One of the most common arguments against scrapping the five-day work week concept is that it’s not broken, so why fix it? After all, it’s been working for nearly a century.
On the other hand, the argument for implementing a four-day work week can best be explained by the theory of English economist John Maynard Keynes:
“The ever-increasing efficiency of industrialized societies should result in more leisure time for citizens. But we haven’t had a substantial reduction in working hours for decades. The world should learn from this.”
Essentially what Keynes is saying is that, as our tools become more sophisticated and allow us to become more efficient, we should be able to take advantage of more downtime.
And if the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything from a professional perspective, it’s that technology has made it easier for people to do more work in less time from anywhere in the world.
As a result, many people believe that we should move to a system where people work 40 hours per week throughout four days rather than five. In theory, more personal time would result in better work-life balance, better productivity, and higher levels of engagement at work.
Does the Theory Have Merit?
Luckily, we don’t have to speculate about whether a four-day workweek would actually provide the benefits people theorize about. A number of public and private sector companies and even some municipalities have been putting it to the test across a number of countries.
Most notably, between 2015 and 2019, Iceland ran trials of a four-day work week among jobs like preschools, offices, social service providers, and hospitals.
Their trials found that:
- Productivity remained level or even improved, in the majority of workplaces
- Workers were less stressed and burnout levels dropped
- Health and work-life balance improved
- People had more time to spend with their families, do hobbies, and do chores
The ultimate outcome? Unions have renegotiated working patterns, and 86% of the country’s workforce have either moved to shorter hours for the same pay or will soon gain the right to.
But it didn’t stop there. New Zealand, Spain, Japan, Canada, and the U.S. have all seen the implementation of four-day workweek trials in recent years. The results?
- Microsoft Japan saw productivity grow by 40%, electricity use down by 23%, and 92% of employees said they were happier once a four-day workweek had been implemented
- Spain’s Software Delsor reported that absenteeism dropped by 28%, revenues have grown at the same rate as usual, and the company has not lost even one of its 189 employees since the plan went into effect
- Employees at New Zealand’s Perpetual Guardian have been working four day weeks since 2018 and have showed a 20% increase in productivity, and Unilever has also began piloting the concept internally
- Zorra Township in Ontario, Canada, is now home to one of the country’s largest public-sector trials of the four-day workweek, its concept having been modeled after a larger trial held in Guysborough, Nova Scotia, that was adopted as policy in April, 2020
- A number of U.S. corporations have also began adopting the trend, including Kickstarter and Buffer
Challenges with a 4-Day Workweek
Despite the positive results, the four-day workweek theory is not without its potential challenges, which could include:
- Reduced customer satisfaction: For customers, the ability to only reach businesses four days a week could pose problems with customer satisfaction and retention.
- Childcare challenges: Many daycares and after-school programs operate around the idea that parents work a 9-to-5 type of schedule which means longer work days would cause childcare challenges.
- Consolidated workloads: One extra day off each week could mean compounded catch-up at the beginning of each week, in turn boosting stress levels and risk of burnout.
While the jury still seems to be out on whether the four-day work week is unrealistic or unavoidable, one thing’s for sure: we can expect the conversation around its viability to be around for a while.
If you’d like to learn about how working at a flexible office space can support higher levels of employee morale and engagement, get in touch today to learn about Launch Workplaces.