Should we change to a 4 day week?
Now, I don't mean should we change the calendar from seven days a week to four, its a four day working week rather than the regular five we have now. This is not a new concept, the idea of a four day week was suggested in the 1930s, since then there have been many changes in society and technology. Before you start worrying about a reduction in pay, those who advocate for a four day week suggest pay stays the same despite the reduced hours. For many employees this sounds great but company owners may worry about the consequences it could have for profits and more. But can 8 hours really make that much of a difference?
Employers may worry that with employees working one day less a week that the tasks that need to be completed wont be done in time. This isn't necessarily the case though. A trial study in New Zealand found that employees maintained the same productivity level as well as improved job satisfaction. This is supported by Sanford university who found that overworked employers are actually less productive than those working an average week. One could also look at the productivity of countries to see that those with an average work week of 27 hours (Norway, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands) are more productive than countries such as Japan, known for overworking their employees. The cause of this could be a variety of reasons, from generally being less exhausted due to increased free time to increased happiness and job satisfaction. If you think about it, how much work gets done on a Friday anyway?
In addition to possible increased productivity, a four day week might improve employee engagement. Less hours at work means that people are less stressed and are happier making them less likely to take sick leave. A study in Sweden where nurses hours were reduced found that fewer sick hours were logged and the mental as well as physical health of the nurses improved. The nurses also arranged 85% more activities for their patients, proving that healthier staff are more prepared to jump into their work.
Another benefit of a four day working week is that it creates a more equal workplace. Research from the Government Equalities office found that roughly two million British people are not currently in employment due to childcare responsibilities with most of these people being women. The cost of childcare is often expensive and costs more than one person would generally earn. A four day week could mean that people save on childcare thus allowing people to work and pay for childcare. This will also mean that people can spend more time with their families. Often this can improve the mental welfare of everyone involved as well as allowing for a more equal workplace (and society) whereby employees can more easily balance work and family commitments.
As well as the above, the four day working week can also reduce peoples carbon emissions. Studies have found that those countries with shorter working weeks have a reduced carbon footprint. There are many factors to this including the reduction of energy required to power large offices for one day less a week (which could also reduce office costs for companies) and the one day less of commuting to work and causing traffic jams (which could also save employees a little money). A study in Utah found that a four day week reduces carbon emissions by the equivalent of roughly 3,400 cars for a year, 2,300 of which is caused by less commuting alone.
Thanks to advances in technology many jobs have been made easier and more efficient. As technology continues to advance we are likely to see more and more jobs being made easier and faster. This means that people can work less hours but still get the same amount of work done as they would've with less technological support. Working five days a week long predates technology and the quick advances in technology over the past 30 years or so making the five day week probably outdated.
A new benefit of a four day working week since the coronavirus is that it could help kick start our economy again. The reduction in working days means that offices could get back up and running sooner with fewer health risks. New Zealand Prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has suggested that a four day working week will allow for more flexibility in working hours and reduced time at work could allow for people to take more domestic holidays as well as spending money locally in restaurants, pub and shops. The pandemic has shown the ability for flexibility in many workplaces without having a huge impact on productivity.
Not every idea is perfect and while the four day week seems to be a win win, there are disadvantages especially if done incorrectly. One of the disadvantages is a lack of customer satisfaction fewer day in work means that there are fewer days in which customers can contact you. This could be solved with chat-bots, AI (artificial intelligence) assistance or outsourcing. Another solution could be to have some members of staff work Monday to Thursday and others work Tuesday to Friday. Alternatively staff could chose which days they have off or simply work five days a week but with less hours.
If done correctly a four day working week can have many benefits. Companies would need to find out ways in which it could work for them and of course some industries may struggle to adopt the reduced hours. Companies would also need to ensure that they and their employees understand that the four day week does not mean squeezing in 35 hours into four days work, it means working around 28 hours per week all whilst being paid the same annual rate and continuing to reach (achievable) targets.