The Four Day Workweek: A Modern Solution to the Post-Pandemic Era?

By Dhvani Sanghavi, AUN Intern
4 February 2021

The typical five-day, nine to five workweek may seem like the standard of old, but its adoption was relatively recent. It only emerged in the early twentieth century and would be popularized by Henry Ford in order to raise efficiency and loyalty from the workers in his assembly line. Today, many have contemplated whether the five-day workweek is already too antiquated for the 21st century workplace. New alternatives have been suggested, one of which being the radical four-day workweek.

While the traditional workweek structure seems less complicated and suitable for a majority of the industries, the problems it bears are detrimental and can prove to be harmful for companies. Most of the employees that work five days a week complain about a lack of work-life balance as they hardly get time to meet family and friends (Abbas, 2019). The physical and mental health of employees working in private firms have often been neglected over short-term monetary gain from their labor under an assumption that longer working hours increase productivity. Such long working hours can exert intensive pressure on employees, leading to increasingly high levels of burnout and exhaustion (Thomasson, 2018). This amount of overwork can lead to demotivation, decreased productivity, and reduced work efficiency, ultimately affecting the company’s revenue. Moreover, experiments have shown that workers are most productive the first few days of the week, while their presence on Fridays only serves to log in their hours (Williams, 2016). These problems clearly show that the 5-day workweek might be outdated and counterproductive for the newer generation.

To address the issues of the five-day workweek, firms could consider cutting down their working period to four days to eliminate employee burnout, stressful mental health outcomes, low morale, and decreased productivity. Killer Visual Strategies, a communications agency, concluded that their productivity improved by 20% and employee burnout was reduced after switching to a four-day workweek (Agovino, 2020). Studies have shown that reducing the burden on workers can reduce mental health issues and physical sickness, hence increasing workplace productivity (Agovino, 2020). A compressed workweek also leads to higher productivity as employees are aware of the shorter deadlines and there are fewer interruptions from unnecessary meetings or emails. A study surveyed 3,000 employees from various countries, finding that almost half of the respondents believed that they could finish their tasks in just a few hours a day if they were not interrupted or had the motivation to do so (Thomasson, 2018). This indicates that the four-day workweek not only increases work efficiency, but also allows employees to spend more time on leisure activities, restoring their mental and physical well-being and improving the quality of their work.

While the four-day workweek is a good alternative to the traditional workweek, certain considerations should be made before its implementation or it can run into problems. For certain businesses, the risk is too expensive as employees might not have enough time to meet their deadlines, turning the ‘extra’ hours into overtime hours the company needs to pay for (Ellis-Zapier, 2018). Additionally, this alternative might not be universally applicable, as some industries need employees to be present at all times to offer customer support. Some organizations may consider other alternatives to the five-day workweek that have been tried and tested (Frost, 2020; Space, 2018):

  • The early start: working from 7 AM to 2 PM to maximize productivity and utilize the early-bird body clock.
  • Flextime: being able to choose the timing of part of your working hours along with the required ones in order to have a good work-life balance.
  • The split shift: splitting the work hours throughout the day in multiple periods to be able to have more time for one’s personal life.

All in all, the four-day workweek is one of the most popular alternatives to the traditional workweek because it offers a healthy work-life balance to employees by reducing the inefficiency and demotivation of long working hours that a 5-day workweek can pose. Of course, certain companies or organizations may have reservations about adopting this approach depending on costs or suitability to their industries, but there are still alternative options available. As the world is striving to transition to a post-pandemic era, such alternative work schedules must be taken into consideration.

References

Abbas, B. (2019, May 19). 4-day, 5-day and 6-day work week compared. Retrieved from

https://clockit.io/2019/05/19/work-week-comparison/#:~:text=One%20 of%20the%20major%20disadvantages,beyond%20the%20normal%20working%20hours

Agovino, T. (2020, June 20). The Phenomenon of the Four-Day Workweek. Retrieved from

https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/all-things-work/pages/four-day-workweek .aspx#:~:text=Killer%20Visual%20Strategies%2C%20a%20Seattle,the%20workweek %20to%20four%20days.&text=They%20come%20back%20to%20work%20more %20refreshed.%22

Ellis-Zapier, M. (2018, July 11). These are the pros and cons of a four-day workweek. Fast Fast Company. Retrieved from

https://www.fastcompany.com/90263366/4-day-work-week-advantages-and-disadvantages

Frost, N. (2020, July 13). 7 Ways to Do a Workweek. Retrieved from

https://forge.medium.com/7-ways-to-do-a-workweek-9925ebf7d050

Spacey, J. (2018, June 23). 12 Types of Work Schedule. Retrieved from

https://simplicable.com/new/work-schedule

Thomasson, E. (2018, December 17). Burnout, stress lead more companies to try a four-day work week. Reuters. Retrieved from

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-world-work-fourdayweek-idUSKBN1OG0GY

Williams, A. (2019, August 27). How three-day weekends can help save the world (and us too).

Retrieved from

https://theconversation.com/how-three-day-weekends-can-help-save-the-world-and-us- too-64503