Work-life balance has always been a struggle. But an increased concern for workers’ rights paired with the power of automation has created a shift. Certain industries don’t require as many working hours anymore, and the global trend–especially in Europe–leans toward a four-day workweek.
THE PROS OF A FOUR-DAY WORKWEEK
Better productivity. Productivity during work hours increases to compensate for the lost day. Aside from the New Zealand study, we also have evidence from another study that overall productivity peaks at 25-30 hours per week for people over the age of 40.
More efficient usage of time. Employees spend less time on inefficient tasks like meetings and are less likely to “run out the clock” with time wasters like social media or excessive breaks.
Employee satisfaction. With less stress and a greater work-life balance, happy workers reportedly engage better with their work, along with increased motivation and creativity.
Team building. The emphasis on efficiency tends to bring teams closer together, as there’s less time to waste on disputes, and the entire team’s goals are more focused.
Lower unemployment rates. Under the notion of work sharing, companies can fill open hours with new employees, employing multiple workers to fill standard one-person slots. (Of course, this doesn’t account for salaries.)
Environmental benefits. A four-day workweek critically reduces each individual employee’s carbon footprint by removing commute pollution.
Fewer overhead costs. If all your employees are out of the office one day a week, that reduces all office maintenance fees by 20%, especially electricity.
More productivity innovations. By encouraging new time-saving methods, employees are more likely to think up newer and better productivity hacks.
THE CONS OF A FOUR-DAY WORKWEEK
The risk is expensive. The most glaring drawback for employers is the costly risk that workers fail to meet their work requirements. This was most evident in Sweden’s two-year trial that reduced a 40-hour week to 30 hours while continuing a five-day structure. While the study recorded higher worker satisfaction, it ultimately became too costly to uphold.
Not all industries can participate. Some industries require a 24/7 presence or other such scheduling, making a four-day workweek impractical.
There might be un-utilized labor. A study on the Netherlands’ workweek revealed that 1.5 million people wanted to work more hours but were unable to.
Workers put in the same hours anyway. Some jobs just take time. As was the case in France, some workers are putting in the same hours anyway—the only difference is they’re paid overtime for it. While that helps the workers, paying extra overtime is just another expense for the company on top of already potentially paying for a third “day off.”
Certain industries might suffer. Industries like office real estate benefit from people being at work in a way that wouldn’t be transferred to whatever the workers do in their day off.
If the working world continues on its current track, the four-day workweek is on its way in. Of course, its power depends a lot on context. For example, the American shareholder mentality emphasizes consistent growth, which is necessarily at odds with a mentality of “sure, we can get the same work done in less time.” In the U.S., if you can do the same amount of work in less time, then the company may just want you to do more work instead.
But while we wait to see how it all pans out, it’s a good time to start experimenting. If you’re interested in a reduced-hour workweek, test it out at your company in a limited trial and see if your team can accomplish more by working less.