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.
Does it work? Can people accomplish the same amount in four days as they can in five?
And if so, why isn’t everyone doing it?
Let’s look at what we know so far to see how effective the four-day workweek really is.
THE FOUR-DAY WORKWEEK IS AN IDEA AHEAD OF ITS TIME
In 1930, during the Great Depression, e conomist John Maynard Keynes predicted that we’d all have a 15-hour workweek “within 100 years.”
In his own time, Keynes saw the rise of industrialization and assumed the trend toward more efficient work methods would continue. Once a worker earned enough to pay for their necessities, he suggested, they’d opt to spend more time at home or in leisure, reducing the workweek to only two or three days.
As an attractive fantasy to beleaguered workers throughout the century, the idea never quite left the public consciousness. Even Richard Nixon, during his vice presidency in 1956, predicted that the four-day workweek was coming “in the not too distant future.”
The idea remained just an idea for close to a century, until 1998, when France enacted the first of its two “Aubry” laws that reduced the national workweek to 35 hours instead of 39, with excess hours counting as overtime. (In subsequent years, revisions have eroded much of the original laws.) Their aim was to reduce their 12% unemployment rate (at the time) through work sharing, but the success of the legislation got other countries revisiting their standard work schedules.
With the tech disruption evident in the 21st century–similar to the “conveyor belt” tech disruption of the 1920s that ushered in the five-day workweek–the idea continues to snowball. Even business mogul Richard Branson supports the shift to a shorter workweek, stating in a blog post:
By working more efficiently, there is no reason why people can’t work less hours and be equally–if not more–effective. People will need to be paid more for working less time, so they can afford more leisure time. That’s going to be a difficult balancing act to get right, but it can be done.
Different countries in Europe are already experimenting and implementing shorter workweeks in varying degrees. But the conversation got louder earlier this year, when a New Zealand firm conducted a formal experiment.
NEW ZEALAND STUDY ABOUT THE FOUR-DAY WORKWEEK
The Perpetual Guardian is an estate management firm that deals in wills, trusts, and EPAs–a fairly unassuming and conventional company, perfect for capturing a work experience close to the norm.
In March and April 2018, the firm ran an experiment that reduced their workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours, for all of its 240 employees, while still paying the same salaries. They hired a pair of researchers to record the results quantitatively, and what they found shows positive support for the four-day workweek:
24% more employees felt they could successfully balance their work and personal lives. Stress decreased by 7% among everyone involved. Overall work satisfaction increased by 5%. But above all, “their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five,” in the words of Jarrod Harr, the Auckland University of Technology human resources professor who jointly oversaw the experiment.
As reported, with the benefit of an extra free day, employees were exceptionally motivated to meet productivity requirements. This motivation inspired workers to devise better work habits and to waste less of their work time, to say nothing of the improvements in their mood. “Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks,” noted Harr.
The study seems to offer evidence for what many already predicted: Productivity isn’t influenced by just time–employee mentality also plays an influential role.