The 4-day work week?

4 June 2020 / News | Work

The idea of a 4-day work week has been in the news again recently. As governments and businesses search for creative solutions to help save fractured economies, reducing everyone’s working week has emerged as a possible solution.

The current 5-day work week, that many of us enjoy, has been in existence in the USA since 1908. It was originally instituted by a New England cotton mill so that Jewish workers wouldn’t have to work on the Sabbath. And in 1926, Henry Ford began shutting down his automotive factories for all of Saturday and Sunday.

As a general rule, the shift to a 5-day week has been associated with increases in GDP per capita – and this, perhaps is at the root of the current proposition.

Can companies still maintain productivity even though they are reducing worker hours? There is evidence that they can. In 2019, Microsoft Japan shut its offices every Friday in August. It found that productivity increased by almost 40% compared with August the previous year.

There has also been political endorsement. In 2019 the UK’s Labour Party made the 4-day week an official party policy.

More recently, New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, raised the idea that it might help those employees in the country’s tourism sector – although she did say – “Ultimately, that really sits between employers and employees.”

There has also been speculation that Canada may go the way of a shorter week. However, when pressed on the issue by a reporter,  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said – “Right now we’re very much focused on getting through this particular crisis, and we’ll have plenty of time to talk about particularly creative ideas on moving forward, but I’m not going to speculate on what any of them might be.”

In the USA, former US presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, recently Tweeted – “3-Day weekends are better than 2-Day weekends. We should seriously look at 4-day workweeks. Studies show that we would be just as productive. It would create jobs at the margins and improve mental health.”

Proponents of the move claim that the benefits mainly lie within increased cost-cutting, productivity and work-life balance – and although the evidence has been sporadic at best until now – there are sure to be more studies.

Some other bodies seek to reduce the overall hours we work. Recently, New Economics Foundation published a report calling for a 35 hour week. It claims that “Winning shorter working hours without a loss in pay offers a way to tackle symptoms of overwork, providing people with more time to recuperate, participate in democratic process and fulfil caring responsibilities.”

Here at Freedom People, we can certainly see that, in this post-lockdown economy, this might be a road that some companies want to go down.

Freedom Manager, Alberta Mezzacapo says, that from a candidate perspective, “Many people have found a new rhythm to their life that is not necessarily dictated by trains and tube schedules and have got re-adjusted to a new lifestyle that is less stressful and more inward looking.”

She goes on to point out, “Given the opportunity, people might like to take the opportunity of a 4-day week and appreciate more time for activities we choose to do, rather than the ones we have scheduled in our diaries as “must dos.”

Let’s see what the future holds – but there will, no doubt, be plenty more discussions on the subject over the coming months.