Why is there a five-day workweek? Studies show higher productivity, less waste when opting for a four-day workweek.

 

The grind. The 9 to 5. Business days. The weekday. As a society, we all accept this as the norm. Because for us, it’s all we’ve ever known. 

 

Yet, one of the hottest trends in business and human resources is the idea of the four day work week, with promises of higher efficiency and productivity — and three day weekends. 

 

Have you ever wondered why there are seven days in a week, and only two are your days off? 

 

History of the 5 Day Workweek

 

As it turns out, things weren’t always this way. We’ve actually got it pretty good these days compared to our predecessors. When the Industrial Revolution became realized in 1760, people’s lives started to revolve around their labor. Only one day, the Christian Sabbath, was reserved as a day of rest and worship. 

 

Shifts as long as 12 or 14 hours, usually six days a week, were commonplace in the late 19th century. As a result, 48-hour workweeks were fairly common for factory workers. Fortunately, this trend began to see a decline in the 20th century, notably with Henry Ford realizing the excessive hours were bad for worker productivity. He was among the first to have a 40-hour workweek. 

 

The nightmare of marathon shifts began to change at the turn of the century, effectively culminating in the biggest turning point for labor: The New Deal. In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt’s policy established the 5-day, 40 hour week, as well as established a minimum wage, overtime pay and put an end to “oppressive” forms of child labor.

 

Today, American laborers average 1,790 hours a year working. Employers caution that part of the United States’ economic success is due in part to how hard Americans work. They fear a reduction in work hours will lead to a loss of competitive edge and financial woes. Or… that’s what they say because “we want people working longer for more profit” sounds unpopular. 

 

Lately, there’s been a labor movement aimed to further the progress of the so-called “Work/Life Balance.” Even though the US has no laws requiring companies to provide paid time off, it’s becoming the norm to see benefits such as 20 days or “Unlimited PTO” being provided. 

 

We’ve come a long way from 1760!

 

Introducing the Four Day Workweek

A sales clerk speaks with a customer in front of Microsoft Corp.’s display at an electronics store in Tokyo. Microsoft’s division in Japan says it saw productivity grow by 40% after allowing employees to work for four days a week rather than five. Image: NPR

 

While the five day work week has been the norm for close to a century, recent experiments have shown that a four day work week may, in fact, be a superior use of time with employees. Rather than expecting workers to consistently perform their best five days a week, some compelling arguments are being made that four is really all you need. 

 

Microsoft Japan recently conducted a month-long experiment where they reduced their workweek to four days. If you can believe it, productivity jumped up by 40%. And, because no one was there creating waste, electricity usage dropped 23%, as well as paper usage by nearly 60 percent. 

 

This might not come as a surprise to some. About 86% of nearly 3,000 full-time employees surveyed across eight countries said they lose time on work-specific tasks unrelated to their main job, according to a study by the Workforce Institute at Kronos and Future Workplace. 

 

The same report found that many employees would accept a lower salary to change to a four-day week schedule. Nearly half (45%) of full-time workers said they only need five hours a day to do their job if they can do so uninterrupted, while 72% said they’d do four days per week if their pay remained constant.

 

That’s also what Amy Balliett, CEO of a Seattle-based design and marketing firm, did with her company of 30 people. By extending the workday to 10 hours and giving her employees the option to take Monday or Friday off, she found her staff was 25% more productive. 

 

The four day work week is becoming a small, but notable, trend. Fifteen percent of organizations offer a four-day workweek of 32 hours or less, a 13% increase since 2017,  according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. On ZipRecruiter, there’s been a 67% increase in job postings that mention four-day weeks in 2019. 

 

Potential Drawbacks of the 4-Day Workweek

 

That’s not to say that a four-day workweek has advantages or will even work for everyone – ultimately, it comes to down to what kind of schedule works best for specific companies. Not every employee or business – for example, if customers expect you to be available Monday through Friday, it’s likely a non-starter. Employees might also feel so refreshed from an extra day off each week that they may also experience a decrease in productivity after a few hours of work in a single day. 

This type of policy would arguably work best if it was implemented company-wide, too. If an exempt employee had a four-day workweek while others worked a traditional Monday through Friday schedule, that person might feel pressured to take meetings or check in on their day off. It’s essential to assess whether the four-day schedule would negatively affect team communication or collaboration to make sure things run smoothly. 

 

Should You Implement a Four-Day Workweek?

 

So what’s been considered an unthinkable experiment is looking to be more and more viable. Not only is the four-day workweek a guaranteed boost to company culture and team morale, but it’s also a boon for recruitment for employers. I mean, who wouldn’t want to take an extra day off from the week permanently? 

 

Overall, it’s important to analyze your company’s needs and your employees’ preferences. If an employee requires a more flexible schedule, it would make sense to evaluate the situation and see if it would work for them in their current position. 

 

Perhaps a trial run for a month or two would help make the decision as well. It’s important to keep an open mind, as flexibility in the workplace is a benefit that many employees seek out when applying to jobs, and it may make your company more desirable in the long run. 

 

Does your company or someone you know have a four day or flexible work week? What do you like about it? Let us know in the comments! 

 

 

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