The four-day workweek – boon or bane?

The famous poet and storyteller Rudyard Kipling once said: “More men are killed by overwork than the importance of the world justifies.” It is far from uncommon to see employees complaining about long work hours, an absence of work-life balance, and exhaustion and health problems coming about as a result of overwork.

Two common solutions that HR professionals have had to contend with are:

• Shorter work hours

• Shorter work week

What is a shorter work week?

A shorter work week is exactly what it says: a work week with lesser work days (say four against the normal five). The idea recently gained even more visibility with a report on the Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin calling for a four-day work week or a six-hour work day. A few months earlier, Microsoft Japan gave all its employees all Fridays off in August 2019, while paying them for the full five days. The results were quite astonishing: productivity was claimed to have jumped by 40% over August 2018. Human resources believes that feelings of empowerment and trust as well as the ability to recharge are among the possible reasons.

What are the advantages of a four-day work week?

The idea is important when you consider how HR professionals are always looking for ways to improve employee engagement, productivity and work-life balance. Interestingly, according to a 2018 survey by The Workforce Institute, 45% of global workers believe five hours a day should be enough to do their jobs, with 35% agreeable to take a 20% pay cut for one less work day a week.

Besides, a large part of the work day is claimed by meetings, emails, phone calls, discussions, and other disruptions to completing the assigned work. There are of course personal distractions as well as lunch and coffee breaks to add to the unproductive time periods of the work day.

Some of the clear benefits of the same are as below:

• A boon to employees looking for flexibility due to family-related reasons

• More time for reflection and recovery as well as protecting health

• Easier to get work done across borders: the longer someone is work, the more the chance of being able to connect with a colleague sitting several time zones away

• Saving on office expenses such as electricity and printing costs

• Higher productivity: employees tended to be more focused and driven to complete the work within the given hours

• Lower turnover: shorter work weeks could boost employee retention

• Lower stress levels and higher job satisfaction

Are there downsides to a four-day work week?

If human resources wants to move to a four-day work week, there are a few downsides to consider. Some of these are explained below:

• This may work only for white-collar jobs operating on the 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday schedule. Sectors such as retail, manufacturing, and hospitals need to have people on the floor for five, six, or even all seven days of the week.

• Switching from a five- or six-day work week to a four-day work week still focuses on days and hours, and does not pay due attention to meaningful business results like productivity or customer service.

• This could mean less time to network with industry peers, possibly very useful for long-term career advancement.

• In some sectors, such as technology, longer hours – 9-to-9, six days a week – are considered essential to staying ahead of the competition.

What is the way ahead?

Given that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, the answers for HR professionals could include:

• A shorter work week with longer hours: this could include flexibility for employees to decide among themselves who will take their days off when

• The usual work week with shorter hours

• Flexibility to choose work days and work hours as long as work gets done

• A combination of the above

The important point is that leaders should be transparent about the changes being made and who will be affected, and should welcome feedback from one and all.


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