Is A Four-Day Workweek The New Normal? Here Are 13 Surprising Benefits

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It’s safe to say no one likes working on Fridays.

Sure, you may tie loose ends on a project or prepare for Monday. But it’s mostly the day people phone it in at the office, either pretending to work or socializing with coworkers at lunch or happy hour.

So, why not give everyone Friday off?

The four-day workweek is a topic that has gained steam for many workers in the labor force. More and more companies are ditching the traditional five-day workweek for a shorter schedule, giving employees an extra day to spend on their personal lives.

According to advocates, this innovative idea promotes a better work-life balance, increased productivity, and overall job satisfaction.

The world of work is constantly changing, and the four-day workweek is a response to the demands of the digital age, where constant connectivity and availability are expected in certain professions. One is “always on” in many career paths, so a rigorous schedule can be relaxed as long as tasks, projects, and goals are accomplished.

Some say the four-day workweek is the future of work. The topic was explored last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos. One nonprofit group in particular, 4 Day Week Global, is commited to researching its benefits by working with companies willing to test it out.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognizing that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working is the vehicle to give them a competitive edge,” Joe O’Connor, chief executive of 4 Day Week Global, said in a statement in June 2022.

4 Day Global recently wrapped up a six month trial in conjunction with researchers at Cambridge University and Boston College. The organization tracked 3,000 workers and managers at 70 companies for six months. Everyone in the trial worked a 4 day, 32-hour workweek.

Computer with four monitors for very important business

In a 40-page report about the findings, the organization called it “a resounding success on virtually every dimension.”

“Companies are extremely pleased with their performance, productivity and overall experience,” 4 Day Week Global notes about the trial, “with almost all of them already committing or planning to continue with the 4 day week schedule.”

So, why do we work five days a week?

The history of the five-day workweek can be traced back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as industrialization and the rise of the factory system led to a need for more standardized work schedules.

Prior to this, work schedules varied widely and were often based on the needs of individual employers or the specific tasks being performed.

Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, is often credited with playing a significant role in the adoption of the five-day workweek.

On January 5, 1914, Ford doubled the daily wage of his employees from $2.34 to $5.00 per day, increasing their spending power as consumers. After Ford made the move, nearly every factory worker in Detroit wanted to work for Ford.

In 1926, Ford implemented a five-day workweek for his employees, reducing the workweek from six days to five, and also reducing the workday from nine hours to eight.

Ford believed that by reducing the workweek, he would be able to increase productivity and reduce turnover among his workers.

Car factory assembly line

Ford’s decision to implement a five-day workweek was not only an improvement in working conditions for his employees, but it also had a significant impact on the labor force and the economy as a whole. His decision inspired other companies to adopt the five-day workweek and it became a standard in most industries.

Ford’s move was also seen as a way to increase the purchasing power of his workers, which would in turn increase the demand for goods, which would lead to more jobs and more economic growth – and perhaps an interest in buying cars to use in their time off.

In 1930, during the beginning of the Great Depression, W.K. Kellogg offered his workers 6-hour shifts instead of 8 at the same rate of pay. This allowed Kellog to employ more workers during a massive spike of community unemployment. The program was considered an “instant success”, resulting in increased productivity at his factories, as well as a decrease in accidents.

In the United States, the five-day workweek became more common during the 1930s and 1940s, as part of the New Deal and other government policies aimed at improving working conditions and promoting economic growth.

During this time, the 40-hour workweek was also established as a standard, with the eight-hour workday becoming the norm.

In the post-World War II period, the five-day workweek became even more widespread as the economy boomed and more people moved into white-collar jobs. Today, it is considered the standard workweek in most industrialized countries, including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Will a four-day workweek become widespread and normal?

It is possible that a four-day work week could become more common in the future, as some companies and organizations have experimented with and found benefits from this schedule.

The four-day workweek is often considered more realistic and achievable in white-collar jobs than blue-collar jobs for several reasons.

Empty office conference room

White-collar jobs such as those in the service or information industries tend to be more flexible, with tasks that can be accomplished remotely or with a high degree of autonomy. This makes it easier for employees to compress their work into a shorter time frame.

White-collar jobs also tend to be more knowledge-based, like engineering, research and development, and consulting, and are usually less affected by the time-sensitive nature of production and manufacturing.

That said, a deadline is a deadline.  A four-day workweek may not be suitable for all industries or roles, particularly those that require more physical labor or that have time-sensitive tasks that need to be completed within a set timeframe.

The model has also been criticized for causing an increased workload on individual workers who need to accomplish more during the working hours, along with difficulties in scheduling. Some also say it can create an internal company culture with a lack of employee availability.

Ultimately, whether or not the four-day work week becomes widespread will likely be determined by a combination of economic, social, and technological factors.

What are the benefits of a four-day workweek?

Increased productivity

With a shorter workweek, employees may be more focused and motivated to complete tasks in the time they have available, leading to increased productivity.

Better work-life balance

A four-day work week can give employees an extra day to spend with family, pursue hobbies, or simply relax and recharge, leading to improved well-being and job satisfaction.

Lower stress levels

With more time to relax and pursue non-work activities, employees may experience lower stress levels.

Increased employee retention

A four-day workweek can be an attractive benefit for employees, making a company more attractive to job candidates and helping to retain current employees.

Reduced absenteeism

With a better work-life balance, employees may take fewer sick days and be less likely to call in sick, leading to reduced absenteeism.

Cost savings for the employer

With employees working fewer days, companies may see savings on things like electricity, heating and cooling, and office supplies.

Increased employee engagement

A 4 day work week can increase employee engagement as they have more time to pursue their personal goals, hobbies and interests which can lead to more job satisfaction.

Improved mental health

With more time to relax and pursue non-work activities, employees may experience improved mental health and overall well-being.

Increased creativity

With more time to pursue non-work activities, employees may have more opportunities for inspiration and may come up with more creative solutions to problems.

Greater flexibility

A four-day workweek can provide employees with more flexibility in terms of scheduling, which can be particularly beneficial for those with children or other caregiving responsibilities.

Improved physical health

With an extra day off, employees may have more time to exercise, prepare healthy meals, and engage in other healthy activities, leading to improved physical health.

Reduced commuting

With one less day of work, employees may also have to commute one less day, which can lead to cost savings, reduced stress, and a decrease in carbon footprint.

Increased employee morale

With a better work-life balance and improved job satisfaction, employees may have a more positive attitude towards their work and their colleagues, leading to increased morale and team cohesion.

Author
B. Carlisle

Contributing editor at Wealth Gang. An entrepreneur at heart, he's passionate about meaningful ways to leverage technology and social media for business opportunities and side hustles.