Following a recent resurgence of international discussion on the concept of the 4-day working week, could this be the next monumental development in the modern workplace?
European countries such as Spain, Germany and the UK are leading the way with their debate, and even trialling, of this radically new working pattern. The UK has recently begun a 6 month long practical trial involving around 30 companies to gather real-life evidence of the effects this new set-up could have. The recent impetus can perhaps be attributed partially to other methods of flexible working which have been forced upon us by the Covid-19 pandemic, but what would a structure like this really look like, and what could some of the consequences be?
In the handful of organisations around the world for which the 4-day week is already a reality, the norm is that employees do not work on either Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, in addition their normal weekend. They are still paid, however, 100% of their regular 5-day salary and any benefits they are awarded on top of that. Furthermore, in terms of working hours per week, there are various alternatives. Some will work a 28-hour week in a simple 7-hour (or one full-day) reduction to their working week. Others will work for 32 hours per week, involving working for one hour longer than a standard 7-hour day for each of the 4 days. And thirdly, some professionals will simply squeeze their regular 35 hours into the 4 days.
Aside from the most obvious benefit of a 3-day weekend to relax, it is also worth mentioning some of the less apparent advantages that this new structure could allow. There has been evidence to demonstrate that a 4-day arrangement boosts employee productivity to an overall higher degree than a regular 5-day week. Perhaps the reason for this is that members of staff are better rested and refreshed from their days off, allowing them to work harder during their days on. Moreover, this work-life split could be a balance that will make society happier, healthier, and more likely to do well at work. If people are essentially given more time to dedicate to their personal relationships, interests, and wellbeing (as well as everyday necessary activities) then they may bring with them a better sense of efficacity and general positivity in the workplace. Equally, it could be a very beneficial structure for parents of younger children, who will be able to spend more time with them each week, or similarly for people who take care of an elderly relative, or vulnerable person.
There is also some evidence to show that even the loss of just one working day’s commuting leads to a significant decrease in overall CO2 emissions, an occurrence we saw at an extreme level throughout the Covid-19 lockdown when people were obliged to work from home.
Following all the perceived benefits of this structure, is it really realistic? And what problems might we also encounter?
Firstly, since employees will theoretically be working harder for 4 days, and trying to squeeze in the same amount (if not more) productivity as 5 days, they may be forced to give up moments throughout their day which have been dubbed as ‘micro-breaks’. These are the small pleasures throughout the day at the office, such as coffee, tea, or cigarette breaks. One could argue that this leads to less overall social interaction within a team as these are usually the moments where co-workers exchange the odd personal remark. Instead, people will be so glued to their desks in an attempt to get everything done that it will lead to much less meaningful social professional relationships in the long-term. As well as a sense of having less time during the 4-day week inside the office, employees will also have less time outside the office, particularly if they have a long commute. Working an extra 1-2 hours per day effectively would push back any evening routine that someone has, potentially rendering them an hour less of sleep if they do not change (or want to change) their routine to suit their new hours.
Furthermore, the new structure simply would not work for all professions and/or companies, so would it therefore be fair to introduce it to anyone at all? If two people were being paid roughly the same salary for similar jobs in different companies, but one worked a 4-day week and the other for 5, it could create an unfair discrepancy and force people to make employment decisions according to the structure the company follows. The counter argument to this, on the other hand, is that different professions do not work the same hours/days at the moment anyway. For example, a doctor does not work the same hours as a publisher, and both of those people have made a choice to be in those respective positions, so what would the difference between the different week structures be?
It cannot be denied that the 4-day week is a very interesting proposal, and I’m sure it would be attractive to many employees, however there would have to be thorough evidence gathered and thorough policies in place before it could become completely convincing as a reality. For example, it cannot be fully predicted what the impact would be on the economy, and at the moment while economies around the world are still suffering from the consequences of the pandemic, that is something that we would have to be sure of. Finally, it should be remarked that if this proposal were to ever come to be reality, it would ultimately offer more freedom and flexibility to those whom it suits, whilst not disrupting the lives of those it does not.
After all, a three-day weekend does sound nice doesn’t it…
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