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How does a four-day week really work?

July 03, 2018

The idea of flexibility in work hours is nothing new, but the practice of the 4 day week is a concept that is catching on. The 4-day week, where employees work 4 10-hour-days, allows an organisation to close the office for one extra day a week. This in turn creates greater work/life balance for employees and allows them to dedicate the extra week day to attending to their personal interests. Another form of the 4-day work week, piloted at Amazon, is about paying teams 75% of a full-time salary and having them work 30 or 32 hours a week over four days. This experiment has entire teams and managers working on reduced hours, as opposed to just individual employees. 

While different versions of this form of flexibility have been tried in various places, the results and benefits seem to be varied.  It is also not as straightforward as it sounds and there can be legal ramifications if it is gone about the wrong way. There is a general consensus however, that finding ways to work smarter, (not harder) is good for employees, organisations and society.  Luxembourg, which is the most productive country in the world,  has employees working on average 29 hours per week.  

What to watch out for 

There are an increasing number of cases coming before the courts where overwork and work pressure are cited as stressors resulting in adverse health impacts for employees. The latest Wellness in the Workplace survey found that absenteeism for work-related stress is on the rise, accounting for almost 200,000 lost working days in 2016. Providing 4 day work week options you could argue is one way of reducing the instances of overwork and in some examples, the results show that per-hour productivity goes up. However, asking people to put in longer work days can also have an adverse affect on health and wellbeing, even if it means shorter work weeks.  Most people are at their optimal for only a few hours a day, so working longer hours in any one day may also be counterproductive. 

Potential benefits 

On the upside, anything that reduces travel and commuting time has to be good for the environment.  There is also the benefit of not having to pay for an extra day's childcare for those with caring responsibilities. Extra family time increases job and life satisfaction, and also allows you to focus more on doing the things that you love and investing in your families wellbeing.  

Benefits to the Economy 

Studies cited in the New Zealand Herald show that the economy experiences massive productivity loss, in the order of $1.3 billion, when workers are stressed and ill and thus taking sick days frequently. A better work-life balance in the form of a 4-day week could mean that, overall, more work gets done and less time is spent in hospital or out of work on disability. Most of us are looking at ways to improve productivity and if that means healthier, happier employees then it is worth giving it a go!