To preface, the idea of a shorter work week is not new; it’s something that has flitted in and out of the business world since the early 20th century (and likely earlier). Henry Ford for example was a leader in championing weekends off and fewer work hours, mostly so that people had more leisure time with which to buy and drive the cars his company made.
And it’s cropped up in other companies off and on ever since the industrial revolution, but it has yet to really take off.
Covid-19 has brought it roaring back and this time, it might be here to stay, at least for a while.
The Four Day Work Week Trials
Four Day work weeks are currently being trialed all over the world and the results that are coming out of them are often surprising to people who are die-hard 40 hour a week for life-ers. Consider:
- In 2019, Microsoft Japan ran an extremely popular 4 day workweek pilot. Productivity increased 40%, electricity costs dropped, and there was less wear and tear on their office infrastructure
- In the UK, 70 companies are taking part in the 4 Day Work Week Global initiative for the next six months. Already, they have seen an increase in productivity, a decrease in work sick days and stress, and better retention rates
- In BC, the city of Merritt is implementing a four day work week for city workers
- Kickstarter is also taking part in the 4 Day Work Week Global initiative, taking on the 100-80-100 approach that is touted by the organization: 100% of the pay for 80% of the days with 100% effort given on those 4 days.
So far, it’s too early to say anything definitive about these trials given that many of them have only barely started or haven’t started quite yet, but the results are promising coming out of the companies that have already done it.
How Would a Four Day Work Week Work?
There are two ways that four day work weeks are managed: the 100-80-100 model or the compressed week model (The compressed week model has been used in many industries for longer). The 100-80-100 model means that people only work 4 days a week at 8 hours a day, but they are paid as though they worked the old 40 hours a week and the expectations is that of course, they will give 100% of their effort in those four days. To deal with the loss of a day, many companies do things like limit meetings (or allow staff to skip them altogether), make stronger use of digital communication and technology for automation, and incorporate more time management techniques to let people get more done with less time. This is an extremely popular model because it doesn’t force people to give up 20% of their paycheck, nor does it extend the hours into concerns about paying overtime.
The other model is the compressed workweek model. In this model, you would often work 10-11 hour days (depending on how breaks are handled), four days a week. This model allows people to get more done in a day since they have longer days (and can handle more customers), but it can lead to more stress and employers worry about their overtime needs which of course costs the company more. The compressed work week has been seen in many industries that require a lot of coverage such as healthcare, forestry/mill work, and other industries, barring general shortages of course.
Both models have their drawbacks. The 100-80-100 model means that businesses are simply closed three days a week and that may not be feasible. The compressed week model can be more stressful, not to mention a legal minefield when it comes to overtime. And of course, not all industries are able to go with the four day work week model anyway: healthcare, law enforcement, and emergency services for example must be available 24/7 and are stretched to breaking point as is with limited staff.
The Broader Benefits of the Four Day Work Week
Moving out from the business in question, there are broader benefits to a four day work week. These include:
- Reduced carbon footprint. It’s estimated that a four day work week could drop carbon emissions by 20% by 2025; a not inconsiderable amount.
- A four day work week would be more accessible to women with children because daycare costs would be lower (in the 100-80-100 model) and there would be more time to errands, chores, and care taking duties, alongside leisure
- Savings in mental and physical healthcare by governments with the reduction in stress and not needing to push as badly through illness to keep working. This could save governments a lot of money and ease a bit of the strain on healthcare systems.
So Is It Likely to Happen?
Unknown at this point. For some industries, probably not (unless they get a sudden boom in employees and can maintain coverage); for others, it’s already begun and may stick around. (As a few employers pointed out, how do you take back the four day work week once your employees are accustomed to it?) It’s unknown whether this will be another blip of studies and then the whole thing will be shelved again. Much of it will likely have to do with the results of the studies, the attitude of the employees and businesses, and the attitude of the broader consumer base.
But the fact is that a massive shift in the way employment works is upon us. Covid-19 merely sped up things that have been in motion for a couple of decades now, nailing down the fact that the old way of doing things need not be the only way anymore. Much as Henry Ford revolutionized the workplace by heralding the five day, forty hour work week a century ago, we may now see a fundamental shift in the way and time work gets done.