Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines and is the author of two published titles on Amazon.
The four-day workweek is not exactly a new concept. Forward-thinking companies have been proactive and established shortened workweeks long before the work conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to rethink work. And in a broader view, governments in the 2010s have initiated their own short workweek schemes—most notably countries in Europe such as the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and also New Zealand.
As early as 1956, Richard Nixon foresaw that the workweek in the modern era would become shorter—even to an extreme low of 15 hours per week, as a consequence of further automation and innovation. However, today’s workweek generally abides by the post-industrial age norm of five days (or 40–48 hours). Furthermore, recent labor data and surveys show that people have been working more and more, especially for workers in the United States.
Why are some companies still resistant to the four-day workweek, when several studies point to the conclusion that shorter work hours point to increased productivity and higher overall worker satisfaction?
Granted, not all industries can find themselves pivoting to a shortened workweek (especially those operating 24/7) without experiencing adverse consequences in staffing, timely delivery, and other adjustment pains. That said, many good things happen when a company adopts shortened hours, and here are 14 reasons why the four-day workweek is a good idea.
1. You Will Attract More Employees
Because the four-day workweek is still not mainstream, companies, especially those in the United States and for most of Asia, will attract more employees. Being an uncommon work condition, instituting shortened hours can be leveraged when recruiting employees. My guess is that not even 1 in 100 available jobs in any online job board will offer a four-day workweek.
2. Time Spent on Meetings Will Be Optimized
Ever wondered what would happen to your work calendar if suddenly the days you could schedule meetings shrunk by one day? More meaningful and impactful meetings would be scheduled in place of 1-on-1s or catchups that don’t need to happen or were just there as placeholders. There would be more sensitivity to scheduling meetings, and the content of the meetings themselves would be tailored as to not waste anyone’s precious time.
3. You Will Avert Burnout
Burnout is commonly associated with long work hours and the lack of time-off or inability to disconnect from work. During the pandemic, more companies realized that workers were overworked due to being "connected" all the time. Multiple workplace surveys show that employee well-being improved as soon as the organization started implementing a four-day workweek.
4. Promote a Healthier Workplace and Healthier Workers
It’s one thing to develop and implement “wellness” programs in an organization where some blocks of time will be dedicated to letting employees attend yoga sessions in the office or for doing events that promote employee health. And it’s another to just give employees more time off, so they can decide what to do with that free time—perhaps start a gym routine or hike every once a week.
The latter seems like the more sensible choice, as the company doesn’t even have to spend a dime hiring experts or yoga teachers, not to mention taking time away from employees who will be organizing the wellness events. By giving workers that extra day off, employers might just eliminate the need to spend money for health and wellness and may have employees who are well-rested.
5. Improve Worker Retention
Corollary with the ability to have a selling point when recruiting employees, establishing a four-day workweek (especially when done permanently) will very likely give people more reason to stay. And what would make them leave?
Probably another company that also offers a shortened workweek, likely at higher pay. While the things that make employees stay go way beyond what the standard work hours are, there’s enough data supporting the claim that worker tenure is higher for workplaces that do a four-day workweek.
6. More Inclusive Work Schedules and Working Hours
This is probably not the first thing companies think about when deciding whether to implement a shortened workweek or not, but it is perhaps one of the most important reasons to do so. A workplace that promotes equality and inclusiveness among different classes of workers (working moms, ex-retirees, part-time students, etc.) is one that’s able to accommodate the personal needs of these people.
The pandemic certainly helped some single mothers who suddenly were able to attend to child care because they could work more flexibly at home. Furthermore, shortened work weeks attract people like the latter, who normally could only sustain part-time jobs.
7. More Engaged Workers
Worker engagement is crucial to worker productivity because when you have disengaged or disinterested workers, you’ll likely have the kind who find it easy to leave for another job while doing the bare minimum before they head out.
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Disengagement or disassociation with one’s job is also somehow connected to burnout, as workers who are burned out have a hard time even accomplishing basic tasks. When you have workers who have enough time off, you are likely to see ones who can devote more energy and attention while they are at work.
8. Save on Company Resources
This is the most logical or obvious outcome when a company suddenly shortens its standard workweek. Expenditure on utilities will immediately drop (not so with rent, if it’s a fixed monthly expense) and not to mention expense on licensed proprietary software.
Some subscriptions to proprietary software, tools, services, and infrastructure are paid in a pay-as-you-go setup where the more usage or hours spent on the service, the higher the cost. Removing one workday from the week will likely hurt your business partners, as they’ll lose at least 52 days in a year where they could have earned revenue on the usage. But if your organization is looking for a way to reduce operational costs, shortening the workweek makes logical sense.
9. Smaller Carbon Footprint
If your organization uses less electricity, water, and other resources—it follows that your organization will leave a smaller carbon footprint, a lighter dent on the climate crisis. If your company happens to be moving towards the direction of being proactive about sustainability and conservation, then shortening the workweek is another way to support that initiative.
10. Clearer Consensus on "Time Off"
In some companies, it becomes a silent rule to not schedule any meetings on a Friday. In others, some meetings are still scheduled, but the afternoon's usually a wind-down period where you can't expect anyone to respond to your email. But how about a fixed, institutionalized consensus that Fridays are now part of the weekend, wherein nobody is expected to work?
With either the first or last days of the workweek blocked off as an extra day off, workers need not tiptoe around their job anymore, and whatever work is done on that day would be considered "overtime" or going above and beyond. A clear, official consensus on not working a particular day is better than just an "accepted norm" or a silent rule.
11. No Wasted Time Creating and Doing Work With Less Value
Ever felt like your company could have saved time, energy, and money had it not created nor done work that didn’t have much return in value? Some employees think that culture-building activities that use up company time are simply useless, and they do nothing except give the person in charge of “culture-building” something to prove that the money spent on his or her salary is at least producing something.
Like scheduling only impactful meetings that drive a deliverable, by shortening the workweek the organization saves time spent on doing needless work. No more of those “bullshit jobs” that have to be done, and less work for people “in charge of culture.”
12. Increased Productivity
Several surveys and studies point to the same conclusion that with one less day worked, more productivity ensued for the organization. It’s counterintuitive, but perhaps it’s Parkinson’s law in full effect—“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Instinctively, you’d think that applying Parkinson’s law would mean that the same productivity levels would be achieved. However, a shortened workweek results in workers who have more energy, are healthier, and have better well-being. And this is perhaps why people are more productive in a shorter workweek—they’re able to do their jobs better.
13. Giving Employees More Time for Training and Upskilling
I observed during the pandemic that, because work had to be taken home for almost all teams, there was just too much time to spend at home while inside working hours. And what happened was that during idle time, some leaders would assign their team members online courses to take so as not to “waste company time.”
I’m sure this happened in other organizations, too, and assigning seminars or trainings to employees continues to happen whether the worker is assigned onsite or working remotely. Why not, instead of using up company time doing the courses, let the worker do the training and upskilling “off work”?
Of course, if it’s a course that has to do specifically with one’s job, it would be bad practice to let someone do it on unpaid time. But if it’s something that ultimately benefits the worker, then maybe having an extra day off would encourage the worker to establish a habit of “learn-something-new-Fridays” or something like that.
14. Promote Consumer Spending, Stimulate the Economy
And probably the last thing a company thinks about when it’s still deciding on shortening the workweek—the positive effect it would have on the economy. Unless your company’s business model is tied to a paradox, wherein the worse the economy does, the better the company does—then your company would have every incentive for the economy to do well.
Consumer spending stimulates the economy, and more time off for employees means more of it. Perhaps this was one of the main motivations why some European governments decided favorably on institutionalizing a four-day workweek. Giving people more time to spend their money as opposed to just keeping it in the bank or only spending on daily transportation and ordinary expenses bodes well for the economy.
Embrace the Times
Is it time to take the four-day workweek mainstream? If you happen to be high up in the organization to suggest a shortened workweek, I hope you were able to see its clear benefits. Inertia from company leaders—especially the most dedicated ones who can’t get their minds off work—is to be expected.
There will be some resistance from the top, but those at the bottom will very likely favor a shortened workweek. It is perhaps a good time to rethink work and abandon the problematic 9-5, five-days-a-week model. And most especially reject something as counterproductive as the 9-9-6 model we see in the tech industry in China. At the end of the day, a workplace’s employees are human beings, and we weren’t made to work so many hours.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2022 Greg de la Cruz