Four-Day Working Week: a Future or a Failure?
OFF-TOPIC | A SHORT ARTICLE by Ewan A. Keenan |
On a regular basis in recent times, I am hearing of companies trialling and some even operating on the four-day week. It seems to be a topic on many people's minds now, not just in Britain but across the globe. Most notably in the last General Election, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party put the four-day week into its' manifesto, but should it be the State or the private sector implementing it? Could it improve the climate and mental health crisis? And can it truly benefit both employer and employee?
Many small companies are trialling the four day week and more and more are operating it. Even some large companies are trialling it now. Recently, Microsoft Japan trialled it in August, 2019, where all staff got Fridays off with no decrease in pay. The results were staggering; productivity actually went up by 40%. These results show that not only is it beneficial for the employee but for the employer too. If this is the case though, then why did Microsoft Japan resort back to the five-day week?
These results of an increase in productivity are not a one-off. I am yet to see negative results from the companies that have switched over to a four-day week. The employees know that they need to be productive to keep their side of the deal. How can the productivity go up in less hours worked though? Well, the employees have a decision to make between an extra day off where they are as productive as possible for four days, or five days in the office where they do all the less productive things (chatting, Facebook scrolling, helping others with unnecessary tasks etc). The vast majority of people see an extra day off to be more valuable than extra time scrolling on social media in the office.
Researchers at University of Auckland conducted a study from a company operating on a four-day week in New Zealand. They found stress levels decreased, work-life balance improved and even the team engagement levels increased.
It sounds great but could this really work in all industries? Surely many within the Public Sector would struggle operating on four-day weeks such as hospitals, prisons and schools. I think this is the biggest and most valid counter argument to the four-day week. It is also not seen as a priority to many low-income earners, many say they want to work more so they have more. The risk can be seen as too big to many.
Although I support the four-day week, I believe Labour were wrong putting it into their manifesto. I do not think it should be legislated from the State to begin with. This should only be the case in planned economies such as China, Russia etc. We have to promote the four-day week to business owners by showing the evidence of productivity in companies that have tested it and show how it is beneficial to their business. The tricky thing is finding a way for it to work in all sectors and not just within a few. Many workers' rights were of course legislated by the State but it was actually individual businesses such as Cadbury's which introduced better working conditions before workers' rights became legislated by law.
Picture a society where people are working less and producing more. What is wrong with people having more time to exercise, to spend time with family, to be part of a community? Very few would disagree with that argument. Reducing stress levels and having more free time to keep fit and being with family would be a key solution in tackling the current mental health crisis. Not only could it help tackle some mental health issues but it would also help reduce carbon emissions due to less vehicles on the road and decreasing congestion.
Thankfully this debate will continue to go on, especially with the rising number of companies proving it to be a success. Nevertheless, the main aim is to find ways of making it work within all industries and promoting to directors that the productivity and general well-being of employees improves at no extra cost to the business. To me, it is important that this is done before State legislation. Workers' hours and workers' rights have always improved throughout history and with the increasing improvement of new technology and machinery there is no reason for that pattern not to continue. Only less than a decade ago it would take up to half a day just for a laptop to turn on (over exaggeration but you get the point)... Seriously though, I can see a four-day working week being the norm within my lifetime.
I look forward to hearing your views and whether you disagree or agree with what I have to say in this short article.
If you have any topics you would like me to discuss for the next article, please do get in touch.