As a worker, you’d probably be overjoyed to move to a four-day work week. After all, it’d be like having a three-day weekend every week. Plus, as Philip Sopher recently pointed out at The Atlantic, working fewer hours per week boosts both morale and productivity among workers. So why haven’t all companies made the switch?
In part, it’s because change is hard. The seven-day week isn’t based on a natural phenomenon, like the year or the month. It does, however date back to ancient Babylon, and is 4,000 years old. By contrast, having even two days off per week is only around 100 years old, and owes its existence to the labor movement of the late 19th century.
But if we could change the structure of the work week back then, we can change it again today. There are certainly enough reasons to do so:
- Productivity: With less time to accomplish the work, workers “focus on what’s important,” according to Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp. Citing evidence from The American Journal of Epidemiology and The Harvard Review in his article in The Atlantic, Sopher says that “with the right scheduling of bursts and rests, workers could get a similar amount of work done over a shorter period of time.”
- Health: That four-day work week would help combat high blood pressure and mental health problems, according to a Daily Mail interview with John Ashton, president of the U.K. Faculty of Public Health.
- Retention: Workers love the idea of a four-day work week. Based on his implementation of a four-day work week at Slingshot, CEO Jay Love claims: “employee retention literally sours.” He further says: “Who would ever want to give up three days at home, only commuting four days a week — and the cerebral exercise of weekly research?”
- Personal and professional enrichment: Employees could use their longer weekends to read more, take a class, and expand their personal and professional potential. A four-day work week (with research and learning opportunities) could positively impact workplace performance, contributing to greater worker happiness and sense of accomplishment. It could also support career advancement.
- Fewer unemployed workers: With a four-day work week, companies could adjust schedules to cover the “normal” operating hours. That could mean even more job openings in an economic climate that is already moving in the right direction (with 142,000 jobs just added and unemployment at 6.1 percent).
If shortening the work week really translates to such significant returns on the investment in terms of output, worker retention, and the personal and professional happiness that so many Americans say they want, it’s a win-win for employees and companies. Everyone would be happier and healthier — and more productive.
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