Would a four-day working week solve our problem with productivity?

Wednesday November 27, 2019

Monday mornings. You may be ready to jump straight into the week ahead, but you’ll likely encounter at least one person who wants to know how your weekend was, or tell you about theirs. Even up until mid-week, it can still be a distraction.

Employees will swap stories about what they got up to. With the ones who had a quiet couple of days often being envied by the working parents who squeeze leisure time between kids’ parties. Or the overloaded project managers who take work home every single weekend. 

No matter how a weekend was spent, there is usually consensus on one thing. And that is that just one more day off would have made it perfect.    

So what does this tell us? Is the weekend too short? Are we working too much? Or perhaps there is something else that we aren’t getting quite right.

The history of the weekend

With Sunday long identified as a holy day of rest, the first signs of the weekend as we know it can be traced back to the 19th Century. This could also have been the birth of the Monday blues, for those that chose to spend their Sunday in a knees-up celebrating the working weeks end, found turning up for work on Monday somewhat of a struggle. Some employers chose to close their businesses earlier on a Saturday to try and cut down on Monday no shows.

Full Saturdays did not form part of the weekend until later, when it was decided that Jewish workers should be entitled to celebrate the holy Shabbat. But it wasn’t until 1948 that the working week was officially reduced to 40 hours (it was reduced again to 38 hours in 1983) and thus the 48-hour weekend as we know it was born.

The idea of the four-day working week

Back to the present day and some people think that the five-day work week is outdated for the 21st Century. Not only have there been discussions of a four-day working week for some time, but some companies have already run trials to this effect. So what did they discover?

An Australian digital marketing company took a different approach to extending the weekend. The CEO felt that giving employees Wednesday off as part of a four-day working week would be more beneficial for mental health and well-being. The trial was a success with the company reporting that profits had almost tripled and employees were healthier, happier and less likely to take sick days.

Microsoft‘s month-long trial in Japan resulted in happier employees and a 40% increase in productivity. Additionally, the company was able to save money on overheads such as electricity. Another four-day work-week trial which took place in New Zealand saw employees less stressed, more productive and able to achieve a better work-life balance.

Not all trials to cut down the work week have produced promising results however. Sweden’s two-year trial to reduce weekly working hours, albeit over a five-day week, proved to be too expensive to be deemed a success. They did however admit to seeing a boost in productivity during the trial.

Could it solve our productivity problem?

Australians are known for working longer hours than some other countries and yet we still have a problem with productivity. So could a four-day work week be the answer?

Whilst a three-day weekend has clear benefits for work-life balance, it could result in longer working days which are known to be a key cause of stress. Could it also be avoiding underlying problems with workload, time management and resilience? Perhaps there is only one way to find out.

Can a four-day working week work for your business?

Even without a nationwide trial we are certain that a four-day work week will not yet be beneficial for all companies or industries. But we do believe that, at the very least, increased flexibility can have substantial benefits for both a business and its workforce.

Finding a way to provide flexible working can reduce employee stress, improve work-life balance, increase productivity and see happier and healthier employees coming to work each day.

If you’d like to introduce flexible working to your business or want to ask more about how a four-day working week might, well, work; ask us. We’ll make sure your actions are legally compliant and put your business first. 

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