Would the four-day working week boost 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 week’s end, found turning up for work on Monday somewhat of a struggle.

Some employers chose to close their businesses earlier on a Saturday to counteract the problem of Monday no-shows.

Full Saturdays did not form part of the weekend until the 20th Century, when it was decided that Jewish workers should be entitled to celebrate the holy Shabbat. 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Back to the present day and some people think that the five-day work week is outdated for the 21st Century.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 countries have already run trials to this effect. So what did they discover?

Microsoft‘s month-long trial in Japan, which involved longer hours over four days, 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 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 boost productivity?

With our always on culture we know that employee stress and risk of burnout is high. Could the four-day work week be the answer? We also know that happier and healthier employees are more likely to work well.

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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