Good news for everyone interested in spending less time working: The largest four-day-workweek study to date suggests that employees who work a shorter week are just as if not more productive than their five-day-a-week counterparts. The U.K. trial also found that four-day-week workers are more energized during their workdays, having used their extra day off to pursue hobbies and exercise and spend time with their families.
The trial, which involves over 3,300 workers at 70 companies that spanned from fish-and-chip shops to financial firms, is far from the first to consider whether we’d all be better off working four days a week. Studies have long found that people who work fewer hours for a decent income tend to be happier and more productive. A 2019 study conducted on Microsoft workers in Japan yielded other benefits: Employers saved on electricity, because the workplace was closed an extra day. Conscious of balancing newly trimmed schedules, managers also saved time by cutting down the amount of time employees spent in meetings — which, as we all know, do not need to be that long.
Talk around the four-day workweek got more serious in 2020, when world leaders started pushing to ease up pandemic lockdowns in their countries. Since then, four-day-workweek trials have been rolled out in Iceland, New Zealand, and Scotland, all with promising results. While it would be nice if the improved well-being of their workers were enough, the thing that’s swaying most executives is the fact that many employees often became more productive thanks to their weekly PTO. As it becomes more and more clear that workers don’t need the traditional confines of an office to be productive — in fact, they might actually flourish without them — a shorter workweek is looking like an even more attractive and sensible option.
But the best reasons to implement the four-day week were clear before the pandemic and have only grown more urgent over the past few years. It’s more apparent than ever that our relationship with our jobs is broken. Data reviewed by 24/7 Wall St. indicates that the average American full-time employee works 41.5 hours a week, while about 11 percent of full-time employees work more than 50 hours per week. That’s a lot of waking hours spent at work, and these numbers don’t take into account the growing faction of misclassified and gig-economy workers, many with multiple jobs and even longer hours. The anti-ambition wave of the past few years suggests many people are so sick of overworking, it’s easier to opt out entirely than try to maintain some kind of balance. A significant chunk of the workforce has left their jobs entirely, creating even longer hours and more pressure for those who still need a salary — who, as the proliferation of “quiet quitting” content on TikTok makes clear, are desperate for boundaries between work and the rest of their lives.
Shifting to a four-day workweek necessitates a radical and more egalitarian adjustment in our understanding of work itself not as drudgery, status, or backbreaking labor but as a contribution you make, after which you get to take a nap and lead the rest of your life. Luckily, it seems like more and more employees are starting to push for that shift. Hopefully, management will finally listen.