Four-day work weeks the way to go

One of the most famous catchphrases in cartoon history has got to be Garfield’s resigned declaration of “I hate Mondays”.

No matter who who you are or where you work, it’s a guarantee that at some point you’ve experienced the dreaded Monday Blues, that feeling of utter despair at the thought of having to face the prospect of another long week.

Even if you manage to drag yourself out of bed and into whatever constitutes your version of an office, chances are you spend a good deal of time simply counting down the hours until you can finally clock out for the weekend.

In fact, the fight for a shorter work week is almost as old as the labour movement itself. The 40-hour work week was one of the original pillars of trade unionism which grew out of the Industrial Revolution and even once it became standardised, economists kept predicting that working hours would continue to decline as productivity and efficiency improved.

The most famous prediction probably comes from economist John Maynard Keynes, who said in a 1930 essay that he expected people to be working 15-hour weeks in under 100 years.

Going by the recent Facebook poll on the GO! & Express page and group, it would seem such ideas are popular. When asked if they would work extra hours in the day in exchange for a four-day work week, all replies answered in the affirmative.

Why we haven’t managed to achieve Keynes’ utopia yet is an interesting discussion but one that would take up way more space than we have available here.

Instead, I’d like to look at some of the purported benefits of the four-day work week and how some people have tried implementing their own version.

The most immediate benefit of shorter work weeks is that of improved employee health and wellbeing.

It’s common knowledge by now that stress has a number of negative effects on health, such as hypertension, sleep deprivation and anxiety/depression.

While stress can be caused by a number of factors, over-work is one of the biggest causes in employees.

On top of that, a 2008 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found links between long work hours and poor cognitive function.

A four-day work week would provide workers with more time to recuperate, as well as exercise, spend time with families, purusue hobbies, and other things that they otherwise would not have time to do. This means that when they come back at the start of the next week, they are more refreshed and capable of performing at their best.

This brings us to the second point, that is that a four-day work week makes workers more productive.

Taken at face value, this may seem absurd. How can working less somehow lead to working more?

Best-selling author and Energy Project CEO Tony Schwatz has said the best way to work is in a rhythm rather than just going flat out.

“The reality is that if a person works continuously all through the day, she’ll produce less than a person of equal talent who works very intensely for short periods and then recovers before working intensely again,” he said in a 2011 interview.

This was further backed up by real-life experiment. In 2019, Microsoft Japan introduced a test run of a four-day week, with employees working only Mondays to Thursdays while still getting their normal five-day salary.

It was an enormous success, and executives said they saw productivity increase by about 40%.

The shorter hours encouraged better planning from all involved and forced them to work more efficiently in the shorter time they had. Not only that, but employees found the new arrangement to be far more agreeable than their previous five-day schedule.

And there you have it. Not only does a shorter work week make for happier employees, it also can make companies far more productive.

Granted, we’re probably a long way from seeing universal implementation. After all, the five-day week has centuries of institutional inertia behind it and we all know how hard it can be to change something so deeply entrenched in the public psyche.

Still, the fact that large corporations like Microsoft are willing to give it a go shows that we may be getting closer to Keynes’ dream of 15 hours sooner than we think.

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