The work week of the future might be shorter.

You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about four-day work weeks this year. As more countries try it out, and researchers hail the benefits, the concept of a permanent three-day weekend has been at the forefront of many of our imaginations.  

In this issue of the Pulse, we take a look at this trend, and why some are calling for it to become a permanent solution.  

Some countries are headed towards a four-day work week.  

Workers across the globe have been asking to work a four-day work week for the same salary and benefits, while completing the same workload. Many have suggested this is the future of the work-life balance, productivity, and employee satisfaction.  

In 2022, the four-day work week is making waves in the following countries: 

  • Belgium, where workers won the right to a four-day week in March. Employees will be able to decide whether to work four or five days a week, with the same workload.  
  • The United Kingdom is launching a pilot program, involving 60 companies and approximately 3,000 employees, to test the “impact of shorter working hours on businesses’ productivity and the well-being of their workers” among other things.  
  • Scotland and Spain will also be launching a similar trials in the future. 
  • In Iceland, nearly 90% of the working population now having reduced hours or other accommodations.  
  • In Japan, Microsoft found that giving employees a three-day weekend for a month boosted productivity by 40%.  
  • Germans already work a shorter work week than the traditional 40 hours – on average 34.2 hours a week – but 71% of people working in Germany would like to have the option to only work four days a week. 

What about North America? 

While the gears are not in motion as much as they are elsewhere, North Americans are showing strong interest in a reduced work week.  

One study by Qualtrics found that 92% of U.S. workers support a reduced work week, even if it means working longer hours. Likewise, “three of four employees (74 per cent) say they would be able to complete the same amount of work in four days, but most (72 per cent) say they would have to work longer hours on workdays to do so.” 

Canada is feeling much the same. According to Maru Public Opinion, 79% of full-time workers are willing to shorten their weeks.  Indeed also found that 41% of Canadian employers were also considering alternative schedules.  

Does the world need shorter work weeks?  

You may be thinking, of course it would be nice to work a shorter week, but is it realistic? According to many, a reduced week may become a pressing need.  

Economists David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot have argued that a reduction in working hours will naturally correlate with a much needed reduction in energy consumption. According to them, “if Americans simply followed European levels of working hours, for example, they would see an estimated 20% reduction in energy use – and hence in carbon emissions.” 

A four-day work week reduces: 

  • Commuting related consumption and emissions. 
  • Use of air conditioning and heating. 
  • Use of office lighting. 
  • Time spent running computers and other devices that generate a lot of heat. 

In 2007, Utah “redefined the working week for state employees, with extended hours on Monday to Thursday meaning it could eliminate Fridays entirely. In its first ten months, the move saved the state at least US$1.8m.” 

This is all without even reducing the total number of hours worked from 40.  

Longer weekends are better for workers’ health.  

A permanent three-day weekend has been linked to better mental and physical health. An experiment in Sweden from 2015 found the shortened work week reduced sickness and increased productivity.  

In comparison, long working hours with less down time has been connected to an increased risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and developing type 2 diabetes. 

Experts believe automation will make the four-day week necessary.  

Automation may leave us with no other choice but a reduced work week.  

As automation increases, and our daily processes become quicker and more seamless, many workers will find themselves filling redundant hours. Anthropologist David Graeber says this has left, and will leave, many employees underutilized in their workplaces – yet stuck with the traditional 40-hour work week due “to the persistent issue of ‘presenteeism’ – where workers are valued… for hours logged in the office rather than productivity.” 

However, increasingly there is predicted to be less working hours to go around, due to machine learning and advanced robotics. A reduced work week may be the only option.  

In conclusion… 

Across the world, workers, employers, and governments are considering the merits of a four-day work week. The results could be beneficial for workers’ health, the environment, business’ operational spend, and adjusting to increasing automation. While nothing is set in stone, it looks like the work week of the future may be shorter.