The concept of a short workweek is not a new one. In the 1900s, unions advocated reducing the number of working days from six to five, which birthed the idea of “weekends.” The turn of the 20th century saw weekly work hours reduced from 60 to 40 per week. Economists in the last century, including John Maynard Keynes, predict that weekly work hours will compress even more and that a 15-hour workweek could happen in a few generations.
Now that a 40-hour, five-day workweek is the societal norm, there are concerted efforts worldwide to reduce it even more to a four-day workweek. Such movements are inspired by the belief that working fewer days can improve workplace culture, boost efficiency and promote work-life balance.
A shorter workweek is more appealing because many companies worldwide already implement it. Moreover, they can attest that shifting to a four-day workweek improved their workplace culture and individual and collective productivity.
A shorter workweek often means working less than eight hours a day or condensing the standard 40-hour workweek into a four-day workweek. Employers can be encouraged to change business policies to improve their working conditions, but they’re unlikely to pay employees the same salaries for working fewer hours or days. Hence, most companies interpret reduced workweeks as working nine to 10 hours daily, four days a week.
Here are some of the potential benefits of a shorter workweek for employees:
People tend to feel more productive and efficient when they are happy, healthy, well-rested and motivated. Shorter workweeks make that happen and can, therefore, improve workplace performance.
To give you a better understanding of the real-life impact of a reduced workweek, here are examples of its successful trial runs:
From 2015 to 2019, Iceland conducted a wide-scale trial period of reducing weekly work hours from 40 to 36/35 hours without reducing employees’ salaries. Note that the goal of the trial was to reduce employees’ work hours, not reduce the number of days from five to four.
The UK think-tank, Autonomy and the Icelandic Association for Sustainable Democracy analyzed data from the trial. They later concluded it was a huge success, reporting the following outcomes:
These findings showed that even just reducing the time people spend in the office can improve workplace performance and improve their quality of life. Thanks to this trial, 86% of wage laborers in Iceland could negotiate a permanent reduction of their weekly work hours.
In 2022, the United Kingdom launched its large-scale trial with over 80 participating companies and organizations. This trial reduced work hours and days, with most companies implementing a four-day workweek with employees working for 32 hours or less weekly. The results were mostly positive on both employers’ and employees’ sides. Employees paid less for commute and childcare expenses. They were less stressed and became more productive at work. Their quality of work also improved, and customer satisfaction increased as a result.
The participants were so happy with the improvements they experienced from the trial that about 35 companies decided to make the reduced workweek permanent (according to the report, 86% of the 41 companies polled during the study said they would continue the four-day workweek guidelines after the trial).
Despite the proven benefits of a shorter workweek, many still wonder if it benefits everyone. It is a valid question. After all, businesses and industries work differently. While many companies in the Iceland and UK trials benefitted from the program, it doesn’t mean all companies will.
For example, four-day workweeks can be an enormous burden for US industries with shift workers like healthcare, business process outsourcing, food service, and hospitality. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t require companies to offer night pay differential. However, depriving workers of this benefit can cause widespread dissatisfaction. The companies will be forced to pay higher salaries to graveyard-shift workers because of their extended work hours.
Clearly, there are factors to consider before you can say that the benefits of reducing work days will exceed its disadvantages. The conditions are unique to every industry or business, so you need to assess if this solution will work for you.
If you want to find out if a reduced workweek will help improve workplace culture, increase productivity, promote work-life balance, and help your organization achieve workplace goals, HPWP Group can help. We are a business consulting company offering comprehensive leadership development training, coaching and consulting services to improve employee retention and organizational effectiveness.
Let’s examine the benefits of a shortened work week for your organization. Contact us today.