The 5-day work week has been the standard in the western world for over a century. But with the recent lockdowns due to the pandemic, the advances in technology and the changing nature of work, is it time for a permanent change?
On the plus side, fewer days at work can lead to a better work-life balance. It can also give employees more time to pursue interests outside of work, spend time with family, and take care of personal errands. On the downside, working fewer days can mean less pay and fewer opportunities for promotion. It can also lead to feelings of guilt or laziness.
There are several factors that suggest the 5-day work week is no longer the best way to work.
First, the traditional 9-5 work day is based on the industrial revolution when people worked in factories. But today, most people don’t work in factories and the 9-5 doesn’t make as much sense.
Second, the 5-day work week doesn’t allow for much flexibility. With the technology, people can often work from anywhere. And with more and more people working freelance or contract jobs, the need for a rigid work schedule is less.
Third, the 5-day work week can be quite draining. Working long hours, day after day, can lead to burnout. And with the increasing demands of work and home life, with a professional activity of both parents in a family, many people are finding it difficult to juggle everything.
Fourth, with fewer people commuting daily, the negative impact on the environment is reduced.
The four-day work week experiment is underway in the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada with 38 companies participating. They’ve reduced their work week to four days from the 1st of April for six months. This trial is set to begin soon in Spain and Scotland.
The conditions for the experiment are as follows: Salaries and volume of work remain the same as a 5-day work week. It is based on the 100:80:100 model where employees receive 100% of pay for 80% of the time, with a commitment to maintaining 100% productivity.
The trial is organized by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with the thinktank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign, and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College.
Juliet Schor, a professor of sociology at Boston College and lead researcher on the pilot, described it as a “historic trial”. “We’ll be analysing how employees respond to having an extra day off, in terms of stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use, travel and many other aspects of life,” she said.
The reduced work week is viewed as a triple-dividend policy. It hopes to address and improve the work-life balance of employees, improve companies overall and tackle the climate crisis. All data received from the trial will be analyzed in terms of these three parameters.
If this trial succeeds it will be emulated internationally. Results so far indicate increased revenue and decreased staff turnover.
Companies were already exploring this unique concept even before the pandemic. When a well-known multinational company in Japan trialled the four-day work week in 2019, including a time limit on meetings, they found that productivity was boosted by 40%.
The pandemic forced many companies to operate remotely for long periods. Workers got used to the convenience of working from home. There were no longer time-consuming commutes to work and back home. Productivity increased because water-cooler banter was reduced and travel costs were considerably reduced.
This forced a mindset paradigm shift for many businesses and employees.
In New York, only 35% of the workforce is back in the office full time. The state’s governor believes that whilst the five-day work week may over for many, people should still go into the office for three to four days a week to “spur economic recovery, creativity and social development”.
However, the mayor of New York, Eric Adams, has radically changed his initial stance and now believes that people should return to the office. He said: "One thing's for sure. You cannot remotely run a city like this. There must be in-work interaction".
70 companies in the UK are participating in the trial. They range from small businesses to large financial institutions employing hundreds of workers.
For this concept to work it has to be able to be duplicated across most business models. From the local fish ‘n chip shop to major asset management firms. Some of the participants in this trial are companies involved in education, skincare, housing, recruitment and marketing.
Researchers are closely following each of the organizations involved and measuring parameters such as company productivity, worker wellbeing, gender equality and environmental impact.
Preliminary responses from UK participants look very positive with many participants reporting improved employee morale. At the beginning of the trial, the prospect of working less but still maintaining a five-day output made participants suspicious. But many of them can see the positive outcomes of the experiment already.
So, is the 5 day work week over? It’s hard to say for sure. But it seems that the traditional work week is no longer the best fit for the way forward. Ultimately, it’s up to each individual employer and employee to decide whether the 5-day work week is right for them.
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