NEW NORMAL - Could The Four-Day Workweek Become The New Global Standard?
Posted 6th October 2022 • Written by Jack Kelly on forbes.com • • • • •
The four-day workweek is becoming a reality for many, as it continues to gain global adoption. In early June, over 70 companies in the United Kingdom embarked upon a six-month pilot program, and the results are already looking positive.
Midway through the trial run, 4 Day Week Global, the nonprofit spearheading the U.K.’s abbreviated workweek initiative, is reporting that productivity has been maintained or improved at the majority of participating firms (95%), and most will continue with the program once the official trial ends (86%). The data was collected in a survey where 41 out of the 73 participating companies responded.
Joe O’Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, said about the U.K. trial in an email, “The midpoint figures today, which took the temperature of leadership sentiment at businesses participating in our U.K. pilot, back up the anecdotal feedback we've been getting from companies across all of our global trials—that this has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for the vast majority.”
O’Connor added, “The pioneers who have taken the leap to participate in this trial are challenging deeply embedded cultural and societal norms about how we think about the workweek, and indeed work itself.”
An array of other countries and global companies have already launched their own four-day workweeks to great success.
How People Used To Work
People have been herded into crowded buses and trains for decades, commuting over two hours a day to get to and from the office. Once there, you’re stuck in a skyscraper building with hermetically sealed windows, staring at a computer screen for over eight hours under harsh fluorescent lights. Your micromanaging boss is constantly looking over your shoulder to ensure that you're working. It's all about face time and not productivity. To feel important, bosses schedule lots of meetings. There’s a meeting to discuss the upcoming meeting, the meeting itself and then the after-meeting debriefing meeting. This old-school style of working is punitive and exhausting.
A two-day weekend is insufficient to recharge after a long and tedious workweek. One day consists of running errands, shopping for groceries, laundry, tending to your children, working around the house or yard and attending social gatherings. Then, you’re probably checking Slack and emails, doing catch-up work on Sunday night. Monday morning rolls around and you’re still exhausted.
The Global Initiative
4 Day Week Global, founded by Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart, launched a grassroots organization championing the four-day workweek, “a new way of working [that] will improve business productivity, worker health outcomes, stronger families and communities, challenge the gender equality issue and work toward a more sustainable work environment.”
Barnes implemented this work model at his New Zealand-based company, Perpetual Guardian, and saw that it was very successful. Productivity increased, while employee stress declined. O'Connor has taken the baton from Barnes and Lockhart, as he continues their mission of helping global companies transition to reduced working hours. “The four-day week is not just the future of work; it is the here and now for a growing number of innovative businesses,” said the CEO.
In January, Scotland launched a trial four-day workweek. The decision culminated in a campaign promise made by the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP). Workers had their hours reduced by 20%, but did not suffer any loss in compensation. The SNP funded the program with $13.8 million. Advice Direct, a Scottish organization that participated in the trial, reported that it saw "enhanced" employee well-being, which positively impacted its bottom line.
Spain had announced that it would run a trial four-day workweek. The Spanish government agreed to a 32-hour workweek over three years without cutting workers’ compensation. The pilot program, similar to Scotland, intends to reduce employers’ risk by having the government make up the difference in salary when workers switch to a four-day schedule. It was reported that the trial would launch in September.
Japan is following Spain’s lead. The country is considering implementing a four-day workweek. The government of Japan is leading the charge. It's somewhat surprising given Japan’s hustle-porn work culture, which is as bad or worse than America’s propensity to work incredibly long hours with little or no vacation time. The strenuously long hours that salarymen put in have led to death by overwork. It's so commonplace that Japan has a term for it—“karōshi.”
Microsoft Japan previously tried a shorter workweek program called “Work-Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer.” The company gave its 2,300 employees the opportunity to “choose a variety of flexible work styles, according to the circumstances of work and life.” The goal of management was to see if there would be a corresponding increase in productivity and morale when hours were cut down. The experiment results were extremely positive, indicating that workers were both happier and 40% more productive.
Scotland pointed to Iceland and its strong results as a big reason for taking a chance with the four-day workweek. A recent study of 2,500 workers in Iceland, more than 1% of the workforce, was conducted to see if shortened work days lead to more productivity and a happier workforce. The trials were made across an array of different types of workplaces.
Between 2015 and 2019, Iceland conducted test cases of 35 to 36-hour workweeks, without any calls for a commensurate cut in pay. To ensure quality control, the results were analyzed by Autonomy and the Association for Sustainability and Democracy. Based on the stellar results, Icelandic trade unions negotiated for a reduction in working hours. The study also led to a significant change in Iceland, as nearly 90% of the working population now have reduced hours or other accommodations. Worker stress and burnout lessened. There was an improvement in work-life balance.
The United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates started 2022 as the first nation in the world to adopt a four-and-a-half-day workweek. “All federal government entities in the country will operate four-and-a-half days per week, with the weekend starting midday Friday and lasting through Sunday.” The work hours are 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, and 7:30 a.m. to noon on Friday.
The California Bill
Democratic Congressman Mark Takano introduced a California bill that would reduce the standard workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours. Takano said in a press release, “A shorter workweek would benefit both employers and employees alike.” He added, “Pilot programs run by governments and businesses across the globe have shown promising results, as productivity climbed and workers reported better work-life balance, less need to take sick days, heightened morale and lower childcare expenses because they had more time with their family and children.”
The congressman said, “Shorter workweeks have also been shown to further reduce healthcare premiums for employers, lower operational costs for businesses and have a positive environmental impact in some of these studies.” Takano asserted that workers would benefit from this change, as his bill would allow nonexempt employees to receive overtime compensation for any hours worked over 32 hours.
However, Takano’s proposed legislation was shelved in May by the California State Assembly’s Labor and Employment Committee.
Workers in Belgium could be entitled to a four-day workweek. The reform package agreed by the country's multi-party coalition government gives workers the right to turn off work devices and ignore work-related messages after hours without fear of reprisal.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told a press conference announcing the reform package, "We have experienced two difficult years. With this agreement, we set a beacon for an economy that is more innovative, sustainable and digital. The aim is to be able to make people and businesses stronger." Belgian labor minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne said that the decision resides with the worker, “This has to be done at the request of the employee, with the employer giving solid reasons for any refusal."
The abbreviated workweek is somewhat different from what other countries and companies have enacted. The governments and businesses stripped away one day of the workweek without making people put in more hours during the other four days.
Belgium’s program would condense the current five-day week into four days. This could mean maintaining a 10-hour work day to make up for the day off.
The bill still has yet to be passed in the federal parliament.
Why A Four-Day Workweek Is Better For People
An abbreviated workweek means more time for your family and to improve your mental and physical health. An extra day for "life" means you’re more likely to rest, exercise, schedule doctor visits, enjoy the outdoors, start a family, play with your kids and care for your elders—without sacrificing your pay or career. Leaders who move their workplace to a shorter workweek see these effects in real-time. Employees are more engaged, take fewer sick days and experience less burnout. In a 2021 Harvard Business Review global survey, 89% of respondents said that "work-life was getting worse"; 85% reported lower levels of well-being and 62% said they had experienced burnout during the pandemic.
How It's Better For Business
Thousands of companies are currently piloting a reduced-hour workweek—or have permanently adopted it—benefiting people from auto workers and servers to engineers and lawyers. Employers report increased productivity, stronger talent attraction and retention and sometimes even lower overhead. A shorter workweek also gives employees time to develop new skills they can apply at work.
The Reasons Why It's Better For Society
A society with less time “on the clock” means more time in their communities. People with four-day workweeks can spend their time volunteering with their faith-based organizations, chipping in at food banks, helping their neighbors, buying from small businesses and engaging in local issues. Four-day workweeks also create a more equitable workplace. Caretakers, especially working mothers, benefit from a reduced-hour schedule without having to sacrifice their careers.
How It Helps The Environment
Shortening the workweek can reduce commutes and shrink your global carbon footprint. According to a U.K. study, conducted by Platform London, implementing a four-day workweek by 2025 would reduce Britain's carbon emissions by more than 20%—127 million metric tons. That would be equivalent to eliminating the nation’s entire fleet of private cars from off the roads.
Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College, said, “The one thing we do know from lots of years of data and various papers and so forth is that the countries with short hours of work tend to be the ones with low emissions, and work time reductions tend to be associated with emission reduction.”
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