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Is 4 better than 5?
Pros and Cons of a 4-day Workweek

Many of us wish that workweek lasted not 5 but 4 days. Some say that they could easily handle a 10-hour workday, considering that they frequently work extra hours anyway. Amazon, Deloitte, Google experiment with work/time off ratio and the results happen to be promising.

  • Time and again we hear that working 40 hours a week is too much. Proponents of a 4-day workweek argue that 30- or 32-hour week leads to productivity rise and brings job satisfaction, without harming overall work results. Generally, employees start working more efficiently, allocating their time thoughtfully instead of spending longer office hours without much to do.
  • Shorter working hours really mean less work-related stress. Which leads to obvious health benefits: helps to reduce pressure on cardiovascular and nervous system, decreases the risk of excessive drinking and depressions, etc.
  • A 4-day workweek is super convenient for those, who have to look after small children or the elderly – that is many of us. Besides, more time off improves family lives, as it allows bread-winners to be with their loved ones and encourages them to get involved into daily routines and household chores, thus contributing to gender equality.
  • Compressed work schedules allow employees to reduce total weekly commuting time. Ecologists argue for a lesser carbon footprint by means of reducing consumption of electricity and gas. Pacing down business hours will most certainly support more sustainable lifestyles.
  • Surprisingly, shorter working week may be instrumental in improving social and economic equality. In particular, it would improve unemployment rates, as most working hours are not spread equally. While some have to work overtime others are struggling to find work. Potentially, a 4-day workweek will aid in redistribution of paid time across the population, if handled properly.
  • A reduced week may be the key towards building a stronger, more competitive economy. As shown by such European countries as Germany and the Netherlands, where workweeks are shorter than in Great Britain and the US.

Yet there is a number of things that gets us thinking if such novelty should be treated as a positively.

  • First of all, to have most of the above benefits a four-day workweek should really mean less work time tracked. Amazon, for instance, has tried a 30 hours workweek for selected employees offering a 25% reduction of their normal salary. However, for many companies this remains a pie in the sky. There is an objective necessity to stick to a work plan that implies a certain number of hours per week (and often overtime). A 4-day week cut inevitably creates schedule gaps and a flow of missed deadlines, causing extra expenses on outsourcing or hiring extra staff.
  • Otherwise, employers will have to get by with existing resources and extend working hours. That will take its toll on productivity, especially towards the end of a 10-hour workday. In addition, it will have most certain negative effects on employees’ health, not to mention reduced focus and possible attention failures - disastrous for production quality and personal safety (e.g. hazardous processes at industrial facilities).
  • The availability of staff that is present in the office 4 days a week instead of traditional 5 may be limited. Whereas clients will still call and write on Fridays, expecting to get responds. Such thing happened in the USA, when Utah introduced (in 2008) 4-day workweeks for state employees and then returned to the standard 5-day week only three years later since residents complained about not having access to services of Fridays.
  • Those prone to work overtime will definitely suffer from a shorter week, more than anyone else. They may end up stretching their hours from 10 to 12 a day. This is a great concern in the US, for example, as nearly half of the employees on average clock more than 50 working hours a week. Why? Mainly because regular 5-day week is not long enough to complete what they need to do.

To conclude, we must admit there is no silver bullet up one’s sleeve. Without doubt there are clear benefits of longer weekends for environment, families and society in general; yet complications of workflow scheduling, financial and health risks should not be underestimated. Any moves towards shorter working week should be introduced gradually. Most likely the best way is to consider pros and cons of introducing a 4-day week in each particular case. There is little magic in numbers here.

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