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Good news for anyone interested in spending less time at work: The largest study to date using a four-day week suggests that workers who work a shorter week are just as more productive than their counterparts who work five work days a week. The UK study also found that workers with a four-day week are more energetic during their workdays as they have used their extra day off to pursue hobbies, exercise and spend time with their families.
The process, involving over 3,300 workers at 70 companies ranging from fish and chip shops to financial firms, is far from the first to consider whether it would be better for all of us to work four days a week. Studies have long shown that people who work fewer hours for a decent income tend to be happier and more productive. A 2019 study conducted on Microsoft employees in Japan found other benefits: Employers saved electricity because the workplace was closed for an extra day. Aware of making up for newly slashed schedules, managers also saved time by reducing the time employees spent in meetings — which, as we all know, don’t have to be that long.
The conversation about the four-day workweek turned serious in 2020, as world leaders began pushing for easing the pandemic lockdowns in their countries. Since then, four-day workweek trials have been conducted in Iceland, New Zealand and Scotland, all with promising results. While it would be nice if the improved well-being of their employees was enough, what affects most leaders is the fact that many employees have often become more productive thanks to their weekly PTO. As it becomes increasingly clear that workers don’t need the traditional confines of an office to be productive — they could even thrive without them — a shorter workweek seems an even more appealing and viable option.
But the best reasons for adopting the four-day week were clear even before the pandemic and have only become more urgent in recent years. It’s more obvious than ever that our relationship with our jobs is broken. Data reviewed by 24/7 Wall St. shows that the average American full-time worker works 41.5 hours a week, while about 11 percent of full-time workers work more than 50 hours a week. That’s a lot of waking hours spent at work, and those numbers don’t account for the growing fraction of misclassified and gig economy workers, many of whom have multiple jobs and even longer hours. The anti-ambition wave of recent years suggests that many people are so sick of the overwork that it’s easier to resist it altogether than try to maintain some sort of balance. A significant portion of the workforce has quit work entirely, leading to even longer hours and more pressure for those who still need a salary — who, as the proliferation of “quiet quitting” content on TikTok makes clear, are desperate for boundaries between Work and work looking for the rest of their lives.
The move to a four-day work week requires a radical and more egalitarian adjustment in our understanding of work itself, not as a drudgery, status or backbreaking work, but as a contribution you make, after which you can nap and go about the rest of your life. Fortunately, more and more employees seem to be pushing for this change. Hopefully management will finally listen.