Is a 4-day workweek good for employee wellbeing?

The 4-day workweek could, one day, become a common standard within different industries and countries. But how would it impact employee wellbeing and productivity?

Is a 4-day workweek good for employee wellbeing?
Is a 4-day workweek good for employee wellbeing?

For decades, the standard workweek has been five days long. Increasingly, however, businesses are experimenting with the idea of bringing in employees for four days a week instead of five, or even switching to a 4-day workweek entirely to improve their employees’ work-life balance and to maximise their wellbeing.

Let’s look at the origin of the idea of 4-day work weeks, and the benefits and challenges for businesses in India that implement 4-day work weeks. Let's dive right in.

The origins of the 4-day workweek

With recent changes in workplace technology, many jobs can be done from almost anywhere—including from home. However, contrary to popular belief, the 4-day workweek was not invented during the pandemic.

British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930 that people would work as few as 15 hours in 100 years (by 2030). Moreover, in the U.S., you can find articles citing "four-day schedules" since the '90s.

In fact, different countries worldwide have been experimenting with this idea successfully for years. From New Zealand to Spain to the U.S., the idea of a 4-day workweek has been growing in popularity. After all, hustle culture has hurt organisations and employees alike. Many workers today feel burnt-out and exhausted by the demands of their jobs.

Read about The Dangers of Hustle Culture

What's all the buzz lately?

There are two reasons why companies are starting to adopt a 4-day workweek. The first is that employees feel they are more productive during the week when they get an extra day of rest.

Surveys show that not only do employees get more done in four days than five; they also get better results because their minds aren't as tired from working hard all week long.

In March 2021, Spain became one of the first countries in the world to test a 4-day workweek in a pilot project including several dozen companies.

In 2022, the fundraising company Kickstarter will begin to experiment with this week schedule after employees persuade management to incorporate it.

However, experiments with the 4-day work week are more common in well-developed countries. Why? In wealthier countries, workers work fewer hours than their counterparts in developing countries, because the former can produce more per hour. For instance, workers in India work, on average, nearly 2200 hours a year, compared with the 1700 hours per worker in the U.S.

4-day workweek advantages

Many companies that have implemented 4-day workweeks have reported happier employees, greater productivity and higher employee retention.

1. Happier employees

The 4-day workweek is all about giving employees more balance and control over their time. There's plenty of evidence that working shorter hours improves staff health; in fact, most studies show that people are better workers when they're not overworked.

Happy employees
Happy employees

A four-day workweek won't solve all your problems as an employer – but it could create healthier, happier and more productive workers who are less likely to take sick days or quit on you.

2. Higher productivity

Studies show that employees who get an extra day to spend with their families are significantly more productive when they come back to work. This is because the longer weekend enables them to recoup from the worries and pressures of work. And so, a 4-day workweek benefits their productivity in the end.

Also read: How to Handle the Emotional Fallout of a Failed or Failing Venture

3. Fewer health issues

Working long hours has been found to increase stress and raise levels of unhealthy blood fats.

Another advantage of a 4-day workweek is that it can help ease these problems. Longer working hours also means more time sitting down, which is linked to obesity and cardiovascular disease.

In the end, employee mental health is a worthwhile investment. It increases workers' feelings of energy, vitality and life satisfaction – making them feel recharged for the week ahead.

4-day workweek disadvantages

1. It doesn't suit every business model.

There are a variety of business models and needs among companies today. A four-day, eight-hour day might not fit every business.

For example, a restaurant may want to operate until 9 p.m., which necessitates staff working later into the evenings than they would if they had a two-day weekend.

However, a 4-day workweek is doable for many other roles that are not customer-facing.

Staff Working Late
Staff Working Late

2. Lower salaries for employees

A shorter workweek could increase job satisfaction, but would it have an effect on salary packages? An obvious first response is that less time spent working means less money earned.

Indians are indeed working longer hours than ever before (just look at how much time we spend commuting), so cutting back hours might mean taking a hit financially.

However, if companies want happy employees, then a 4-day workweek shouldn't negatively be impacting paychecks!

3. Longer hours in fewer days?

Many people fear that a 4-day workweek will most likely be expected to work the same 40-hour weeks (or more), but in four days instead of five.

Well, this is not likely to happen unless these companies want to increase their overhead expenses. Because the company will then have to pay overtime AND the employees will be more stressed and ready to abandon ship when the opportunity arises.

What to keep in mind before adopting the 4-day workweek

Although the 4-day workweek has been successful in many countries and businesses around the world, it is a radical change for companies to make. It requires both employees and employers to think differently about their time and its many benefits and challenges as well.

As seen from all the studies mentioned above, companies that focus on the happiness of their employees experience greater productivity, morale, and workplace satisfaction.

Employee working late at night
Employee working late at night

Before the outbreak, only a small percentage of white-collar professionals worked from home. Within months, nearly everyone in the office worked from home. The same positive reaction can be expected for the 4-day workweek too. It is the best choice considering the high levels of stress and burnout that global workers are faced with each day.

So if you’re keen to get started, try a four-day workweek or allow abbreviated hours each day. Gauge the response and keep making adjustments in consultation with your employees. You may have to get creative and flexible and it may take a while, but if it works out, the benefits in terms of employee happiness, productivity, and loyalty will be worth it.

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