In striving for a greater work-life balance, workers groups, unions, and others have fought hard. To be fair to businesses, most have now accepted the need for flexible working practices for everyone. We have generous holiday compared to other countries in the developed world and we’re slowly moving towards the ability for a large section of the workforce to work from home. A recent debate began over a proposed move to a four-day working week. It has stirred heated opinions on both sides.
The Benefits of a 4-Day Working Week
Everybody enjoys a Bank Holiday and we all come back refreshed for having an extra day off at the weekend. It’s good for our physical and mental health and allows us to recharge, giving us more leisure and family time and tipping the work-life balance further towards relaxation. It’s also potentially good for the economy. People take more mini breaks and more leisure time activities means local tourism is boosted. A three-day weekend allows families to get all their chores down as well as spend more time together as a family.
Another main reason that campaigners are calling for a four-day work week is that we are still stuck in a mindset that how much time we spend at work reflects how hard we work. This is not always the case; most employees waste countless hours doing fake work or looking for things to do, even those who are generally busy have quiet times. Those in favour of a four-day working week say that the switch will simply make us all more efficient.
It’s a cost saving for businesses too when operating for four days rather than five. Lighting, heating, and electricity costs are reduced by 20% when they are not being used for one more day per week. Similarly, let’s not forget the benefit to the environment of removing so much heavy traffic for one more day each week.
Arguments about lost productivity are weak; those in favour point to how changing from a five and a half day to a five-day working week had no noticeable impact on the Industrial Revolution. Also, a measure of a country’s success is about more than its economic productivity.
The Drawbacks of a 4-Day Working Week
Most campaigners don’t want or expect employers to give up 20% of the working hours, but to compress the same 40 hours into four days rather than five. This could be counterproductive, but not for the reasons that most of us expect. Studies have shown that most people are productive for just 4-5 hours per day. A 10-hour stretch every day of the working week will take its toll on efficiency.
Similarly, it could have the opposite of the desired effect. Many people have after work activities to help get them through the day. It can be anything – an exercise class, a book club, or just going to the pub. A longer work day means exhausted employees more likely to give up these important social interactions due to tiredness.
It may not work for every business – especially retailers who need to efficiently plan the work pattern of the number of employees. International businesses with offices or contacts or connections all over the world may need to work flexibly. Countries with a largely Muslim population work Sunday-Thursday – as does Israel.
It may not suit every employee, especially those with caring responsibilities or children, to spend more time at work, even though it frees up one extra day. The argument from both employees and employers opposed to the move insist that arguing for a four-day working week is the wrong way to go, but to allow employers to develop their own flexible working policies that will benefit both the business and the employee.