If Peter Gowan is right, many American workers could finally get something they’ve wanted for a long time: working four days a week for the same salary they get for working five days.
“For the first time since the start of last century, there’s real energy behind a politics of reducing working time,” said Gowan, a policy associate at the Democracy Collaborative, a left-leaning think tank.
A four-day work week would be great news for employees who want more free time to unwind from the pressures of their jobs, spend more time with family and friends, and pursue outside interests and hobbies.
This idea has already been introduced in Europe and is very popular there. Some American companies also have experimented with this and it is starting to catch on here as well. A shorter work week in the US makes sense because Americans routinely work more hours annually than their counterparts in other Western nations, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation, a think tank.
Reducing the number of hours Americans work to match those of Norwegians and Danes would in effect give them more than two months of additional vacation every year. In 2016, the average U.S. worker spent some 1,700 hours on the job; by comparison, in Denmark and Norway, this number was just 1,400 hours - a difference of about 18 percent.
It’s not just workers in Europe who support a four-day work week. The idea has also won the backing of some of the biggest unions in Ireland and Britain, and plans to dramatically cut working hours also have been endorsed by large unions in Germany, the Netherlands, and France.
The Bank of England’s chief economist recently said that the country is on track for a four-day week by 2050, according to The Telegraph. But Britain’s Labour Party has commissioned a study on cutting the number of hours worked each week to see if it should be incorporated into its party platform; if the idea gets a thumbs up it could be put into play in the near future.
Support From A Surprising Source
At first glance, it would seem that the idea of cutting the work week to just four days with salaries remaining the same would be anathema to companies. After all, wouldn’t this be a losing proposition for them? Surprisingly, this is not the case. In fact, a growing number of companies are adopting this idea and enjoying the benefits that it is generating.
Even before the pandemic, some companies were switching over to a shorter work week. In late 2019, for example, Microsoft Japan gave its employees the option of working four days a week. To their surprise it found that worker productivity increased, stress decreased, and cases of burnout dropped. In addition, employee loyalty improved.
Microsoft also found that employees were less likely to take sick leave, and that operating costs declined, since the office was closed for one day a week. The shorter work week also resulted in reduced transportation, which resulted in environmental benefits.
Numerous studies in Europe and in the US found that while the four-day work week was popular with employees in general, it appealed to women in particular, as it allowed them more time to spend with their very young children, family, and gave them time to pursue other commitments and personal interests.
Although the idea of cutting the work week to four days is not a new one, more companies are experimenting with this as a result of the pandemic. Berlin-based Awin, which has 100 employees in the US and 1,000 worldwide, found that employees who returned to work after a longer weekend were more productive, said CEO Adam Ross. Deloitte, KPMG, and Unilever are among the many other firms that tried and got good results from this.
AI To The Rescue
Many of those companies who already have or are seriously considering implementing this policy have been able to do so in large part because of advances in technology that make it possible for employees to do more work in less time.
“Artificial Intelligence will significantly disrupt every aspect of every industry in every country including how and when we work,” reports Change Recruitment Group. “Within the near future, we’re likely to seen an increase in remote and more flexible work schedules like the four-day work week.”
Despite all of the advantages it offers, the four-day work week will never become adopted universally. It’s impossible for it to be implemented in medical care and pharmaceuticals, in emergency services like police and fire departments, on Wall Street, and in newspapers and other news channels.
The idea also needs tweaking, as there are some kinks that need to be ironed out. One of those is poor customer satisfaction; in some cases, customers complained that they were unable to access the services they needed, since offices were closed on Fridays; delays in shipping important parts were a related problem. But over time, improvements in AI and related technologies likely could resolve these and other difficulties.
If the four-day work week sounds like an extreme idea, it’s not. In the late 1800s, the US Government estimated that the typical work week of full-time employees in manufacturing plants averaged 100 hours. Although it didn’t happen overnight, the work week declined to five days, and so did hours worked each day. By the mid-1900s, manufacturing employees worked “only” 40 hours a week. Reducing the hours worked still further is evolutionary, not revolutionary.
While a great many employees would be pleased to find their work week has been cut to four days, there certainly is something they are wishing for even more: winning a huge lottery prize and not having to work at all.