The times, they are a-changing.
A survey of the effects of a four-day working week in the UK is being celebrated this week as a “major breakthrough” after results revealed what most people had already assumed: it works.
The six-month trial involved 61 companies in various sectors, including engineering, advertising and education. It was reported that a majority of participating employees experienced a significant decrease in stress, anxiety and burnout, while employers also benefited because fewer sick days were taken. As a result of the findings, a majority of participating companies have agreed to continue with the shorter working week.
Although the results are not surprising, the fact that it’s taken so long to get to the point of even considering it as a possibility, certainly is. While the idea of a four-day work week may seem daunting to companies, it's clear to see there are more upsides when it comes to having healthy and engaged employees.
When the UAE switched its weekends from Friday and Saturday to Saturday and Sunday at the start of 2022, Sharjah introduced a four-day working week with a half-day on Fridays. A report by The National in June looked at how life had changed for residents and found that people were "healthier, happier, and [had] more time with their families".
A decade ago, when I was working for a newspaper in Boston, I had a colleague who worked four days a week but did the same number of hours. So rather than doing eight hours, five days a week, he did 10 hours a day for four days. Despite having “longer” hours, he seemed to enjoy that schedule because of his three-day weekends. Back then, the idea of a four-day work week was a fascinating idea, but also one I didn’t think would ever be seriously discussed.
The world has changed in the past few years and now, more than ever, people are starting to value their mental health, and one of the best ways to do so is by having a good work-life balance.
Unfortunately, the typical five-day work week doesn’t seem to cut it any more. Two-day weekends seem to breeze by and suddenly Monday (or whichever day one returns to work) is right there again. That time needed to relax and recharge just isn’t enough.
As someone who has taken sporadic three-day weekends in the past, the extra day really does make a difference. There’s a day to unwind, a day to get things done and a day to prepare for the week ahead.
The logic behind a shorter work week isn't limited to a longer weekend, however.
One of the biggest arguments against a four-day work week is the belief that it may cause an increase in stress or burnout because the same amount of work still needs to be done, only within a shorter amount of time. But one less day to complete tasks could actually help some people prioritise with a sharper focus, essentially getting rid of wasted hours.
There’s also the worry employers wouldn’t know how to begin and there would be issues with figuring out how to manage different schedules. But if we were able to get through a pandemic, where the majority of people worked remotely and were still able to do their jobs, I’m pretty sure we’d be able to figure out how to manage a change in the working week.
It may not be suitable for all companies and it may seem difficult in the beginning, but surely the potential benefits outweigh the perceived disadvantages. If we learnt anything from the pandemic, it's how important it is to take care of yourself. Hopefully, in the future, companies will remember this too.