Can a Four-Day Workweek Work in the US?

Can a Four-Day Workweek Work in the US?

Can a Four-Day Workweek Work in the US?

Blog109_4DayWorkweek_JapaneseSubway-200x300 Can a Four-Day Workweek Work in the US?Recently, Microsoft Japan conducted a trial to improve work-life balance by giving employees Friday off with pay and found productivity increased by about 40%

Ninety-two percent of employees were pleased with this result, which doesn’t come as a surprise in a culture that has a word for death by working—“Karoshi.” Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe also introduced a law earlier in 2019 to limit legal overtime to 45 hours a month to curb this cultural issue. 

This study reaffirms the findings of two similar studies conducted by Perpetual Guardian, a will and trust management company in New Zealand (which has the third-worst work-life balance in the world), and the ICE Group, a recruiting agency in Ireland, respectively. Both shortened their workweek and found that productivity increased and fixed costs decreased and therefore adopted this policy permanently. 

Blog109_4DayWorkWeek_RunningOnBridge-300x225 Can a Four-Day Workweek Work in the US?Workers end up using this extra day for exercise, spending time with loved ones, running errands, hobbies, and whatever else they’d like and come back to work more energized and refreshed. 

In the US, unions are pushing for a four-day workweek. In a world that is getting increasingly automated, they say that this is a good way to redistribute work hours, as even under record-low unemployment, the group of part-time workers who seek either full-time employment or more hours increased to 4.4 million in August. 

Now the question is simple: can this model be applied with similar results in the US?

Blog109_4DayWorkweek_WorkersAtTable-300x200 Can a Four-Day Workweek Work in the US?Americans work more than anyone else in the developed world; compared to the Japanese, they worked 106 more hours in 2018 without gaining much comparative advantage in compensation or efficiency. In fact, in the Netherlands, workers work for about 29 hours a week and earn an average of $47,000 a year; Americans earn the same on average but work at least five more hours per week. 

There are proponents and opponents of this movement in the US, where the idea hasn’t gained much traction politically but has been implemented by a growing number of small businesses. 

Blog109_4DayWorkweek_Escalator-225x300 Can a Four-Day Workweek Work in the US?The opponents say that compressing five eight-hour workdays into four ten-hour workdays sounds good on paper but results in dangerous health problems caused by the longer-than-normal working day. Additionally, these hours don’t account for the ever-increasing commutes undertaken by workers every day. Long working hours, especially in specialist professions which condense 60- or 80-hour workweeks into four days, can result in increased chances of chronic diseases later in life. The stress and fatigue of fitting in the same number of hours into a smaller number of days can negatively affect cognitive function, while the added hours can add more rigidity to families with children. 

Critics also refer to the state of Utah, which curtailed the workweek and then reinstated the five-day workweek after profits didn’t materialize, and tech HR firm Treehouse, which couldn’t keep up with competition and returned to the norm, as examples of why four-day workweeks wouldn’t work in the US. 

Business groups themselves have warned that shortening the workweek could hurt employment, increase the cost of labor, and weaken industry by shrinking the economy

Blog109_4DayWorkweek_TechMeeting-300x225 Can a Four-Day Workweek Work in the US?Although the critics have their merits, they overlook the fact that the companies that have permanently adopted this policy have also implemented supplementary strategies to ensure optimal workflow in less time at the office. In 2017, Natalie Nagele, the CEO of Wildbit, shifted to four eight-hour workdays. She cut the number of weekly meetings to two and asked her 30 employees to limit their use of email and Slack. The company saw greater quality and productivity through this practice. 

Firms that condensed their workday to four 10-hour workdays from five 10-hour workdays still benefited from a drop in hours. Killer Visual Strategies, a graphic design company, has half its staff take off on Monday and the other off on Friday to ensure that customers still get timely service. Firms that follow this model also receive 13% more job applications on average and fill vacancies in two to three months—a process that on average takes six months. 

Blog109_4DayWorkweek_Workers-300x200 Can a Four-Day Workweek Work in the US?Since 1979, productivity has increased by 69%, but wages have only gone up 11%. It is clear that American workers are settling for far less for the hours they are working, as they also receive fewer government and family benefits as compared to their fellow employees in other developed countries. When the 40-hour workweek was first established through the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1940, it was meant to be a gateway to even more free time for workers. 

I believe that the option of a four-day workweek should fall upon the worker. The numbers clearly show that giving workers flexibility with their hours without docking pay positively affects the work-life balance while also resulting in productivity gains for the workplace. The entire point of society and innovation is to work towards an ideal where humans work less and are compensated fairly, not the other way around. We have no excuse to not implement a forward-thinking policy that positively affects all stakeholders involved.

Blog109_4DayWorkweek_Workers2-300x200 Can a Four-Day Workweek Work in the US?So, even though 40% of American workers would prefer a four-day workweek, they may have to wait a while for businesses and lawmakers to re-prioritize the most prized asset of the economy—the workers themselves. 

What are your thoughts on a four-day workweek? Share them in the comments below, or better yet, share them on Konversai. Konversai is a platform that facilitates authentic human connections through one-on-one live video conversations about any topic. All users are encouraged to be both knowledge providers and knowledge seekers on any and as many topics as they wish, and knowledge providers have the option of charging for their time. Knowledge providers do not have to be “experts”—any level of knowledge, skills, or experience that you have has value on Konversai and may be exactly what someone else is looking for. In an age of widespread automation, learning about a topic you are interested in from a person with knowledge, skills, or experience in that area can enrich your understanding of that subject while also facilitating a valuable and meaningful personal connection. Join Konversai today!

By Ojasvinee (OJ) Singh

Edited by Pavita Singh

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