At the Optimist Daily, we’re putting a lot of focus on what the world can do after the pandemic to create a healthier, more sustainable, and more inclusive society. One idea that was suggested is starting to gain a lot of traction: shifting to a four-day working week. It was said that people had suggested everything from the shorter workweek to more public holidays as a means to stimulate the economy and encourage domestic tourism, while the borders remain closed to foreign nationals. It can also help employees address persistent work/life balance issues. Another suggestion made was that they would travel more domestically if they had more flexibility in their working lives.
The country’s tourism market has taken a massive downturn after the pandemic, with all borders remaining closed to foreign nationals and many countries taking pay-cuts or tightening their belt in case of lay-offs. “I hear lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day workweek. Ultimately that really sits between employers and employees. But as I’ve said there’s just so much we’ve learned about COVID and that flexibility of people working from home and the productivity that can be driven out of that. Estate planning business in some other countries like NYC and others with over 200 employees, Perpetual Guardian, had already transitioned to a four-day workweek in 2018, claims the shift made employees happier and more productive and the regime also had benefits for mental and physical health, the environment, family and social lives, and climate change. A four-day workweek is certainly something to be considered for the US, especially since US workers are already some of the most overworked in the world.
Why we need to consider shifting to a four day workweek
After more than 2,500 workers moved to a 35- or 36-hour workweek and declared themselves happier, healthier and less stressed, the country is now moving to make this an option for the majority of its workforce. This, of course, goes against today’s always-on, 24/7 global economy, where long hours can seem inevitable, inescapable and natural. Years of “rise and grind,” laser-like focus and unrelenting labor, we are told, are behind the success of tech billionaires, professional athletes, “unicorn” companies and even entire economies. Yet the four-day workweek isn’t just for the public sector, many private companies are discovering that by switching to a four days, they can protect time for undistracted work and give people more time for leisure. The results: Increased productivity and creativity; improved recruitment and retention; less burnout for founders and leaders; and more balanced and sustainable lives for workers, all without cutting salaries or sacrificing customer service.
The four-day week before the pandemic
Before the pandemic, hundreds of companies around the world, including in Korea and Japan, two countries whose languages have invented words for “death by overwork”, had moved to four-day weeks, six-hour days or other shorter workweeks. Most were small companies with fewer than 100 people, and they included creative and professional service firms but also software startups, restaurants, factories and nursing homes, industries where overwork is common and deadlines can be inflexible.
Working hours, innovation and the pandemic
Companies that moved to four-day weeks before the pandemic were able to respond quickly to the challenges of lockdowns. Most employees had learned how to redesign working hours, meeting schedules and adopt new technologies when they chose to adopt a 4-day week. When the pandemic hit Danish businesses, “we did not dictate solutions” to employees, the leadership knew that workers already had the skills to adapt. And once they were working from home, nobody had to “constantly document that one is at work. “It would be a waste of time, because we know that all our employees are on and working.”
The four-day week and the future of work
An economic and public health crisis might not seem like a good time for businesses to try a 4-day week. So far, however, every company has survived a crisis unprecedented in recent history. Soon they’ll need to become more flexible, more agile with their time and less beholden to convention, as they redesign workplaces and routines for a workers newly accustomed to flexible work, reopen offices and stores, figure out what work must happen face-to-face and what can be done remotely, and prepare for the next pandemic or economic downturn.
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