The 4-day workweek is gaining steam

Suffer from the Monday blues? The 4-day workweek might be a pretty effective cure. A relatively new invention, the arbitrary nature of the modern workweek might just be a good reason to change it.

Humble beginnings 🇺🇲

In 1908, a New England cotton spinning mill changed to a five-day schedule to allow for a proper observance of the Sabbath for its mostly Jewish workers. Many followed, including Henry Ford, adopting the 40-hour week across his Ford Motor Company plants. Henry was clever; he recognised that workers who worked more were paid more and could afford to buy the Ford Model T.

In 1938, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which included a 40-hour work week – designed to help the US climb out of the Great Depression. Today, the five-days-on, two-days-off rhythm is deeply embedded in offices from Shanghai to Sydney.

In practice, it’s scary 😨

In our past life as leaders of a startup, we thought the 4-day workweek was ‘Good for them, not for us’. How could you possibly succeed as a ‘growth company’? Respond to our customers? Deliver great tech products? There’s so much pressure to relentlessly deliver exceptional outcomes; surely something would slip?

Without a doubt – those contemplating a shift to 4-days will have to look at changing everything from time spent in meetings, to promoting focused work time and delegation.

Elon VS Iceland 🕧

On the one hand, you have Elon Musk telling Twitter staff that they should expect to work 80-hour weeks, and on the other hand, well…you have Iceland. Iceland’s national government trialled a 4-day workweek between 2015-2019 and found worker productivity either remained the same or improved.

Today, a whopping 86% of Iceland’s workforce has gained the right to work fewer hours for the same pay. Workers report feeling less stressed and less at risk of burning out. They spend more time with families, doing hobbies or household chores (*cough* #tips).

Companies, including Unilever in New Zealand and Silicon Valley’s Basecamp and Bolt, offer employees a four-day workweek. Even Panasonic in Japan – where workaholism leads to ‘kiroshi’- overworking oneself to death – lets employees opt into a 4-day schedule.

Bolt found that working 32 hours a week boosted employee happiness and well-being, making them more productive and efficient. CEO Ryan Breslow even admitted the move was selfish – pointing to business improvements across the board.

Britain is buying in 🇬🇧

Last month, over 90 percent of 61 British companies participating in a 5-year 4-day workweek trial said they’d continue with the pilot. Participating companies witnessed ‘sharp drops in worker turnover and absenteeism while largely maintaining productivity’. Half of the employees in the study said their mental health improved, and 15% said ‘no amount of money’ would convince them to return to a 5-day week. As for the bottom line, average revenue rose by 1.4%, and staff turnover dropped by 57%.

As for climate benefits? A study in the UK showed that shifting to a four-day working week could shrink the UK’s carbon footprint by over 20%, taking 27 million cars off the road by 2025.

Work work work work work 🎶

It’s worth noting that it’s not for everyone. Ethena acknowledged that during a 4-day trial, some employees struggled to achieve goals within the adjusted schedule. While some were happy to work longer hours to offset their off day, others felt their energy reserves fade after their usual 8-hour day. Some simply prefer to spread their work out over five days rather than squeeze them into four. The lesson here when it comes to the future of work? Try new things, collect data, and iterate over time.

Being busy doesn’t always yield results. When we build a team at Powrsuit, we’ll challenge ourselves to empathetically consider what this looks like. How should we empower our people to live their best lives and do their best work?

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