Today’s workers often feel like beasts of burden — doing their best work day after day, with little to no recognition and appreciation. And the cherry on top is an unfavorable paycheck. Companies have been working on creating healthier and more inclusive workspaces, and one of these solutions is the proposition of a four-day work week.
The idea behind a four-day work week, also called “compressed time,” is to attract and retain workers. Instead of eight-hour days five times a week, it would be 10-hour days four times a week. Companies are experimenting with these formats of workweeks and figuring out the most effective way to transition into them. Employees are either kept at the same rate of pay and benefits or less to reflect the reduced production due to shorter hours. A switch from the outdated routine of the nine to five, five times a week, is pivotal to acknowledging the importance of employee mental health and increasing productivity.
The companies that have experimented with this new work schedule have discovered many benefits, including giant corporations like Microsoft and Amazon. Employees' motivation to complete the work assigned to them increased due to the reduced hours. These shorter hours spent in the offices also reduced facilities and utilities costs. With the opportunity to have an extra day off every week, it was found that employees had the ability to better schedule appointments to not interfere with the work day. A Henley Business School poll found that 62 percent of employees used fewer sick days.
In 2019, Microsoft Japan implemented a four-day work week and recorded their findings. In their test run of this new schedule, they found that their productivity had increased by 40 percent. They saved 20 percent more on electricity costs compared to the previous year and reduced the number of pages printed by 60 percent. In addition to increased productivity, mental retention saw great improvements. A 2020 Gallup poll concluded that over 10,000 workers found that workers reported the lowest burnout levels when following a four-day work week. Due to these findings, it’s clear that fewer days spent in the office correlate to a decrease in a carbon footprint and reduced energy usage due to fewer people commuting to work.
All these pros advocate heavily for a nationwide switch to four-day work weeks. With increased productivity and a decrease in production costs, it seems like a company's dream situation. However, the same studies and test situations have also discovered downsides to the four-day work week.
One of the biggest problems found is coverage for customers and employees. With some workplaces taking Fridays off and some removing Mondays from the schedule, it's hard to determine what's going to be open and when, and who's going to be working and when. This leads to scheduling issues between employees and employers. A planned or impromptu meeting will be harder to hold, and brainstorming may find limited input if employees are inaccessible on certain days. People find it easier to collaborate in groups, and if this switch in schedule makes it harder for employees to get their work done, which goes against the supposed increase in productivity that the company was hoping to achieve. However, there is a simple solution: employers need to gauge how flexible the staff levels of responsibility are. Communication between the top and bottom levels is crucial in determining the effectiveness and success of this switch.
The next biggest challenge is the difference between salary and hourly workers. In this case of compressed time, hourly workers are going to cost the company more money if they choose to make the switch due to the laws of compensation for overtime pay. In some states, overtime pay starts after 8 hours per shift, meaning that compressed time could result in employers having to be paid 8 hours of overtime per week. The switch to just a normal four-day week could result in hourly workers making less money than normal, making their living costs harder to support if the overtime compensation situation is not solved. Legislation would have to be enacted to help counter this result. A 2021 proposal that never made it past Congress tried to lower the federal standard to make 32 hours a full work week, and mandate overtime compensation for any additional hours worked. Even though it failed, there are still many proponents for this idea that could perhaps be brought up at the state level.
There is also a chance that the switch to a four-day work week could disproportionately distribute more work to others. Managers may have to spend more time scheduling meetings, getting in touch with clients and planning group tasks for when some employees are not on the clock. Some managers may be able to structure their task diffusion more adequately than others, but others may have to take on a bigger workload during the transition. It might not work for all employees, and to achieve all the potential benefits of a four-day workweek, there has to be cohesion between all sections of the office. This switch could highlight how effectively a company runs and manages their employees, and if done successfully, it could be highly beneficial to everyone involved.
Obviously, this switch can not happen at all places of work, at least not as fast as in some other workplaces. A perfect example of this is the healthcare industry. Numerous amounts of medical conditions require around-the-clock care and it's impossible to plan around accidents and emergencies.
Earlier this month, representative Mark Takano (D-Calif.) proposed amending the Fair Labor Standards Act to shorten the standard work week by eight hours for non-exempt employees (an employee who is entitled to overtime when they work more than 40 hours in one week). If this bill gets passed by Congress, it would mean shorter workweeks or more overtime pay for hourly workers. Takano believes that it would contribute to a cultural shift across all industries. The bill is still in its early stages, still needing to pass out of the House of Education and the Workforce Committee to advance to becoming law. The length of the workweek has not been touched since the 1940s, regardless of the gigantic improvements in technology and understanding of mental health, severely dating the whole idea of the standard workweek definition.
COVID-19 changed the world in innumerable ways, and of course, the workplace felt many of the effects. Employee mental health became a frequent topic of conversation during the height of the pandemic. Some of the stressors that many encountered included the isolation of working remotely, changes in daily routine and the distractions and feelings of demotivation, all contributing towards increased levels of anxiety and depression. Productivity, creativity and a person's social engagement all disintegrate if the employee's mental health is suffering.
Jazmine Sands, a sophomore at Virginia Tech majoring in business information technology, describes the benefits of implementing a 4-day workweek.
“I am in favor of a four-day workweek because weekends are not long enough,” Sands said. “It can lead to more time spent with family and friends and provide enough time for your brain to fully rest.”
Four-day workweeks provide employees with ample time to rest and recuperate, thus enabling more productivity and higher standards of mental health. Although it's obvious that a switch would not be viable for all businesses, the trials that have been recorded show that with enough effort put in by employers, a switch to a four-day workweek will prove successful.
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