We Need To Strongly Consider A Four-Day Workweek

Photo by Matt Reinbold

Microsoft Japan made headlines on Nov. 4 when they announced their month long four-day workweek experiment to be a resounding success, with productivity reportedly jumping by 40%. Given the success of this pilot program, it’s time we considered pushing for the four-day workweek in the U.S. or at the very least consider branching the practice out to other industries. The four-day workweek may seem counterintuitive, but in reality it allows workers to have greater autonomy over their time and for businesses to consume less resources and become more efficient.

The struggle to maintain a work-life balance is something that affects nearly all members of society. A 2014 Gallup poll found that the average workweek for full-time employees was roughly 47 hours. Another localized case study found that 26% of the work for the organization was done outside of normal working hours. Clearly, there is a weakening distinction between home life and work life, and this increased interconnectivity does not reflect a marked shift in how individuals are expected to be working.

In the office setting, employees are more likely to get distracted with things like social media and constantly refreshing YouTube feeds. This is not a simple case of workers slacking off, people are becoming distracted at work because they have the time to be distracted. In a full workday, one is not working every single minute that they are present, raising the question as to why a five day work week is needed. Wages have also stagnated; despite the increases in wages across the board, the average wage of today’s workers actually has the same purchasing power as it did 40 years ago.

Graphic By Wikimedia Commons

Not every sector of the economy is completely ready for a four-day work week. In areas such as the medical field, this type of structuring is considered difficult to achieve compared to the industrial and tech sector. Handoffs and transitions between healthcare professionals on shifts give room for human error and could adversely affect patients who slip through the cracks. However, it was also found that longer shift times that are expected of physicians are associated with a greater risk for medical errors and negative patient outcomes.  

More worker autonomy and greater time for recreation would allow people to reduce their strain from work and also provide greater opportunities to stimulate the economy through spending. This fundamental shift could be akin to the “Leisure Revolution,” seen in the post-Industrial Revolution era. Individual leisure time increased and thus allowed for other societal productivity to arise in the form of art and cinema among other things. 

Crucially, Microsoft Japan’s experiment included the stipulation that the employees were given paid Fridays off instead of simply fitting the standard 40-hour workweek into a four day period. This means that workers aren’t being put through the wringer for longer shifts and can fully enjoy a four-day workweek at a five-day pay rate.

In the Japan office, they reportedly used 29% less electricity and printed 59% fewer pages. This type of resource savings is beneficial because it provides more opportunity to spend or allocate money towards initiatives for the welfare of the employees. Another side effect was a smaller emission of pollutants compared to the typical workweek. 

A four-day workweek is promising for how we work in the future. While it requires our commitment and willingness to experiment with what’s conventionally known, doing so will lead to progress and potentially improve productivity, employee happiness and sustainability. 

Eashan Reddy Kotha is a fourth year Neurobiology major. He can be reached at ekotha@uci.edu.