Why not a four-day workweek?

We’re no longer a 19th-century economy, and it’s time to stop thinking of our workweek that way.

Today, many of us think of the five-day workweek as being the way things have always been done. It’s not. It only became a standard in the United States when the labor unions got the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) passed in 1938. Before that, most people worked a 48-hour, six-day-per-week job—and were glad to have it.

Are we less productive now? We are not.

Indeed, when Henry Ford, of all people, introduced the five-day, 40-hour week for workers at the Ford Motor Company, one reason he did so was that he thought it would increase productivity. He was right; though workers’ time on the job decreased, productivity went up.

Fast forward to today. The vast majority of workers aren’t on piece-meal assembly lines. Amazon warehouse workers may still be stuck moving boxes as fast as possible, but that’s not how most of us make our money.

Instead, we tend to sit in front of keyboards and work with information. We spend our days Zooming from one meeting to another and Slacking our way to agreements. And, if you’re like me, you sometimes want to rip your hair out after one meeting too many.

The great pandemic has made working from home the new normal. Anyone who thinks otherwise has missed the boat. It’s also put paid to the notion that “normal” 9-to-5 hours are needed to get work done. People are now working when it’s convenient for them and there’s been no decline in productivity.  

Does such a new work world need a 40-hour workweek? Many companies are saying no. And guess what? For them, a four-day workweek with 32-hours does just fine.

As The New York Times reported, businesses such as Shake Shack, Kickstarter, and Unilever’s New Zealand unit have all switched to the four-day workweek and all’s well. Work gets done, staffers are happier than ever, and profits are up.

Tech companies are also getting into the act. I know, the stereotypical tech industry story is always about people living in the office, turning in 80+ hours of work per week, and having no life. Then, there’s Bolt, an e-commerce unicorn.

Bolt CEO and founder Ryan Breslow recently tweeted that, “Bolt is now the first tech unicorn to permanently switch to a 4 day work week. Our 3-month experiment proved every core thesis: Heightened 1/ Productivity, 2/ Engagement, and 3/ Wellness.”

Why? Breslow continued: “Many companies are plagued with ‘theater work’… i.e.: work designed to ‘look’ good versus actually moving the needle. Countless meetings, confusing presentations, constant banter. The worst! We reject theater work at Bolt.”

Instead, he tweeted, it’s not “about how work ‘looks.’ We care about the only thing that matters: The impact of ‘Did you move the needle this week?’”

I couldn’t agree more. Work should be all about getting the job done. Nothing else matters. If you can do that with a 32-hour workweek—and many of us can—then go for it.

It’s not just big businesses. The New York Times also found online children’s clothes retailer Primary is now moving permanently to a four-day workweek. The company’s voluntary attrition rate has fallen slightly to 7% in the past year, even as workers quit jobs elsewhere at record levels in the ‘Great Resignation.' With more people than ever leaving jobs behind—a record 4.5 million American workers in November—anything that keeps people where they are is a good thing. 

A recent Gallup survey also found that “those working four-day weeks were found to have the highest rates of thriving and well-being (63%), compared with those working five (57%) or six days (56%).” Happy workers are productive workers.

Gallup also discovered that “workers want more flexibility and that job flexibility is correlated with higher employee engagement. Work flexibility allows employees to boost their overall well-being in other areas while still meeting the requirements of their job. It also lowers stress by allowing people to create a schedule that makes sense for their life.” This is exactly what’s happened with the rise of working from home.

Now, can everyone do this? Of course not. I can’t. I’ve been working a 55-hour workweek for decades. I’m a journalist, and my work is tied to keeping on top of the news. And news never stops. But most of us aren’t working at jobs where workaholism is a virtue. You might find that being married to the job is not all that good for your business or for you.

Sit down, take a long hard look at your business. Are you wasting time on endless meetings? Are your workers really getting their job done or just putting in meaningless hours? How are those hours actually improving your bottom line?

Talk to your employees. Then, give a 32-hour, four-days-per-week schedule a try. I’ll bet many of you will find it works out well. Really.

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Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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