Time to re-evaluate the 5 day workweek

During my days at IBM India, there was an organization wide initiative that was started to address stress caused by work load. It was done to improve work life balance. Soon this became a common phrase used by most working professional. Some of the common expressions were:

“There is no work life balance in my job.”

“I need to delegate some work so I can have a better work life balance.”

Or, when someone was preparing for an interview at an organization, they would research for reviews of work life balance that the organization offered to its employees. 

In the past year and a half, I have been reminded of Sheryl Sandberg who, in her book ‘Lean In’ said that there’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s work and there’s life and the two seem to overlap quite often. Working from home meant that several people ended up putting more hours than they would probably put in had they been working from office. 

If there’s anything that is more precious than all your wealth combined, it’s time. Everyone wants more of it and no one seems to have enough to accomplish in life. We’ve all started working in an era when a week means Monday to Friday and the weekend means Saturday and Sunday. Yes, there are many countries in the world that still work for six days a week, but lot of us are fortunate to have the five day workweek. 

The concept of the five day workweek began in North Britain but only when Henry Ford made it a rule in his factory without reducing the pay, it became quite a norm. Countries may differ in their weekend days but overall, there is a growing tendency of a five day week owing to longer working hours and extremely less time for personal things. 

5 Day Work Week needs a Reboot 

The five day work week has been in place for over a century now. Let that sink in. 

Things have obviously changed ever since. 

Workers no longer must work only from offices or factories and remote working is more of a norm than an exception. Moreover, with a large part of work happening online, employees continue to work even on weekends. Technology has enabled the bosses/supervisors to track employees, ask them for some more work or it’s just that the demand of work is such that it spills over on weekends. 

In several countries, employees end up working even on Sundays because it secures their jobs or earns them some extra bucks or simply because work cannot stop. The pandemic-led work patterns have set out a revolution of sorts wherein large numbers of employees are opting to quit work altogether than compromising on extended work hours. Several have decided to move closer to their natives and are now refusing to come back to office. Some more are demanding a hybrid work model where they work for some part from home and some part from somewhere in between and not from office. If these employees are to be engaged and coaxed to continue, a radical shift in the way we work and how much time we put in a week’s time, has to be revisited. The pandemic has forced people to think for themselves, to put their lives and that of their loved ones over everything else. Too much of turbulence has made them bold enough to demand time for their own well being and stop living from paycheck to paycheck , putting in absurd hours of work from office or for office. In many cases, it is the person’s mental health that is at stake which has forced people to take this stance. 

With the five-day work week, every day is spent with almost 9 to 10 hours of work. That means you come home on a Friday even, fully drained out and spend the Saturday just to recuperate (if I must use the right word) from all the exertion of the week. Then it’s only the Sunday you end up getting for yourself. 

A growing demand (and in some places, a new trend already in place) is that of a four day work week. Last year, Microsoft tested this in Japan where employees worked for four days a week and got five days’ worth of salary. It was found that with the better rested employees, productivity went up by 40%. Similar encouraging results were seen in Iceland where people turned out happier and more productive. 

Potential Reservations of Employers

Employers are bound to have reservations about the shortened work week because having just 4 days would mean lesser time to accomplish. But that’s baseless, say researchers, who feel that too much time is anyway wasted in non-work related tasks in a day, which have all become more streamlined online. These are the people who point out that just because you’re in office for all five days doesn’t mean you’re putting in core productive work. With the new four day week, employees, managers included, are forced to plan and schedule their days tightly, with lesser meetings, lesser downtime and more focused work. A fully rested and energized worker will definitely put in his 100% in those 4 days. 

How the four day workweek would benefit

Notwithstanding the criticism about less time for work by the naysayers, the four day workweek definitely has its other advantages

  1. A shorter week means lesser people in office and reduced electricity usage
  2. Less rush for public and private transport on the roads and in turn lesser pollution
  3. Better work-life balance for the employees, better family relationships, improved quality of parenting  and less dependency on child care
  4. Better focus on mental and physical health and hence reduced sick leaves and medical costs for companies to bear
  5. More time away from workplace could potentially mean increased creativity too
  6. Better engaged, happy employees can accomplish the same work of five days into four days because it has reduced their stress levels and enhanced productivity.
  7. When companies care for their employees, they in turn will come back happier and more satisfied with what they accomplish over the extended weekend, which could mean anything from camping, pursuing their hobbies, spending time with kids and family, writing, gardening or volunteering at some service. 

All said and done, there has always been the tendency to equate work with time and more time spent at work was considered more work accomplished. That was why many employees voluntarily spent more time at work, even working late in the night, just to be seen as ‘more productive’. With time however, these employees turned out cranky, sick and drained or burned out. A smaller week with focused work could be the future of the world when people boldly decide to take their lives in their hands. This is also one of the side effects of the pandemic. 

What are your thoughts on rebooting the traditional 5 day work week and bring in the new era 4 day work week? What are the benefits that you see from this mode? Or are there any drawbacks that you see? If you were to change the landscape of a work week, how would you do it? Take a moment and comment below your thoughts. I would love to have this dialogue open. 

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