It’s the catch-cry of every long weekend.
“Why can’t every weekend be a three-day weekend?”
News outlets and Facebook feeds and breakfast conversations begin heralding the certainly-undeniable, screamingly obvious, why-haven’t-we-done-this-before? benefits of a four-day work week.
“We’re more productive when we’re more rested.” “We don’t procrastinate as much when we have less time.”
All of a sudden, the four-day work week is the answer to all our problems. It would allow one extra day to swim in the ocean, have conversations with children, run errands, soak in the sun or the warmth of a duvet on a Sunday-but-it’s-really-Monday sleep-in.
Companies around the world have trialled, and are trialling, the four day work week.
One state in America – Utah – actually made a four-day work week mandatory for all state employees. They did this in 2008 to increase employee satisfaction, improve efficiency, cut overhead costs, and reduce energy-usage. They reversed the legislation in 2011, as they did not make the savings they were after.
So is the four-day-work-week a fallacy?
“Despite the widespread enthusiasm for a four-day week, I am not convinced that kind of schedule is beneficial for employees or for businesses,” Allard Dembe, Professor of Public Health at the Ohio State University’s College of Public Health, wrote for The Conversation.
“The primary problem with the idea is that whatever work needs to be done, needs to get done in the same amount of total time. Despite wishes to the contrary, there are still only 24 hours in a day.”
Companies like Amazon or Google, that do experiment with the four-day-work-week, create the schedule around the 4/10 rule. Where employees work two additional hours every day, to make up the eight hours they’re missing on their day off.
On paper, this results in a 10 hour day. In reality, it could easily creep to 11-12 hour days.
“I performed a study showing that the risk of suffering an industrial accident is raised by 37% for employees working more than 12 hours in a day,” Professor Dembe wrote. “Women working more than 60 hours per week, equivalent to 12 hours per day, were more than three times as likely to eventually suffer heart disease, cancer, arthritis or diabetes, and more than twice as likely to have chronic lung disease or asthma, as women working a conventional 40-hour workweek.
“Working just a bit more, an average of 41 to 50 hours per week, over many years appeared to substantially increase the long-term risk of disease,” Professor Dembe continued.
Cramming a 40-hour work week into a four-day schedule might sound idyllic. But would it lead to more stress, more time constraints, for the people involved?
Hey Mia: Have you ever cried at work?
Theoretically, it should create an extra day of downtime across the weekend to make up for the heightened productivity and condensed outputs of the four days in between.
But what about those little moments of downtime each day – of conversations with children around the dinner table, or taking the dog for a work in the evenings, or making something delicious for breakfast? These moments are in danger of extinction when you’re working 9am to 7pm, or longer.
There is also the fact that – unless organisations around the world decide all at once to approve the four-day work week on a global scale- you would be one of the few with Mondays off. Not everyone is going to understand this. And you will undoubtedly have to compensate.
This compensation will happen in the form of checking your emails, or making phone calls, or conducting interviews on your “day off” because everyone else is working and you can’t fall behind.
Workers in a five day week have enough trouble sticking to a 40-hour schedule. The trend of working overtime in salary jobs without extra pay is a reality because job security is low, competition is high, globalisation calls for odd-hours and it’s just too easy to take work home.
But, when your “normal” working day already constitutes 10-12 hours, what is this overtime going to look like?
It’s going to look like you working on your “day off”, without the pay or the recognition. I will look like working working five-days a week, with four of those days seeing you “condensing” outputs, without any downtime, and – potentially – facing long-term health problems.
There’s definitely something about three-day weekends. But I’m not yet convinced on the four-day work week.