Could the four-day work week be the way forward?

The four-day work week has become a prominent discussion as we all continue to deal with the impact of working differently during the pandemic.

The Irish Government has been urged to conduct research into the four-day work week to see how it might affect Ireland’s workforce. Supporters of bringing in a four-day work week believe that the system could maintain or even increase productivity for companies.

What does a four-day work week look like?

There are a few different versions or understandings, such as the ‘compressed work week’ where a person works four 10-hour days instead of shorter hours over 5 days. This practice is already in place in some lines of work such as software development. The new four-day work week,that some believe could be beneficial to both employee and employer, involves also reducing hours worked e.g. a person works four eight-hour shifts over four days, totalling 32 hours.

One way that this reduced-hour version could be possible is through technology advancements. Employees can accomplish the same amount of work in less time and still support customers. AI technology will disrupt many industries – but could help make a four-day work week possible. Take for example chat bots, which will help customer service teams offer responsive solutions to customer queries and issues pretty much around the clock.

It’s not hard to see why many are supportive of this way of working: employees would have an extra day off, and companies would have a more focused and rejuvenated workforce. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for advantages it could offer – but with anything, there will always be downsides and disadvantages. So, let’s look at some of the pros and cons the four-day work week could offer.

Pros

Productivity
Contrary to initial beliefs, the four-day work week doesn’t have a negative influence on productivity in a business – in fact, recent international academic research and case studies conducted have shown it does the opposite. It led to more focused, energised and happier workers. Microsoft experimented with a four-day work week for its Japan office in 2019, and reported a 40% increase in productivity.

Reduced stress
Many workers experience burnout on the job, which has been amplified by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. About 60% of employees in Ireland report feeling more stressed at work since the onset of Covid-19 – having an extra day to rest and recharge could help relieve this stress.

An equal workplace
The four-day work week would be beneficial to women as it allows better distribution of caring responsibilities between parents. Reducing working time will allow families to better balance their caring responsibilities for mothers and fathers. This will help remove barriers to women achieving senior positions in their industry, as currently women still handle the majority of care work for children.

Better for the environment
Research into the environmental impact of a four-day work week has shown that it would reduce our carbon footprint by around 20%, through reduced energy use in buildings and less commuting. As climate change becomes an increasing threat to our society, radical actions like the four-day work week could make sense in order to protect our future.

Cons

Customer and client problems
Customers and clients understand that employees typically don’t respond to issues outside of regular working hours, but during a typical workday there needs to be someone address problems or queries. Particularly for businesses that are customer-facing, it would require smart scheduling and rostering in order to ensure that issues and requests can always be addressed.

Risk
The biggest risk for employers is the cost impact a four-day work week could have. If employees fail to meet their work requirements, it could lead to loss of business or clients, meaning it could become too costly to uphold such a company work policy.

Too few hours in the day
Some jobs simply need more hours in the day. In some trials of the four-day work week, workers ended up doing the same number of hours than previously expected, but were now paid overtime to do so. This helped workers, but impacted employers greatly, meaning it wasn’t feasible long-term.

No doubt the four-day work week could work for some industries and businesses, but the risk factor could be a major barrier to see it become the ‘standard’ approach to working.