Why a 4-day workweek is or isn’t the solution

Mar 16, 2022 | Innovation

Leadership Executives

A 4-day workweek may soon be a reality. Iceland, Belgium, the UK, New Zealand, Japan, and Spain, are already testing whether full pay for fewer hours does in fact enhance employee productivity, motivation, and job commitment. Companies like Unilever in New Zealand, and Microsoft in Japan have already conducted pilot studies revealing positive outcomes. 

There are two main arguments. On the one hand, the reduced workweek could create a more dynamic economy and make it easier for people to combine their family lives with their careers, increasing job commitment, satisfaction, and therefore productivity. On the other hand, some may end up working longer days to achieve targets, customers may be left unsatisfied if unable to reach people, and companies sticking to the 5-day week may gain a competitive advantage.

The question depends on several factors: culture, job design, industry, and workload, among others. To discuss this topic further, six executives and Opportunity Network members from different parts of the world share whether they think the 4-day workweek is the way forward and why.

1 – “Work versus non-work days is an antiquated framework”

Jeff Wald, Chairman at Sonero.ai, USA

The 4-day workweek has been mooted innumerable times and has never come to pass. Will the seismic changes that COVID-19 has brought to the world of work (acceleration of distributed, gig, remote, automation, shrinking labor forces) finally deliver a three-day weekend?  No.  One of the most powerful trends in the world of work for the last few decades has been the end of the 9-5/5-day workweek. There is now a limited difference between work hours and non-work hours, a workday and a non-work day.  The construct of thinking about work versus non-work days is simply an antiquated framework.  So even if we go more remote, more distributed, more gig, more automation, we have moved to work from anywhere and always “on”.  So enjoy your weekend, no matter how long it is!

2 – “The overall concept needs to be thoroughly thought through”

Robin Wong, Managing Partner at Bizwiz Partnership Limited, Hong Kong

I am not in favor of using either a 4-day workweek or a 5-day workweek as a simplistic answer to improving corporate performance, culture, or work-life balance. I believe each company’s background and business dynamics are different. It really depends on the type of business you are operating.

Putting a label that it is preferable over one or the other seems to overshadow the ultimate objective of the exercise in the first place. What groundwork will need to be done if such an initiative is to be put in place? Are there better alternatives? If the working hours are to be reduced significantly, what upskills training will be needed so that there will be no loss of productivity? From my experience, not many corporations have taken a step back to ask the right questions before pursuing such an initiative. This could be dangerous if the overall concept has not been thoroughly thought through. Having said that, I am in favor to explore this possibility as it will encourage companies to review their workforces’ current productivity and employee engagement levels.

3 “A 4-day workweek drives employees to be more efficient”

Najwa El Iraki, Founder and Managing Partner at AfricaDev Consulting Ltd, Morocco

As an entrepreneur, I actually already offer 4 days a week for those willing to take this option: I believe a 4-day workweek drives employees to be more efficient and productive with their time in the workplace. Pro-activity is a key benefit of the reduced workweek, where employees are inclined to make the most of their 8+ hours workdays with the prospect of having a 3-day weekend! This increased efficiency brings with it a greater conversion in deal-making, more efficient meetings, and greater cohesion within teams. Even better, a 4-day workweek is likely to increase their company commitment and wellbeing!

4 – “I do not believe in paying or rewarding based on time”

Torsten Kaehlert, Founder and Owner at TK Asia Consult, Singapore

I am fairly agnostic about this question as I do not believe in paying or rewarding based on the time the individual is spending at the office or working at home. I am far more in favor of agreeing on expected deliverables and paying/rewarding for these.

This is obviously far more complex than simply agreeing on a number of hours or days, and requires a well-designed and fair matrix on the deliverables, but eventually will lead to better results for all parties. In my view, this should be possible for a big portion of white-collar work. For those that cannot be shifted to such modified reward/payment structure, I would lean towards keeping 5 days, but building in a good amount of flexibility, e.g. by offering additional holiday when reaching certain goals, i.e. again merit-based.

5 – “A fifth day could give you time to finish uncompleted tasks”

Joanna Walker-McClain, President at Omni Consulting Firm, USA

This question depends on the type of work that one would be doing. As a former banker, I would be in favor of the 5-day work week, because it allows you to plan ahead and have a structured week.

You know what you are doing each day and when it doesn’t go as planned (due to other priorities such as new clients/additional service that needs attention), you can always come back and complete unfinished tasks at the end of the week. If you think about when there is a bank holiday during the week, even though you have a 4-day work week, you have to work it like a 5-day work week because you have to get the same tasks done regardless of the hours you have.

Therefore, having that fifth day gives you time to address all the areas that need your attention. At least at the end of the workweek, you can say, yes that was a 5-day week, but everything got completed. Some may prefer the 4-day work week because it gives them a better work-life balance and suits their lifestyles better.

6 – “The traditional 9-5, 5 days week will no longer prevail” 

Stuart Duncan, Director at Srcd Consultoria Empresarial Ltda., Brazil

In principle, the 4-day workweek could be a viable solution, yes. But this assumes that working practices are the same 9-5 working day that has prevailed for centuries. The ‘working day’ has evolved with people now increasingly working from home (WFH) and being given flexible working hours. This evolution has accelerated hugely during the pandemic and there will not be a return to the previous norms. I think the working week will evolve to 3 days in the office: 2 days WFH. The days in the office will center around face-to-face meetings and social interaction. The WFH days will concentrate on project delivery/reviews etc. The traditional 9-5, 5 days week will no longer prevail. 

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