Why We Should All Start Thinking About A Four-Day Workweek, Including Us
Last week, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern — who has rightfully won a lot of praise worldwide for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic — suggested that employers who are able to do so consider instituting a four-day workweek. The reasoning behind this was largely related to boosting the tourism industry, but experts in recent years have been saying that the four-day-workweek is, in fact, the way to go.
Now, former presidential candidate and universal basic income advocate Andrew Yang is pushing for the adoption of the four-day workweek in the United States. On Monday, he shared a Washington Post article about it, saying that it should be seriously considered and pointing out that it would create jobs and improve mental health.
3-Day weekends are better than 2-Day weekends. We should seriously look at 4-day workweeks. Studies show that we wo… https://t.co/Lq5mmidm34— Andrew Yang🧢🇺🇸 (@Andrew Yang🧢🇺🇸)1590434119.0
Yang, for whatever other faults he may have, is extremely ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding the way things are headed, employment-wise. The more technology improves things, the less necessary a lot of jobs are going to be. That's just a fact. We do need to consider how we support a nation full of people when we do not actually need 200 million adults to be working 40 hours or more a week. When it comes to things like a UBI and a four-day workweek, the question really isn't if, but when.
Contrary to what "common sense" might lead people to believe, studies have shown that people who work a four-day workweek are actually more productive in those four days than workers who work five days a week are in five. This shouldn't be that surprising. If you're working a four day workweek, you're both better rested and less likely to procrastinate. It's also just easier to get things done when you only have a short period of time to get them done. The increase in pressure makes it easier to power through and not get stuck on things that don't matter or go off on tangents.
Advocates of the plan, including Yang, say such a system could lead to job creation and happier workers. Perpetual Garden, a New Zealand estate planning firm, has already adopted a four-day workweek. The move was made after CEO Andrew Barnes read an article about research showing that the average British employee is only productive for 2.5 hours out of every day.
"If I gave people a day off a week to do all the other stuff that got in the way–all the little problems that you might have outside of work–would you then get better productivity in the office in the four days when people worked?" Barnes said, describing his thought process to Fast Company.
Perpetual Garden's employees worked four eight-hour days rather than five at their usual salary on a trial run lasting eight weeks. According to Fast Company, stress levels reported by employees went from 45 percent to 38 percent, while job performance improved. The trial also showed that employees' commitment to their employer rose to 88 percent from 68 percent previously. After the trial, Perpetual Garden made the change permanent.
When Microsoft Japan experimented with a four-day week in 2019, giving employees every Friday in August of that year off, productivity was up 40 percent. Microsoft Japan also discovered that the company used fewer resources during that month. Pages printed in the office were down by nearly 60 percent and the amount of electricity consumed was down 23 percent compared to the previous year, according to Business Insider.
Huh! It almost seems like the rare idea that could be beneficial to both workers and their employers! Not to mention being good for the environment.
So why not at least try it? The worst thing that could happen is that it would not work out well and employers could just go back to the five-day workweek.
The funny thing about the United States, of course, is that even if every other country in the world adopted this, even if it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to actually improve productivity in workers, it would be almost impossible for that to become the norm here. We've created a culture wherein not taking one's actual, earned vacation days and working 60-hour weeks has become not just a thing people have to do in order to get by or a symbol of one's "hardworking" nature, but a symbol of virtue. It's a thing people put on their mental lists of reasons for why they are a "good person."
Americans like to do things the hard way, even if the "easy way" produces better results, because we associate the "hard way" with building good character. Americans love to laugh at Norwegians and their fancy resort prisons, even as they very clearly produce better results than ours do. We'd rather pay thousands of dollars for an ambulance trip than have to live with the thought of someone who didn't "earn" it getting a free ride. We'd rather have a bizarre and convoluted health care system that costs us way more than it should, because we are convinced that it is the morally correct way of doing things. We want to teach abstinence-only education to children instead of comprehensive sex-ed despite the fact that comprehensive sex-ed obviously produces better results. We're not "results-oriented," we're "process-oriented." We decide which process we consider the most moral and insist upon doing that regardless of what the results are. It's not necessarily "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results" so much as "good results don't count if you don't do things the right way."
And that's not all Americans. It's certainly not me. But we have to keep in mind that employers are not the only barrier to something like this. There are a lot of employees out there who would not feel good about themselves working a four-day-week.
That doesn't mean we shouldn't push for it. It's better for productivity, it's better for the environment, it's better for people's mental health and it's better, frankly, for the economy. It gives people more time to spend money, more time to go on vacation, and perhaps most importantly, more time to just enjoy their lives.
As crappy as this pandemic is, as horrifying as it is that we have just crossed the line over 100,000 deaths, it's possible that good can come from it as well. It might shake a few people out of some long-held but damaging beliefs about "the way things ought to be," and some formerly stigmatized things may become less-so. Americans may start being a little more comfortable with everyone having health care. Companies may realize that people can work from home and still get things done — allowing them to hire diverse people from all over the country instead of just those who can afford to live wherever they are based, while saving money on rent.
It is sometimes hard to accept that doing things the "easy way" can be actually better and more efficient than doing things the hard way. It took me a long while to accept that sending my laundry out was legitimately less expensive than doing it myself (I do not have a car, I'm far away from a laundromat and the laundry machines in my building are both extremely expensive and extremely likely to ruin my clothes) and to not feel like an asshole for doing that. But now I have both more money and more time and I really don't think it's turned me into a huge asshole or changed my character in any meaningful way.
If we can get people to try out a four-day work-week for a while, they might figure out the same thing.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse