Juliet Schor is an economist who’s made studying working trends her lifelong legacy. In her TedTalk Podcast, she addresses a growing problem of the American worker being stressed out. The work/life balance is off, and it’s affecting every industry.
She began her studies on the American work week in the 1980s. People are burnt out, and the stress caused by the pandemic seems to be fueling the fire. Have you noticed more “Help Wanted” signs on every street corner?Read More »
Is a Four-Day Work Week the Answer?
Going to a four-day work week isn’t a new concept, as nurses and other medical professionals have done this for decades. Will reducing the number of hours a person works fix the growing problems with industry in America? After the pandemic, some major companies are now offering their workers a four-day work week, but they still get paid for five.
Employers also think about where people work, which has driven the move to work remotely. Customer service centers don’t need extensive operations to function, as a well-trained employee can work from the privacy of their home. If it’s possible to rethink where a person works, these companies can also evaluate how much time they spend on the job.
Some feel that altering to a four-day work week isn’t a realistic move, but it can actually benefit both employers and employees. Another argument for this movement is that it can be a gateway to climate change.
Trials Show Promising Results
Shor states that this has been experimented with for the past decade. Companies are cutting hours but not pay. The studies have proven this new schedule is a success. Why does reducing the work week work so well?
Well, people tend to value their jobs more, are less stressed out, and it allows them to have a good work/life balance. Sadly, so many people struggle with keeping a good personal life as their primary focus is on working each day. Another staggering fact is that these studies have found that most people can be just as productive in four days as they can be in five.
Benefits for the company include things like employee retention, a higher-quality applicant pool, and lower healthcare costs. Though she’s currently involved in studies globally, Shor found one business beat her to the punch. Healthline is a medical research company under the direction of CEO Adam Husney.
When they noticed that their employees were leaving in droves, they knew something must be done. So, they switched the five-day workweek down to four days, but they didn’t alter their employees’ pay. Husney found that instantly the mood changed around the company.
Employees were happier, and they seemed to get more accomplished. He also noticed that the number of sick days and resignations took a nosedive and the company’s revenues increased. Most importantly, customer satisfaction scores are off the charts.
Employees interviewed after these changes at Healthline reported positive things. Self-care is on the increase, and stress levels are down. Could this be the wave of the future?
Understanding the Exchange: Work Reorganization
Companies are willing to give their employees a day off, but they want something in return. The employees need to squeeze a five-day work week into four, which sounds like a difficult task. Studies have shown that people are more productive because they want that extra day to spend with their families, and they’re less distracted.
By reorganizing their work, employees realize just how much time they previously wasted. Companies also had to make some fundamental changes, like cutting out unproductive activities that were timewasters. Things like meetings, messaging instead of calling, and emails all cut down on social chatting.
Many employees acknowledge that they spend a lot of their time browsing Facebook or other social media sites. Other time wasters include calling home, texting friends, and just surfing the web. Now, they want that extra day because it provides them so many benefits, so they’re cutting out all these things that were causing so much downtime.
The National Government of Iceland was one of the first to implement a 35-hour work week in 2015. As more than 2,500 employees jumped on board, things have worked great for them. They noted an increase in work ethics and a decrease in their employees’ physical and mental stress. Today, around 85 percent of the employees in Iceland all work a reduced week.
Why are these reduced-week plans working so well in the trials? The key is that each hour becomes more productive. Norway and Denmark are currently the two countries with a shortest work week on average, and France and Germany aren’t far behind. Employees in these countries are showing that their citizens are much happier.
Consequently, when work hours are higher, it doesn’t always mean productivity is increased. Countries such as the UK and Italy show way less productive than the countries that work less. Which companies are more in favor of a four-day work week? Shockingly, tech companies take the lead, but banking and restaurants also see the value.
Sometimes a Four-Day Work Week Doesn’t Fit
While it works well for most businesses, it’s not always possible to do 100 percent of the work and get it done 80 percent of the time. A case in point is manufacturing companies, teachers, health care workers, and flight attendants. These vital workers need to slow down and not speed up their workday.
Manufacturing has already been through many changes in the past decade and speeding it up anymore can jeopardize safety. With the pandemic that’s exhausted health care, these people need to work less and not harder in the times they’re on the job.
Gothenburg, a city in Sweden, decided to reduce their nurses’ hours. Rather than cut their time down and leave the slack for the other staff to pick up, they hired people to cover the off shifts. An additional cost came with significant risk, but they found that soon the expense of the extra salaries was offset by the lower amount of sick pay.
How Much Time Should You Dedicate to Work?
These studies all bring about one big question: how much time is healthy to work without affecting your mental or physical wellbeing? Jobs are getting more and not less demanding in many parts of the world, and are people being pushed too far? With the advancements in digitization and artificial intelligence, the work week should be headed in the other direction.
After the pandemic and the things that so many people have suffered, individuals need to focus on restoring their quality of life. This is especially true in countries with great wealth like the United States and London. There’s already so much productivity that there’s enough for everyone to have a good life without killing themselves with work.
Reduced Work Can Affect the Climate Crisis
It sounds bizarre to think that working less could help improve the climate crisis, but studies have shown a link. Schor states that when people work less, they don’t have to commute as much. If American companies would begin to reduce the workweek by a mere two percent each year, it could prove beneficial to decarbonization.
People who are pressed for time and stress tend to turn to more polluting methods to run their households and for their transportation. Those folks who have more time and money often look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. There’s no need to press production and manufacturing to the max when people work less, thereby reducing overall emissions.
Shockingly, the places with the lowest work weeks like Denmark, Germany, Netherland, and France, are also low on carbon. Some companies see the new four-day work week as an answer to an ongoing problem, which could usher in a new way to live. It’s going to take more than the companies who already see the benefits, as it’s going to take government help to implement these changes.
It’s Time for Change
Each person has a right to free time, as it’s essential for their overall wellbeing. This brings the rationale for a universal basic income to the forefront. People on the low end of the totem pole can’t afford to take days off, but there can be equality in pay for all with financial support.
The reality is that people are burned out, depressed, and in desperate need of change. There are also inequality of income and the ever-changing climate that need to be considered. The good news is that implementing a four-day work week will address all of these issues.
Currently, the only changes being made are at the company level, and there are still those who are resistant to these modifications. However, as the momentum builds for the radical alteration of the workweek, it will become more universal. Every company must find a way that works for them, as some will see Friday as a good day to take off, while others will prefer to take off on Mondays.
There’s no right or wrong way to do things when you accommodate your workers and enable them to enhance productivity. While companies across the board will need to figure out if they can shut down for one day, there are many other things they must also consider. However, if something isn’t done quickly, the American people will pull away from the workplace, only burdening the welfare system and state-funded programs.
Much of what’s been happening across the country with “Help Wanted” signs on every corner is ominous. Laborers are demanding things be done differently, as the old system isn’t working anymore. It’s up to the employers to rise to the challenge and make alterations to ensure a good work/life balance, better production, and improved customer satisfaction. It’s time for a change!
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