Is The 4-Day Work Week The Solution To Labor And Wellness Problems?

January 3, 2022

photo of woman at desk

The Great Resignation. Work From Home. Labor Crisis. Burnout.

If the global pandemic was at the forefront of 2020 and 2021, then the worker revolution is likely the wild card of 2022. Across the United States, workplaces are adjusting and adapting to a tumultuous work environment with high turnover rates and economic shifts across all industries.

As discussed in Best Wrist-Friendly YouTube Workouts for At-Home Fitness, nearly 25% of American workers are now working from home (resulting in wrist-pain and other complications) with that number only expected to grow by 2025 and beyond.

With labor discussions simmering, a growing group of work activists are reimagining not just where work happens, but also when

The Global Experiment

Dating back to 2015, Iceland piloted the first-ever large-scale trial of the 4-day work week, when one percent of the nation reduced their hours from 40 to 35 hours, guaranteed the same pay for their output. In a surprising turn of events, those 2,500 Icelandic workers not only matched the productivity of their 40-hour working counterparts, but also reported higher levels of happiness, health, and a reduction of stress. 

Since then, 86% of the Icelandic workforce either have reduced hours or the right to request reduced hours, with areas in other countries like Spain and Japan starting to follow suit.

And while this inverse in productivity may seem counterintuitive, the concept is not new. In 1955, British naval historian and author Cyril Northcote Parkinson first coined the concept of Parkinson’s Law, or the theory that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

The 4-Day Work Week & Parkinson’s Law

First used to critique bureaucratization of the British Civil Service, Parkinson noted in his original think piece how bureaucrats and management continued to balloon despite a decrease in actual work to manage with the reduction of navy personnel and ship production.

Later on, assistant Professor Elizabeth Tenney at the University of Utah’s Eccles School of Business expanded on Parkinson’s Law by writing about time pressure and productivity.  

According to Tenney, “When people sit down to do a task, they’ll put in a lot of effort initially. At some point there’s going to be diminishing returns on extra effort. To optimize productivity, you need to maximize benefits and minimize costs and find that inflection point, which is where you should start to wrap up.”

It’s why deadlines prove so effective and procrastination proves so deadly. And, in the case of the four-day work week, it’s why we may not need as much time doing our jobs as we think.

The 4-Day Work Week & The United States

From the experiments around the globe regarding reduced work hours, many are finding increased productivity and creativity, along with less burnout across workers. Beyond that, some companies found revenue and profits increasing given that the four-day work week was a cheap-to-implement tool to aid with employee recruitment and retention, which Workable calculates costs $4,000 per hire.

A growing body of employees and leaders across the United States are already pushing for this change in work culture, with California Rep. Mark Takano proposing new legislation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that would reduce the traditional workweek from 40 to 32 hours. Although this proposed legislation has been criticized as being misnamed, given that it merely reduces the 40-hour threshold at which workers would qualify for overtime pay, this type of legislation points to a growing shift in the traditional work week that has long persisted in the American economy.

Beyond that, companies like Buffer (a social media management tool company) have since adopted the four-day work week for their employees, scaling back on meetings and social events to focus on work time instead. 

The key to the four-day work week stems from efficiencies that start from the top. A posited solution to the Parkinson’s Law is DACI, a decision-making framework that establishes efficient group decisions. The letters in DACI stand for  driver, approver, contributor, informed. By establishing clear roles and decision-making policies, these systems allow for a better understanding of each person’s role and what’s in and out of scope.

Reimagining the workplace will take time and consideration, with some companies starting with Summer Fridays and others emphasizing flex hours as a way to improve work-life balance.

If COVID-19 taught the world anything, however, it’s the value of flexibility and the importance of security. And with technology advancing at a rapid rate, the era of the 4-day work week may not be as far off as we think.

Sources

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Photo: Stocksnap via Pixabay

Dana Drosdick
Dana is a marketer living in Saratoga Springs, NY with a passion for all things related to stewardship, faith, wellness, and personal enrichment. Her work has been featured in various Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, The Odyssey Online, and The Banner Magazine. Follow her at @danadrosdick on Instagram for foodie trends, her latest book recommendations, and far too many photos of clementines.

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