Before we talk about the obvious benefits of a 4-day work week, let’s take a brief look at workweek history.
In the Beginning
Up until the mid-1800s, it wasn’t uncommon for people to work more than 100 hours six days a week. However, after the industrial revolution, labour activists made a push for more humane working hours in the U.S.
“8 hours of labour, 8 hours of recreation, 8 hours of rest”
— by Robert Owen, 1817
It took a while, but by 1866, many industries had adopted a new workweek: 48 hours six days a week. From 100 hours plus, that was an amazing achievement! It took about 80 years for the change to be made.
The Birth of the 40-hr Work Week
Then comes Henry Ford. Ford had conducted some research on his employees and found that they were more productive when they worked a day less. So in 1926, all Ford employees were working 40 hours five days a week. Imagine how people must have felt having an extra day to rest. Soon after, industries started adopting the new schedule, and by 1938, it was written into the law. Eventually, the practice was also adopted by the rest of the world. So thanks to Henry Ford, we had proper weekends off. This change took about 40 years from the old workweek.
Ford researched to see how he could make his employees more productive and discovered that working a day less would be good for them. That was almost a century ago and during the industrial revolution. The world has changed drastically and so must our attitude to work. Technology has transformed so many facets of life and given birth to many different jobs that are not meant to thrive on a 40-hour workweek. We have moved from being primarily manufacturing workers to knowledge workers. This demands a different work attitude. There have been thousands of research since the early 2000s about the effect of working 40 hours a week and the consensus is that it should be revised. Ford made his decision based on research. We should too.
A Knowledge-Based World
Our biggest asset is being drained at an exponential rate: our brain. For knowledge workers, productivity depends on how sharp the mind is at any point in time. You can’t work on cue when the clock strikes 9:00 AM, and you can’t just turn it off whenever. More importantly, you can’t expect it to produce its best 8 hours straight, for 5 days.
So what are the benefits?
There are two main benefits of working a day less.
You get to have a life
You can actually have a life outside work. I don’t know if it’s just me but usually, on the first day of the weekend, I do chores and errands, on the second day I rest. By the time I’ve gathered enough energy to do the things I actually enjoy, it’s already a new work week. That extra day would make such a difference. You get to spend more time with family and friends, have an extra day for your hobbies etc. All these activities increase your mental health and dare I say are worth having a lower GDP. What would you rather have: more time and contentment, or more money and less time? It’s up to you.
The most obvious and crucial point is the effect working a day less would have on the environment. It may seem outlandish but think about how many people commute to work a day. For example, a 2013 study by the Royal Automobile Club Foundation found that over half of the working people in Whales and England drive to work (15.3 million). In America, based on data collected by the United States Census Bureau in 2019, 76% of working people drove alone to work (120 million people). Reducing the carbon footprint from vehicles would make such a difference for the environment.
Another hidden benefit this gives to the environment is that it gives us more time to do and consume less energy-intensive activities. This can go either way, with people spending time watching more TV (an energy-intensive activity) or enjoying the outdoors and finishing that book they’ve been reading for a while. I think long-term, we would do away with energy-intensive activities if we have the opportunity.
At the end of the day, most people around the world are dissatisfied with the way the world is now. Giving us a little bit of control over our time is a good way of allowing people the time to reflect on what really matters to them.