Work smarter, not harder: The phenomenon of the four-day working week
My job at home is great. I genuinely really enjoy my work for many reasons. But like most people, when I open the car door at 6pm, I am knackered. Finding a song to play makes me feel like I have early-onset menopausal indecisiveness, and when I look over my shoulder to reverse out the parking space (I’m anti-reverse-bay parking), it feels stiffer than marble. But after working at this job for two consecutive weeks, I was hit like a brick by the realisation that, after graduation and unplanned ‘gap-yahhs’, this is just life. Knackered for five out of seven days for the rest of my life, with only two days to ‘recover’ before the cycle repeats itself.
I also found that I just had no time for my own hobbies. As soon as I step in the door, it’s time to eat, shower, and sleep before the rat race starts again. I just don’t have the time or energy to live my life in the way I want to, because life revolves around work.
Yet, a solution to the myriad of problems involved with the working week has begun to rear its head. In 2022, 70 companies took part in a 6-month long trial of reducing the working week from five days to four days. For one day a week, they didn’t have to join the motorway at 6pm, wash up their fork which someone else used, or rush home to attend their child’s academic parent-teacher meeting. For one day, they had some time to themselves to do whatever they wanted.
It’s simple, and it has clear benefits: the 3,000 employees participating in the trial received 100% of their wages for 80% of the work. The four-day week grants ‘employees’ to be ‘people’ for the day. They are able to reclaim their time, both corporately and personally.
Corporately, evidence shows that there is a rise in productivity and proactivity. The reduction in working hours almost acts as a time limit, because people are encouraged to form a triage system where the most important work is prioritised, also improving one’s focus. They are also rewarded for the work they achieved – thankfully not in the form of an anticlimactic pizza party – which has the further benefit of people gaining a more positive attitude towards work. It creates space for a two-way transaction where people also get out of work what they put in. Working hours are no longer filled just for the sake of it, but take on more value; especially when the workers themselves are the beneficiary.
Personally, people are able to invest their newfound time in themselves – the options seem endless. This can come in the form of hobbies, personal care, professional development, or more time to do the things which working adult life doesn’t allow them to do. For instance, work doesn’t always correspond with adulting. Almost everyone has a nightmarish story of having to call up the doctor’s at 8am, only to be told that they’re 72nd in the queue and there are no appointments available outside of 9-5pm. Everything from the mundane to the exciting will suddenly be more available, because you become more available.
The potential for personal development is particularly significant. It seems like in this day in age, everyone is expected to be maxing themselves out and always on the go. When asking a work colleague if they have any plans for the evening, saying ‘nothing’ doesn’t suffice. It’s expected that everyone should be going to the gym, going out for dinner, taking their dogs for a walk, going on a date, going to a concert, going to the cinema after work. This type of busy lifestyle isn’t always compatible with what work entails. Therefore, a four-day working week would allow people to maximise their lives, but in a healthy and safe way. There is potential for new hobbies to be explored and new social connections to be made, leading to improved wellness and exploration of self.
However, there will be certain demographics who turn their noses up at the initiative. They may take the initiative to mean that there will be a drop in standards, or even that (younger) people are lazy and don’t want to work. But this is the 21st-century workplace; although it will take time to adapt, the adaption is for a beneficial reason because our lives don’t revolve around work in quite the same way as they used to.
The four-day working week isn’t about excusing laziness or deceiving anyone. It’s about improving yourself, both personally and corporately. ‘Being productive’, is better than ‘being busy’, and as we move into an ever-changing world impacted by the pandemic’s work-from-home policies which saw a rise in satisfaction with working conditions, this is what the initiative makes room for.