Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Four Day Work Week: Has Its Time Come? The Four Day Work Week: Has Its Time Come?

The Four Day Work Week: Has Its Time Come?

For decades now, the standard model for working hours has been 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, for a total of 40 hours per week. The typical business hours are 9 to 5, and consequently, many people find themselves working these exact hours. Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. This system is in place throughout much of the world, and has been for some time, replacing various other models, such as the 6 and 7 day work week, 12-16 hour shifts, etc. Clearly, the 40 hour a week schedule was preferable, and in many countries, was fought for by labour unions, who refused to remain fixed on such rigorous schedules as 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, which many people worked before the shift in thinking that preceded the onset of the 40 hour week.

The new model has sustained the majority for decades, and there haven't been very many advocates coming out in favour of adopting a replacement, although if one were to look hard enough, one could find a few. Until recently, I had been unaware of these few, but had always thought to myself that the current model was a tad bit unsavoury, and perhaps unnecessary. I mean, most people work 5 days out of every 7. You work 5....to enjoy 2...in the one and only life we get (as far as we can tell, and this is what I believe to be true).


I mean, we are here in this life for a finite amount of time, and we all say that the things we value most are our family and friends....yet we spend far, far more time with our co-workers than we do our loved, and supposedly cherished, ones.


Why do we work so much? If we all value the other things in life so much, why do we just accept a model for our lives that has us spending far, far more time doing things other than the things that we say we value so dearly? I mean, I understand that we all must work to support ourselves and our families, and I understand that for the economy to run, for innovation to continue, all of that, we need to do our part. But why not do it....in 4 days?

What if, instead of five 8 hour days, you worked four 10 hour days? Sure, it's the same amount of hours, but said hours are condensed into 1 less day, which means that you get 3 solid days off a week as opposed to 2. Work 4 days to enjoy 3, as opposed to working 5 days to enjoy 2. Think about the benefits of having 3 days off a week! In fact, let's go through some of the potential benefits to this system, and perhaps others will see what I see: Major personal, familial, and societal benefits to fitting the 40 hour work week into 4 days as opposed to 5.

Note: I suggest maintaining 40 hours a week as opposed to reducing the work week to say 32 not out of desire (I think it would be much better for most of us if we all worked a lot less) but out of recognition that no companies will want 8 hours less production per employee per week, nor would we want such a hit to our economy.

Reason # 1: Personal Time

-You are still working 40 hours, but you get 3 days off in a row, and you can also subtract a day's worth of commuting time, which for some people, is huge. 3 full days to spend doing, well, whatever the hell you want! Whether it's sitting in front of the TV with your hand in your pants, Al Bundy style, spending time with your child(ren), spouse, whatever it may be, you have 3 full days to do it. Think about how many families could really benefit from having three full days together per week!

Reason # 2: Save Money

-Working four days as opposed to five means one less trip to work per week. That's less gas and less mileage (which means less repairs, tune ups, etc.). One day's worth of saved parking fees, if applicable. If you normally go out for lunch, buy coffee, etc, you save there. Have children in child care? One less day a week spent there, means money in your pocket. In addition to these personal savings, there would be overall societal savings. Less driving means less road repairs needing to be done. Fewer auto accidents every year, which means savings in terms of insurance, and emergency services. A decrease in the demand for oil should equate to cheaper prices at the pump.

Reason # 3: Environmental Savings

-There would be a lot less commuting going on if people only had to drive to work 4 times a week as opposed to 5. With millions of people driving less (we of course cannot assume that everyone would spend their day off at home, but many certainly would) there would be far less fossil fuels being burned, which means much less pollution, and a decrease in the rate at which we are burning through our resources. In a day and age where everyone is concerned with the rising price of gas, as well as the dwindling supply, less commuting is nothing but great. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions alone is HUGE, and should really be reason enough for us to discuss moving things in this direction.

Reason # 4: Health Benefits

-With less commuting comes less stress. Less exposure to pollutants. Perhaps some extra sleep every week (you might sleep in longer on that extra day off). If you normally accumulate a sleep debt during your work week, that extra day off might be utilized in the effort to reduce said debt. Those 3 days off a week would likely result in a reduction in stress levels for many people (and probably an increase for many others with tumultuous family lives).

Reason # 5: Reduction in Traffic Congestion

-All over the world, we have seen incredible increases in the amount of traffic congestion over the span of just a few decades. The population increases exponentially every year, and with that increase in people comes an increase in drivers, and, consequently, and increase in the number of cars on the road. Unfortunately, the road systems do not, and in many cases, cannot, keep up, which means that traffic starts to form the awful thing known as congestion. Suddenly, an easy 20 minute drive becomes an arduous 1 hour long nightmare. Anyone who has to drive in heavy traffic congestion will tell you: it's an unmitigated disaster. Well, imagine if, all of a sudden, there was a large decrease in the number of cars on the road because less people are driving to work? Less stress, less accidents, less road rage incidents, etc. This one leads to some of the benefits listed above, like saving money and improving health conditions.

Reason # 6: Employee Productivity

-Now this one is up in the air. I'm not sure what the case would be, exactly, and I am unfamiliar with the research in this area, assuming it exists (it must, I would think), so I cannot speak with any certainty but I think it reasonable to assume that a switch to a four day work week may increase productivity. People, knowing that they have 1 less day a week to work, and being able to take advantage of the, well, advantages afforded them by the four day a week schedule, could potentially be more productive on those four days. Not having to sustain that level of motivation across a 5 day period may prove to be beneficial to both employer and employee. Of course, it's also possible that maintaining said level over a ten hour shift as opposed to an eight hour one could prove to be difficult, if not unmanageable. I really don't know, and while it would vary across individuals, companies, and types of employment, there would of course be trends that would emerge, and that's where the research comes into play.

There are a number of considerations to be made when considering a shift int he way we operate as a society, and this potential change is no different. I fully recognize that the logistics of this would be far more complicated than I could fathom, and while I almost certainly missed some other potential benefits of such a change, I likely just as surely missed potential disadvantages (in addition to the possible hit to productivity over the course of a lengthier shift). I am, however, also sure that there's a conversation to be had here, and if I were a betting man, I'd bet that this idea could gain traction and eventually come to fruition if we put in the requisite amount of time studying the effects it will have, and working to implement it in the most beneficial and least intrusive manner possible.

I really do think this could work, and I think a lot of people would be a lot better off for it. What do you think? Let me know in the comment section below!


  1. This is fucking genius.

  2. I like thise idea, sounds very reasonable. Too reasonable for anyone to pay attention to. :/

  3. Anonymous, I dunno about genius, but I'm glad you enjoyed the read.

    Pseudo, that's funny.

  4. Interesting idea. I have actually heard people during various times during my life throw out the possibility of something like this. I can definitely agree with many of your benefits, though some of them may be inconsequentially affected by this.

    A possible negative effect that I can think of is the availability of the business to someone who is in need of that particular service which that business creates. This obviously depends on the type of business, but one less work day means one less day that the business is open for customers or clients to schedule appointments or do whatever business needs to be done. Someone may be busy Monday-Thursday and that Friday may be the only time during the week that they have free time. This seems to apply most fittingly to doctors and other similar practices, although I'm sure someone could think of more examples of this.


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