“It would give us time to be whole human beings. We need care, connection and other good things – we aren’t just economic instruments” – Anne-Marie Slaughter (New America CEO)

The four-day work week is not a new phenomenon. In the last years, an increasing number of surveys and studies have been published, most of which suggest that reducing the work week to only four days, would be incredibly beneficial for workers and productivity alike.

While the current standard of the forty-hour, five-day week feels immutably engrained into our society, it is not that old. It was only in 1926 – not even a century ago – that Henry Ford chose to reduce the hours his employees worked without concurrently reducing their pay. While his motive was to calm unrest and encourage spending, Ford simultaneously improved worker welfare and set a standard that was soon adopted around the globe.  

Now, barely a hundred years later there are ongoing conversations about shaving another day off of the work week. In 2019 Microsoft ran the “Work-Life Choice Challenge” in their Japan offices, where they gave all their staff several Fridays in a row off. In a final statement on the project the then CEO Takuya Hirano praised the benefits of the change. Employees were happier and took less time off. Productivity increased dramatically and a significant majority of staff said they enjoyed a shorter work week. Before this, as well as since then, there have been more trials and pilots, usually echoing similar results: happier workers and improved productivity.

Earlier this month a cooperation between various thinktanks, not-for-profits and educational institutions launched a new trial. For six months, 3.300 employees across 70 different companies will be working four-day weeks instead of the traditional five. Unlike Henry Ford, the organisers of this trial do not have an explicitly consumerist purpose. While similar trials on smaller scale and in different countries have previously been conducted, this one seems to specifically be cognizant of its place in a post-pandemic world. The pandemic is obviously far from over, but we seem to be in a period where many employers want to shift their workers away from remote working and back into their offices. We are coming out of an almost two-year period of remote working, with the boundaries between work and the home blurring, as well as people adapting to a different kind of work structure and environment. Many people have found they prefer remote working, whether it makes them feel more productive or simply allows them to lead a more comfortable life.

Not only are there calls for more flexibility regarding remote working, but the matter of employee welfare seems to be receiving more attention in public discussions. One of these was a discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year. Several of the panellists spoke in favour of the change – highlighting not only the improvements in productivity, but also the benefits to worker welfare and societal wellbeing. Having an extra day off with no accompanying economic loss means workers have more time to spend with their families or simply taking care of themselves.

The research and society at large certainly seem to be pulling and pointing the way of the four-day week. However, there are some practical concerns to consider. Would having all staff permanently on four-day weeks mean that there is a set rota? Or do workers simply get to pick their extra day off and must ensure no productivity is lost as a result? How does a company maintain the highest quality of service and not sacrifice profits if everyone comes into the office one day less?

What is true for return-to-office-policies perhaps applies here too: there is no one-size-fits all. In this case every organisation may have to figure out what system best suits the needs of their customers and their employees. The only thing that seems certain, is that both the company, their workers, and with correct implementation their customers too, stand to benefit from the change.