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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCT chapter.

We are constantly pleading for more time: more time to do work, more time to spend with our loved ones and more time to rewind and destress – something we are in severe need of in this world of constant demands.

Well, what if we had that? What if, instead of working for longer periods of time, we worked more productively and efficiently within a shorter period? What if we had a three-day weekend? Would all our prayers be answered?

A four-day work week is not a compressed work schedule; rather, it is reduced hours. Over four days, an employee would work around 28 hours and then have a three-day weekend.

There have been several countries trialling a four-day week, with varying degrees of success. In Iceland, the most gender-equal country in the world, workers were paid the same amount for shorter hours during the trials, which occurred between 2015 and 2019. About 1% of the country’s population partook. Researchers say that the productivity stayed the same, or improved, in most of the workplaces. Many workplaces, such as offices, hospitals, and preschools, shifted to a 35- or 36-hour week from a 40-hour one. Workers have stated that they felt less stressed and less at the point of burnout. They also reported that their health and work-life balance had improved significantly, along with having more time to spend with their families, complete chores, and do their hobbies. The trials were an “overwhelming success”, proving that it is in fact possible to work less in our modern world. Sounds like a dream come true!

Companies in Korea and Japan had moved to four-day weeks, six-hour days or other shorter workweeks prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. These are countries that have words for “death by overwork” (karōshi), showing how severe burn-out is in our modern day society. They found the long hours unsustainable, so instead worked to “meaningfully redesign” how they functioned. In order to implement a shorter workweek without diminishing productivity, they tightened meetings; introduced “focus time” so that everyone could concentrate on their essential tasks; and used technology more mindfully.

Revenues and profits augmented because four-day weeks were cheap to implement, and garnered new customers. Therefore, companies, when they reduced hours, did not cut pay, which upped retention rates and attracted more experienced workers. 79% of employees at a London-based medical and health care communications company said that they had sufficient time to finish all their work, even with a day less.

Spain has also announced that it would run a trial four-day week, and the Spanish government has agreed to a 32-hour workweek without stopping workers’ compensation. Scotland is the most recent country to get on board with the workweek, wherein the work hours will be reduced by 20%. A poll in Scotland shows that 80% of those who responded felt very positively towards the initiative. 

There are many benefits to this plan. Unsurprisingly, increased productivity is one of those. Overworked employees are less productive than those working an average working week. In the New Zealand based company, Perpetual Guardian, they conducted a four-day week trial, which resulted in improvements in job satisfaction, teamwork, work-life balance, and company loyalty. The stress of the workers decreased from 45% to 38%.

Employees, with a four-day week, tend to take less sick leave and are less stressed because of it. Four-day weeks also result in less of a carbon footprint. Minimising the need to commute contributes significantly to this, as well as closing office buildings. Less electricity is used. Analysis shows that a four-day workweek without loss of pay could decrease the UK’s carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes annually by 2025.

A century ago, humans switched from working six days a week to five. This was extremely difficult for employers to accept: but here we are. Surely, it’s time to change again. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen how there has been a general improvement, in a balance between work and social-life. We have also seen how sorely we need a break. A four-day work week can make this need a reality. The process is gradual, but with time, hopefully, Thursdays will be the new Friday.

I'm an aspiring writer and editor majoring in BA English, Linguistics and Media Studies at UCT. I love literature, reading (when not prescribed), poetry and the power words carry. I'm into the academia aesthetic and I love a good cup of tea.