Could A Four-Day Work Week Make Us More Productive?


By Monday morning, most of us are already longing for the weekend. Could shrinking the work week help us to be more relaxed, and thus more productive?

As a culture, America is obsessed with work. We go on fewer vacations than almost any other nationality, with millions of hourly workers without any paid time off at all. Even when we’re not physically at work, we’re scanning emails or practicing presentations. We’d like to think that a 60-hour work week brings us that much closer to success, but some research suggests being on-call 24/7 is doing just the opposite.

British architect Irena Bauman recently told BD Online that she’s closing her offices on Friday and shifting the firm to a four-day work week. “We are working a “five days in four” week because how we live as individuals has consequences for everyone else,” Bauman said. “We are not waiting for anyone else to resolve our problems. We are looking instead for how we can make our own small changes, which, if made by others too, could have a significant socially and economically beneficial impact. One of these small changes is to alter the balance between work and private life.”

Lots of companies talk about wanting employees to have a good balance between professional and personal activities, but few of them actually go the extra step by giving you more time to yourself. But forcing workers to juggle too many responsibilities within the tight parameters of a 40-hour work week almost always means a decrease in productivity, not the other way around. While counter-intuitive, businesses looking to get the best from their employees all eight hours of the day might want to consider shrinking the work week.

A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health, according to the New York Times. “Spending more hours at work often leads to less time for sleep and insufficient sleep takes a substantial toll on performance, writes Tony Schwartz. “In a study of nearly 400 employees, published last year, researchers found that sleeping too little — defined as less than six hours each night — was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burn-out. A recent Harvard study estimated that sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.”

Adventurous bosses like Bauman hope downsizing from a five day work week will push employees into using office time more efficiently. If you have a deadline looming, but don’t want to sacrifice any of your “Friday free time” you’re more likely to find a way to get it done by Thursday. Likewise, the dangling carrot of a three-day weekend every week is more in tune with the way humans are programmed to operate. As Schwartz explains, “Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.” More time to recover means the ability to give full effort when it’s time to perform, rather than constantly operating at half-steam.

Have you ever worked for a company that utilized a shorter work week? Tell us about it in the comments!

Image: Glen_Wright