Switching to a four-day working week has a range of benefits for workers and employers, two experts told delegates at the recent World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos.
Wharton School in Pennsylvania psychologist Adam Grant said experiments show a reduction in working hours enabled employees to focus their attention more effectively.
“They end up producing just as much, often with higher quality and creativity, and they are also more loyal to the organisations,” Grant said.
Economist and historian Rutger Bregman highlighted that a shorter workweek is not a radical idea and has been tried in the past.
“For decades, all the major economists, philosophers, sociologists, they all believed, up until the 1970s, that we would be working less and less,” Bregman said.
“Henry Ford, for example, discovered that if he changed the working week from 60 hours to 40 hours, his employees would become more productive.”
Benefits of a shorter workweek
Last year New Zealand estate management firm Perpetual Guardian trialed a four day working week, with positive results:
- 24% of employees reported an improved work-life balance.
- There was a 7% reduction in stress among employees.
- Work satisfaction increased by 5%.
- There was no decrease in productivity, despite reducing their workweek from 40 hours per week to 32 hours per week.
A shorter working week has additional benefits like more efficient use of time, fewer overhead costs and increased innovation, it stated.
Disadvantages of a shorter workweek
There are, however, drawbacks for companies to move to a shorter working week.
A two-year trial in Sweden where the workday was shortened from 8 hours to 6 hours resulted in a significant reduction of output.
It also comes with the risk of preventing employees who want to work longer hours from increasing their productivity.
Another consideration is that it is not possible for many industries to shorten the workweek, like the retail sector where clients need to be served seven days a week.