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The 4-day workweek trend

How would you like to work for a company that pays you to commit to a 4-day work schedule? Or a company that requires you to work 32 hours a week instead of the standard 40 hours? The 4-day workweek trend is the latest buzz to take the corporate world by storm. With COVID-19, digital disruption, quiet quitting, rising living costs, hybrid/remote working model among many other phenomena drastically revamping the way we work, it seems that the working crowd has too demonstrated a shift in their values and principles about work too.

A trend in the brewing for years

Historically speaking, the trend has been circulating roundtable discussions worldwide for many years. In the 1930s, prominently-quoted Brit economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that the world would shift to a 15-hour work week by 2030. Then came the United States Capitol Historical Society, who, in 1965, posits that the average working hours in a week would amount to no more than 14 hours/week by 2020. Finally, in 1998, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, under then-Minister of Labor Martine Aubry’s behest, established the two Aubry Laws that would see France’s working hours reduced from 39 to 35 hours.

While the former two didn’t come to fruition, the latter has inspired the modern world to take a good, hard look at 4-day workweeks. It’s a slow but sure topic that has been gaining traction.

But how did it happen?

Apart from the global pandemic that ravaged the world and left many individuals and businesses in shambles since then, we have the advent of AI and advanced technology to thank for bringing the trend back into the fold. The World Economic Forum in 2020, as quoted by tech firm Built In, believes a large portion of (simple) human tasks will be replaced by artificial intelligence in 2025. Likewise,Forbes too believes that technology will occupy a large part of our work lives soon enough, though they argue that AIs should augment human life side by side, and not replace them. The general consensus is this - AI is being gradually implemented at work to enhance the way we work, and it is expected that the combination of AI and human minds will bring unprecedented convenience to the workplace, thus freeing up time in our lives to focus on what matters.

How do we achieve the 4-day workweek arrangement?

Two ways:

● The 100-80-100 rule: You’ve heard of 9-9-6, now get ready for 100-80-100. Unlike the work-

crazed culture of 9-9-6 which requires employees to work 12 hours for 6 days a week, the 100-

80-100 is all about paying employees 100% of their wage for delivering 100% productivity under

80% work time. The approach favors quality over quantity with shortened hours.

● 4 days, 40 hours: Another approach to the 4-day workweek arrangement has been to compress

40 hours of work under 4 days. In exchange for an extra day off, employees have to clock in 2

additional hours of work for the next 4 days, although the practice comes with the risk of

increased burnout.

What experts are saying

Reduced working hours in exchange for more R&R for employees is no doubt, a boon that is welcomed by many. Meanwhile, employers are also cautiously optimistic and hopeful about implementing the practice if it means further benefits for themselves. Here are some pros and cons of a 4-day workweek arrangement.

The good

For the employees:

1. Increased productivity

2. Better work-life balance

3. Increased resilience to burnout

4. Greater job satisfaction

5. Greater job identity

6. Higher levels of motivation and work fulfillment

7. Increased saved costs on commuting, childcare and general expenditures

8. Greater workplace diversity including gender, racial and different-abled individuals diversity

9. Greater reported sense of work autonomy

10. Lesser carbon footprint (applies to employers and organizations too)

For the employers/organizations:

1. Increased revenue due to better work productivity

2. Decreased workplace absenteeism

3. Increased organization and brand reputation

4. Lesser carbon footprint (applies to employees)

5. Improved talent retention

6. Improved talent attraction

7. Decreased operational costs in the form of utility, rental and electric bills

8. Greater employee loyalty

The bad

Not a one-size fits all model

There are just certain jobs that do not fit the mold of the standard 9-5, 8 working hours a day, 5 days a week model. Jobs that are more flexible or ambiguous in working hours may be hurt by the changes. Think about a salesman, a realtor, a customer service agent or a F&B service provider who work around their clientele’s timing. In jobs where the working hours are unclear, administering a 4-day workweek plan may constitute “unfair treatment” to these professions, and it can be harder to score their KPIs as a result of the change.

Poor customer accessibility

Speaking of service providers, service-oriented businesses and organizations who practice a 4-day workweek arrangement may be at jeopardy of suffering customers’ wrath due to decreased customer accessibility. When businesses cannot troubleshoot or attend to customer problems, they face the risk of losing a customer forever.

Delays in project

Businesses that run on a project-basis may struggle to turn in their deliverables on time. In a highly-competitive world where revenue and business performance is dependent on high turnovers, organizations who practice 4-day workweek arrangements may lose out on certain clients due to this shift. OR, they may have to overwork their employees in order to meet the deadline, which defeats the purpose of the arrangement.

Hourly-dependent wage workers will suffer

People who are paid by the hour will experience decreased income due to the reduced hours they put at work. Meanwhile, adopting a compressed hours model may result in greater stress and burnout.

Reduced employee engagement

Although a 4-day workweek arrangement yields greater job satisfaction and job identity, employees may be at risk of facing reduced engagement with coworkers. Less time spent at work means employees do not see each other as often, nor do employers or leaders get to check in on their team members frequently. This is made all the harder when you consider remote working styles, where leaders and employees have to go their way out to schedule and coordinate team meetings or private meeting sessions.

Poor business-client coordination

With how globalized the world has become, it’s not unusual for businesses to have international clients. Time zone differences can stagger and effectively derail communication between businesses, and both parties may be spending more time contacting each other than getting the job done, costing billions or millions of losses in projects.

Case studies

Clearly, the benefits to both employees and organizations are innumerable, and they outweigh the cons. Implementing the change may take a while, and the initial stages of the implementation may even disorient leaders who prefer the conventional working model. However, the distortion is only temporary, and many organizations who have practiced the model have since reported positive results. Here are some prominent examples.

Microsoft Japan

Considered one of the most overworked countries in the world, in 2019, in conjunction with Microsoft Japan’s “Work Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer”, an initiative to improve employee well being and experience, the company undertook a 4-day workweek arrangement experimentation period between Jul - Sep 2019. Following the end of the program, the company reported a 40% productivity boost among employees. Meanwhile, electricity bills decreased by 23%.

4-day Week Global - US & Canada

Between Apr - Sep 2022, 38 companies throughout America and Canada have participated in the global pilot initiative of a 4-day workweek. Approximately 10,000 employees were involved in the experiment, and all companies are paired with a mentor who has successfully experienced and implemented the 4-day workweek practice to help streamline the changes. Although the pilot has recently concluded, we expect it to yield positive results and await further detail on the report.

4-day workweek in Iceland

Between 2015 - 2019, Iceland implemented a 4-day workweek practice across 1% of the country’s total workforce population. 2,500 employees from all sectors including education, government services, healthcare, private service providers took part in the initiative. Participants who were involved in the experiment reported decreased stress levels and greater work-life balance, which allowed them to bond with their family members.

Unilever New Zealand

Between Dec 2020 - 2021, Unilever New Zealand implemented the 100-80-100, 4-day workweek practice to 81 employees within the company. Following the conclusion of the pilot, Unilever NZ reported a 15 ~ 40% increase in employee productivity.

4-day week Global - UK

Said to be 4-day Week Global’s biggest pilot to date, 70 UK companies and 3,300 employees will begin working under a 4-day workweek program between Jun - Dec 202. During the ensuing period, researchers will monitor and assess how the program will affect the employees’ well being from the perspective of overall physical and mental health, as well as lifestyle/work factors such energy use, expenditures and job satisfactions.

United Arab Emirates

As of Jan 2022, the UAE has begun practicing a 4 ½-day workweek for government sector employees. The move is expected to benefit trading, finance and tourism sectors, whilst also improving the nation’s overall happiness levels. The government is now looking to implement the practice to schools too.

Our verdict…

The idea of a 4-day workweek seems promising and we believe it may open up further interesting discussions surrounding the topic. While some employers and big names still prefer the traditional working model, it’s clear that the practice has its merits, and we believe that a time will come when all companies worldwide will revise and modernize their work hours, for the sake of greater productivity and overall happiness.

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