Could a four-day week really improve productivity and wellbeing?
Could you do just as much work – or even more – in one day less each week?
On the face of it, yes. Trials in Iceland and New Zealand have seen reductions in employee stress levels, improvements in work-life balance scores and boosts in productivity. A 2019 trial at Microsoft in Japan reported a whopping 40 per cent increase (measured by sales per employee over the same period the previous year), as well as reductions in absences and electricity consumption.
But there’s more to this than having Fridays off. Any changes need to be carefully managed if they’re to increase efficiency. For example, Microsoft encouraged staff to limit any meetings they couldn’t avoid to 30 minutes. Other companies have invested in tools to eliminate distractions, such as noise-cancelling headphones and ‘do not disturb’ lights.
There’s also the matter of how that fifth day is lost: will wages be cut; will the length of workdays increase? What about sectors that operate 24/7, such as healthcare? Or people on zero-hours contracts?
The best option – for now – seems to be to make it as easy as possible for people to work as few hours as they need to fulfil their obligations and earn a liveable wage. Four-day weeks may allow that for some. A universal basic income might make it possible for more.
- This article first appeared in issue 371 of BBC Science Focus Magazine – find out how to subscribe here
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