Workweek

Why Can’t I, an Average Guy Who Works Fairly Hard, Work Just as Hard, but Over the Span of a Four-Day Workweek?

Seriously, how did we end up with this five days on, two days off bullshit, anyway?

For most Americans, this workweek is a short one. Yes, it’s the week of our annual Thanksgiving holiday, and as such, most folks have at least Thursday off, while others might even enjoy two days of freedom from their corporate overlords!

This is good. In fact, it’s so good that it raises the question: Why can’t every week be a shorty? 

YES! That’s what I was thinking. Who even came up with the dumb as shit idea of a five-day workweek?

To be fair, the workweek used to be seven days long. According to this report in The Atlantic, the concept of a weekend didn’t even exist until 1879, when it was used in an English magazine called Notes and Queries:

“In Staffordshire, if a person leaves home at the end of his week’s work on the Saturday afternoon to spend the evening of Saturday and the following Sunday with friends at a distance, he is said to be spending his week-end at So-and-so.”

It took decades for Saturday to go from being a half-day of work to a full day off. “In 1908, a New England mill became the first American factory to institute the five-day week,” reports The Atlantic. “It did so to accommodate Jewish workers, whose observance of a Saturday sabbath forced them to make up their work on Sundays, offending some in the Christian majority.”

To that end, according to Dean Baker, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, it wasn’t until 1938 and the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, “which established a minimum wage and overtime for workers who logged more than 40 hours per week,” that the workweek was cut to its modern 40-hour iteration, reports Marketplace.

Fine, I’m an ungrateful millennial blah-de-blah. How are we looking on making the week even shorter?

Per the same article in The Atlantic, people have been talking about a short workweek future for decades. “A 1965 Senate subcommittee predicted Americans would work 14-hour weeks by the year 2000, and before that, back in 1928, John Maynard Keynes wrote that technological advancement would bring the workweek down to 15 hours within 100 years.” Obviously, neither of those predictions have come to fruition, hence the birth of the modern four-day workweek movement.

The what? There’s an entire movement focused on making my dream come true?!?! 

Sort of. Basically, if you search for “shorter workweek,” you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone advocating against the merits of the four-day workweek. Headline after headline seems to suggest that it would be better for both employees and employers, not to mention all the research that supports the movement. “According to a U.K. study done in 2017 by deals site Vouchercloud, the average employee spends two hours and 53 minutes each day working productively,” reports CNBC.com. “Separately, a 2018 survey by the Workforce Institute at Kronos found that more than half of full-time workers thought they could do their job in five hours a day if they didn’t have any interruptions. It polled 3,000 employees across eight nations.”

Most recently, in August, “Microsoft tested out a four-day workweek in its Japan offices and found as a result employees were not only happier — but significantly more productive,” reports The Guardian. The project, called Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019, gave the entire 2,300-person Microsoft Japan workforce five Fridays off in a row without decreasing pay. The shorter week led to greater efficiency and boosted productivity by 40 percent. “In addition to the increased productivity, employees took 25 percent less time off during the trial and electricity use was down 23 percent in the office with the additional day off per week,” reports The Guardian. “Employees printed 59 percent fewer pages of paper during the trial. The vast majority of employees — 92 percent — said they liked the shorter week.”

So if the four-day workweek is better in every way and most everyone likes it, what’s preventing it from becoming the new normal?

Great question! There are several reasons, according to this report in Fast Company. One of them is that the American work-hustle culture won’t allow it. “Study companies with shorter workweeks, and you’ll start to understand why it is so rare: Their culture is entirely different than the average American organization, reports Fast Company. “Instead of back-to-back meetings, overflowing email and constant ‘fires’ to put out, these companies have taken pains to create a sane work environment, in which employees have the time and mental space to get their real work done.”

And that’s not all: There have been legitimate issues at companies who’ve instituted the four-day workweek. For example, it can, in some cases, lead to a “time crunch,” especially if you get sick. “The problem with four-day weeks isn’t so much that it’s four days, but that if you lose just a single day, then it’s only three. And in our experience, three just doesn’t cut it,” Basecamp’s Chief Technology Officer David Heinemeier Hansson told Fast Company. “One unforeseen circumstance, and you’re down to this-doesn’t-work at three.”

I’d still rather just work longer hours, even if that means fitting it all into three days. So I’m still not sure why my four-day workweek dream can’t come true.

That’s fair — I’m sure most folks feel the same way. Which really brings us to the crux of the situation: If the four-day workweek is ever going to become the standard, everyone, and I literally mean everyone, needs to get onboard. “The challenges are to ensure that we maintain our usual high-level of customer service and our usual productivity and revenue levels with staff doing 100 percent of their work in 80 percent of the standard time,” Christine Brotherton, the head of people and capability at Perpetual Guardian, told Fast Company. In other words, you can’t have a few companies taking Fridays off if their clients or customers are unwilling to do the same. 

Sorry to spoil your dreams, average guy who just wants another day off to do average guy things, like dream about a world with a three-day workweek.