The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the business world almost beyond recognition. When news of the deadly virus hit the west, most countries around the world imposed lockdowns and restrictions, keeping most of their workforce at home. Before the pandemic, the idea of remote work was scoffed at by most employers. However, following March 2020, they had no choice but to embrace the “unorthodox” practice. In the struggle for continuity and growth, other trends such as calls to shift, four-day workweek, and reduced hours started gaining traction and pondering the question – is it time to kill the 5-day work week?
As expected, there seem to be mixed emotions regarding the proposed initiative, with defenders talking about the greater work-life balance and improved productivity. In contrast, those opposed to this idea worry about a potential decline in production, services, and revenue due to reduced work hours.
In this article, I’ll share a brief history of the 5-day work week, what’s changed since then, and discuss the pros and cons of a shorter workweek.
The History of the 5-Day Work Week
If you drive a Ford F-150 or Focus to work five times a week, you’ll be shocked to learn how your vehicle and work schedule are related. It’s widely believed that Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company and arguably one of the most influential business owners from the industrial revolution, was the man who instituted the 5-day work week. His thought process was pretty straightforward – eight hours of work, eight hours of recreation, and eight hours rest. On weekends, the workforce can spend their days how they please, go shopping, visit their loved ones, or travel.
However, there was more to Henry Ford’s thinking than most people understood at that time. More leisure time meant people will spend more on discretionary products and services, food, and an automobile to travel around. Just like Henry Ford found the seven-day workweek to be outdated, most modern employees feel the same way about the 5-day work week.
What’s Changed Now?
Let’s face it; the business world has come a long way since the 1920s with the emergence of personal computers, the internet, email, mobile phones, Cloud, AI, and other forms of technology. As a result, the modern landscape is far more crowded and competitive than it was in the last few decades. To keep up productivity and efficiency, employees have to work harder and longer to survive, leaving them out of steam after working for eight or more hours every day for five consecutive days.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted business as usual to the point that most traditional business practices were out the window. The 5-day, 9-to-5 work life, which was thought to be concrete, was shattered like glass, and going to the office was no longer an option for months. Remote work and hybrid arrangements have changed both worker and employer perceptions completely, providing new possibilities for where employees work from and now how long they work for. The pandemic has proved that work has always been about getting the job done, and technology has made it possible to unfollow traditional practices and rules. Major companies like Amazon and Basecamp have already implemented trial periods for reduced or flexible work hours and shorter workweeks, and the results have been remarkably positive.
Pros and Cons of a Shorter Work Week
1. Increased Productivity
As an employer, you might be wondering how working less will improve productivity and performance. If you’ve heard the saying, “less is more,” it should instantly make sense. Tired and overworked employees are less productive and prone to errors compared to employees working reduced hours or a shorter workweek. Plus, there’s evidence to back the statement mentioned above as the employees from the world’s most productive countries like Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway, only work for around 27 hours on average compared to the standard 40-hour workweek accepted worldwide.
2. More Gender Diversity
Research suggests that millions of women remain unemployed due to childcare responsibilities. A shorter workweek could bring them back into the workforce without overly compromising their work and home responsibilities.
3. Better Employee Engagement
A shorter workweek can lead to more satisfied and committed employees. With a better work-life balance, employees are less likely to be fatigued or frustrated due to more rest and recovery time. With a happier and more positive attitude, then can communicate and collaborate with others more effectively and efficiently.
4. A Smaller Carbon Footprint
Imagine the amount of electricity that can be conserved if all the offices that operate 5 days a week suddenly decide to start operating 3 or 4 days a week instead. Moreover, think of the carbon emissions employees can prevent by reducing their weekly commute to work. According to a study by the state of Utah, the number of emissions saved is close to 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
1. Customer Satisfaction
The only major drawback of a shorter workweek is potential business unavailability, leading to poor customer satisfaction. However, with the technologies businesses have at their disposal, such as chatbots and AI-powered websites, even this shouldn’t be a major concern. Secondly, businesses can easily split their workforce between the week to ensure they remain operational 24/7/365.
2. Negative Approach
Many businesses confuse the concept of a shorter work week with longer hours. As a consequence, they have employees working overtime, usually 9-12 hours, thereby decreasing the productivity levels and overall happiness levels further.
Wrap It Up
Every major industry has transformed in different ways following the pandemic. Moreover, countries like New Zealand are quickly adopting a four-day workweek following the pandemic without pay reductions after a six-week trial. This change resulted in an overall increase of 20% in productivity. The Netherlands boasts an impressive 76% employment rate with employees working no longer than 29 hours on average every week. So, is it time to kill the 5-day work week? Well, the pandemic proved that remote work was possible, so there’s no reason to suggest why working less than 5 days a week should be a problem.