Is it time for a four-day workweek?

Luay Rahil

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The average employee is only productive for less than 3 hours a day.

However, companies still insist that their employees should work for 40 hours per week. What if you could work four days a week but get paid for five? It sounds like a crazy idea, but many European and American companies are experimenting with shorter workweeks and exposing three major myths about the five-day workweek.

The Lies that Mislead and Derail You

  1. The more time employees spend at the office, the more productive they will become.
  2. The more time employees spend at the office, the more focused they will become.
  3. Shorter workweeks are bad for business and customer service.

All these are myths you should abandon.

How did we get here?

In 1908, a New England mill owner put the five-day work to enable his Jewish employees to observe their Sabbath. He did not realize that he was starting a trend that would continue for more than a century until it became the most stubborn working norm.

This norm was cemented into our workplace by the Fair Labor Standard Act enacted in 1938 that defined the workweek as a 40-hour week.

At that exact moment, the 40-hour workweek became the legal, social and cultural norm, and few people dared to challenge this accepted norm.

Predictions Gone Wild

In the 1940s, a renowned economist named John Maynard Keynes predicted that future technology and automation would lead to a 15-hour workweek.

According to Erick Rauch, our productivity improved dramatically since John Keynes made his prediction. Still, it didn’t lead to shorter workweeks, “If productivity means anything at all, a worker should be able to earn the same standard of living as a 1950 worker in only 11 hours per week.”

Keynes’s prediction did not come true, not for the lack of technology or automation, but due to our inability to let go of our belief that a workweek shall be a 40-hour week, five days a week, 8 hours a day.

We did not meet Keynes's prediction, but we can use science to shorten our workweek.

What does science say?

Working fewer hours makes you more productive, more innovative, and brings more harmony to your life.

Two reasons you should work less:

1. Parkinson Law

The premise behind the 40-hour week neglects Parkinson’s law entirely. I talked about Parkinson’s Law in this article, and I explained you would work smarter and faster if you placed constraints on your time.

Overlooking this logical concept will sabotage your productivity and increase your stress.

2. Cognitive Function

A group of scientists studied the relationship between working long hours and cognitive function, and their finding was clear.

Working more hours per week was associated with lower vocabulary and cognitive tests scores. Thus, this research shows that long working hours harm cognitive performance.

Shorter Workweek In Action

Stephan Aarstol, the founder of Tower Paddle Boards, started experimenting with five-hour days across the company in 2015.

He came to this conclusion by understanding basic human instinct, “Everybody intrinsically understands the idea that if you put constraints on spending money, you’ll get better results. What people don’t realize is that you should put a constraint on time as well.”

Aarstol is not the only one who is experimenting with shorter weeks. According to Ben Laker and Thomas Roulet, The four-day workweek is an idea that has been tested around the world for the last 20 years, and it has been proven that it is good for businesses and employees.

What’s next?

Using the scientific data above, many companies are experimenting with the four-day workweek, causing much anxiety for employees, business owners, and corporate leaders.

To ease some employees' and business owners' concerns, here is a list of five reasons everyone should work only four-day workweeks.

1. Less employee exhaustion

When you work fewer hours, your stress level decreases, you will have more time for sleep, exercise, family, friends, and fun. In addition, better health will help you be more focused and produce better results.

Overwork is counterproductive for everyone. Overworked employees are less productive, and they are prone to making more mistakes.

Less exhaustion means more money to everyone and a happier workforce.

2. Less burnout

Burnout is caused by mental, emotional, and physical fatigue. It leads to dark and scary places, so burnout prevention is a massive win for everyone.

According to Mayo Clinic, burnout can result from work-life imbalance. If your work consumes your emotional, mental and physical energy, you won’t have time or energy to spend with your family.

Happy employees result in more friendly customer service and a less burnout workforce.

3. Improves employees retention

It is easy to recruit and retain employees when you work shorter weeks and spend more time at home.

Turn over costs businesses millions of dollars every year, so even 1–2% improvement in employees retention is a big win for everyone.

4. Improves productivity

Working fewer hours forces you to focus on your top priority daily and cut all distractions out of your workday.

Well-rested employees are less likely to be distracted or cut any ethical corners.

More productivity results in more income for everyone involved.

5- A Smaller carbon footprint

Reducing work week from 5 to 4 could positively impact your city's environment and traffic congestion.

How To Work Less and Produce More:

1. Focus on your top priorities

Focus on your most important priorities, cut out all distractions, and use technology to automate your routine tasks. Start each day by asking yourself, what are the top three properties that must be done by the end of the day?

Focusing on your top priorities requires you to say NO more often, so get comfortable saying NO.

2. Run more effective meetings

Research proves that most employees spend more than 10 hours per week attending unproductive meetings.

Run effective meetings by following these proven guidelines, always set the agenda, only invite people that need to be there, start and end on time, ask for everyone's input, and end with an action plan.

3. Focus on deep work

Deep work requires you to cut all distractions and focus on projects. Focus less on people and more on priorities and projects.

When you start working on your top 3 priorities, don't allow yourself to do anything else. Instead, 100 % of your time, energy, and focus should be dedicated to the task at hand.

4. Follow a few people on social media

People who use social media to tell you not to use social media are hypocrites.

I think you should limit your time on social media and follow people who add value to your life only but do not ignore the importance of social media. Most likely, you saw this article on social media.

5. Sleep 6–8 hours

Trying to be at your best without enough rest is not a good recipe for a productive day.

Sleep deprivation impairs your thoughts, slows your physical reaction, and leaves you emotionally drained. If you sacrifice sleep to work more, you will show up to work less focused, less attentive, and less vigilance.

The French ruler Napoleon was not shy about sleeping well, and it served him well. So sleep as much as you need to be alert and productive.

6. Don’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good

Be aware of your tendencies to be perfect and allow yourself to make mistakes.

Stop measuring perfection and focus on creating progress every day. Give yourself enough time to get the job done, but not the luxury to waste time attempting to produce perfect work.

7. Define what the finish line looks like

You have to be clear about your daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Do not attempt to do any work before understanding your goals.

Think about quality, quantity, deadlines, projects, people, places, and all the metrics that define your finish line.

If you follow the above recommendation, you will work less and accomplish more. So, what do you think of the 4-Day Workweek?

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