Most of the people in New Zealand in full-time employment currently work 5 or more days per week and 40 hours or more. However, this concept is based on outdated ideas and theories about working. With the rise of remote work and employers loosening the reins on their staff, it seems that the idea of a 4-day work week is just about in our grasp.
Where did the 5 Day Work Week Come From?
We’re all familiar with the term ‘Sunday Scaries’, referring to that pit of dread you have in your stomach when you think about heading back to work on Monday. Similarly, it’s common for workers to complain about hating Mondays. Maybe that’s because the notion of working 5 days a week just doesn’t work for the way people want to live. Working long days, 5 days a week doesn’t allow us to have much work/life balance, time with our families, or time for ourselves. So, where did this 5-day, 40-hour work week come from?
Originally, people were working far more than 40 hours a week. Workers were commonly expected to work 60 – 100 hours every single week. A social movement pushed for change towards having staff work only 5 days a week for 8 hours each day. This was a great achievement for its time, as it almost halved the number of hours people had to work for each week.
However, do any of us that are employed for 5 days a week work just 40 hours? We as a society are more connected than ever before, constantly available for remote work thanks to technology. Waking up and checking your work emails is the standard for many people across New Zealand, and this occurs far before 9am rolls around. So, despite the supposed 40-hour standard week, many of us work far more than that.
Is It Time for a 4-Day Work Week?
All the way back in the 30s, one economist predicted that by 2030, the world would only be working 15 hours a week. It seems like there’s no hope we’ll get to that stage in just 9 short years. But we have started on the journey to whittle down the 5-day work week to just 4 days.
Iceland has been trialling four-day work weeks for quite some time now, and these trials were met with overwhelming success. The experiments involved paying workers the same amount of money to work the same number of hours each day, but for 4 days instead of 5. So those who worked 8 hours a day would now work 32 hours a week instead of 40. The findings were extremely positive – the majority of workplaces found that productivity levels either remained the same or improved over the course of the trial.
One New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, followed suit and implemented a 4-day work week trial. The staff in this study maintained their productivity in addition to achieving higher levels of teamwork, job satisfaction, and work life balance. They also reported a 7% decrease in stress levels. This experiment was such a hit that they made the 4-day work week permanent for full time staff soon after the trial ended.
With remote work more and more accepted these days, the next logical step is for organisations to realise and embrace the benefits of a 4-day work week.
Benefits of a 4-Day Work Week
Studies show that employees who are overworked become less productive than those working a normal week. This has been shown in trials all over the world – as we have mentioned in New Zealand and Iceland, for example. However, many of the world’s most productive countries require shorter working weeks from their staff, such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, and Norway. This proves that productivity can be increased even when staff are working fewer hours per week.
Bridge the Pay Gap
One way that we can gain greater equality between men and women is by giving everyone more time at home to spend with their families. If the 4-day work week became the norm, imagine the advancements we could make on equalizing unpaid labour in the home. This will have huge effects on our society, leading to more equal pay for men and women in the workplace too.
Good for the Planet
There is one somewhat unexpected side effect of shorter working hours – a smaller carbon footprint. Many countries where shorter working hours are the norm also have lower negative ecological impacts. This could be due to the residents commuting less and reduced use of office buildings and manufacturing equipment. All from working just one day less each week!
The Covid-19 pandemic has had one slight silver lining – normalizing remote work. As companies realise more and more that their staff are just as productive even when they are given more leeway, perhaps there is hope that more organisations will adopt the four-day work week. If you’re looking for your ideal job, take a look at the latest job listings on Shopless.