Just a couple of years ago, the 9-to-5 model was a global norm of working. The working culture has various origins. The first documented 8-hour work rule was King Philip II’s ordinances in 1593. A couple of centuries later, when laborers worked 12 to 14 hours during the British Industrial Revolution, the entrepreneur/philanthropist Robert Owen regulated 8-hour, 5-day work week in his companies. In 1926, Henry Ford proposed the five-day work week, before the American Congress legalized it in 1940. Ford claimed that the model enhanced workers’ productivity.
Four-Day Work Week: A Promising Alternative?
Fast forward a couple of decades later, people start questioning the efficiency of a five-day work week. In the 1970s, the idea of a four-day work week was “gaining momentum”, but it didn’t become popular. A more recent American study conducted by Simple Texting found that most people believe that the five-day work week model is now outdated. Furthermore, 80% of the respondents said that the pandemic made them wish for a four-day work week model instead. Almost all respondents believe that the model will also improve their well-being.
Several countries and companies have started testing the four-day work week model, and this was surprisingly met with promising results. First, the four-day work week led to increased productivity. A New Zealand company had tested the four-day model in 2018, and productivity increased by 20%. In 2019, Microsoft Japan implemented the model and saw a 40% increase in productivity. Advocates of the four-day work week model also point out how it significantly improves staff well-being (as shown in Iceland) and decreases carbon emissions.
Aside from the promising advantages, the model also comes with several drawbacks. In some cases, the four-day work week model rigidly held on to the 40-hour weekly standard, leading to 10 hours of working a day. This may cause burnout and inefficient work hours. In Utah, it was found that the four-day work week may cause a slight decline in customer satisfaction, as customers have fewer days to access an institution’s service. The change may also create disruption in existing work rhythm, which requires staff to take some time to adapt.
Four-Day Work Week vs Hybrid Work Culture
As we all know, the four-day work week isn’t the only new trend in town. The pandemic has disruptively changed our working culture. With remote working on the trend, the possibility becomes endless. The WFO trend is slowly being replaced by WFH and WFA. Some companies have also implemented a hybrid working culture, where WFH/WFA is combined with WFO. Five-day work week is still the norm, but there’s variation of working spaces. Two or three days are spent at the office, while the rest are spent at home.
From both models, we can see that modern enterprises start to realize something: that quantity of work may not be as meaningful as the quality of work. Both four-day work week and post-pandemic hybrid working culture provide better alternatives, improve productivity, and give staff members time to take care of their well-being. More efficient working hours is better than wasted hours of unproductive meetings or idling. And with remote working becoming a popular trend, it’s obvious that as long as we meet our goals, the standard of working hours isn’t relevant.
Nonetheless, in terms of flexibility, each working culture certainly differs from one another. In a four-day work week model, employees’ working hours are more standardized. There are fixed hours where employees have to stand by on the job. Alternatively, the hybrid working model (in theory) could provide more flexibility for employees. In practice, the flexibility of the hybrid model might be an issue, too, as unclear working hours in the hybrid model might lead to unstructured work, unclear boundaries, and potential for off-hours work.
At the end of the day, there’s no fixed answer about whether the four-day model is better than the hybrid working culture. Both four-day work week and hybrid working culture can positively impact employee well-being, and in turn, increase the amount of productivity. What’s certain is that good business owners will consider the opportunities and risks before choosing a new working culture. Prior to the implementation, there needs to be careful assessment on how a new working model can affect the well-being of workers.
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