The case for a four-day work week
The notion that working longer and harder is essential to achieving success in your career is so ingrained in the North American psyche that it can fairly be considered a quasi-religious belief among workers and employers alike.
This idea persists even though longer working hours are linked to heart disease, stroke, and depression, and despite the fact that overworking has been shown to reduce productivity.
Slowly but surely, however, the "longer equals better" mentality is being abandoned by employers who recognize that long hours and overworking can cause employees to burn out, and that output can actually increase when employees work less.
In the United States, several employers are embracing a shortened, four-day work week as an effective way of improving employee satisfaction, recruitment, and retainment, while simultaneously boosting productivity and growth.
For example, the City of Provo, Utah has been using a four-day work week for years and has managed to save thousands of dollars and improve employee morale as a result. When El Paso, Texas experimented with a four-day work week over the course of two summers, the city saved $400,000 annually – mainly due to lower utility and fuel costs – and employee productivity increased. The city then adopted the four-day work week year-round.
In the private sector, workers at the Chicago-based software company Basecamp have been enjoying their Fridays off since 2008, resulting in a 32-hour, four-day work week. Company founder and president Jason Fried told Inc. magazine that "in terms of productivity...the same amount of (work) is getting done, and people are happier and more focused."
A similar outcome has been achieved at DVQ Studio – a branding and communication strategy firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan – where a shortened work week has been in place since the day the company was founded in 2006. According to co-owner Gretchen DeVault, the four-day work week has made DVQ Studio a place where employees enjoy coming to work every day, and has helped the firm distinguish itself when recruiting new employees.
The shortened work week has also found success outside of the U.S., as demonstrated in Michael Moore's latest documentary, Where To Invade Next. In the film, Moore visits the Faber-Castell pencil factory in Germany, where unionized employees work 36 hours a week on a 40-hour salary. And in Canada, unionized workers have managed to negotiate a four-day work week at companies like Metro and Hydro One, among others.
With benefits ranging from increased productivity to higher job satisfaction to significant cost savings, it's clear that the four-day work week is something that more employers need to consider when trying to improve results. Although it's hard for many to fathom, working longer and harder rarely leads to better work, and there is now strong evidence that long work weeks actually make us sick.