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Clocking off: the pros and cons of a four-day week

A shorter working week can boost productivity but will companies take the plunge?

More time for the good things in life – but a shorter working week could mean longer days Shutterstock
More time for the good things in life – but a shorter working week could mean longer days

Picture this: it’s Thursday evening, you’re wrapping up work, and you’ve got that weekend vibe kicking in. You may already be planning a dinner with family or friends or eyeing a Netflix series. 

The best part? You’re not stressing about Friday because – guess what? – you’re rolling into a three-day weekend.

Who wouldn’t want a longer weekend? As a mother, I would be happy to get that extra day off to spend some more time with my kids or just relax. 

Studies show that a four-day workweek, which means reduced working hours with no pay cut, enhances employee productivity. 

In the UAE, Sharjah set a precedent for shorter weeks in 2022, followed by the rest of the emirates in 2023 for federal government employees.

A study by 4 Day Week Global, a non-profit organisation, claims that 86 percent of Sharjah respondents demonstrated higher productivity, and that 90 percent achieved a higher work performance. About 90 percent also said that job satisfaction increased.

Last week, the country’s telecom operator e& by Etisalat kicked off a four-day week trial, becoming the first company in the tech sector to do so.

Globally, South Africa also concluded a six-month pilot last week to test this model. It was orchestrated by 4 Day Week Global, alongside academic institutions Boston College and Stellenbosch Business School.

It showed that companies reported an increase in performance metrics, including a reduction in staff turnover by 11 percent and absenteeism by 9 percent, while revenues saw an average increase of 10.5 percent.

From the employee perspective, the response has been – no surprise here – equally favourable, with almost all workers wanting to maintain the four-day schedule. 

Last year in the UK, more than 60 organisations also participated in a similar trial. Of those, 18 adopted the policy permanently. 

A further 38 extended the experiment, reporting that revenues had remained broadly the same over the initial test period. 

While there are multiple examples of shorter workweeks increasing productivity and reducing facilities cost, the loss of a day at work also plays a crucial role in reducing carbon footprints.

Fewer days at the office mean less commuting and fewer cars on the road, paving the way for a greener planet. 

The dream versus reality

The shift to a four-day workweek isn’t sunshine and rainbows. Before going all-in on this dream, the downsides and the challenges need to be looked at dispassionately.

Firstly, this approach may not be feasible for every sector. Hospitals, emergency services, aged care facilities, airlines, utilities and hospitality operators – to name but a few – require staffing seven days a week. 

Switching to the new model can be expensive and may involve additional staff to help with a transition phase.

A shorter week model may require employees to work longer hours which may have a detrimental effect on stress levels and wellbeing.

So extended hours on the clock each day may not be the productivity jackpot we’re hoping for. 

As for me, a four-day workweek might change my life quite a bit – being able to get things done, allowing me to recharge. 

But I wouldn’t dive into it headfirst without knowing how it might mess with my wellbeing. 

I would probably go with the idea of a six-hour workday model, that I think might be more effective if organisations are able to do so.

Change can be good, no doubt – but in the end, whether you’re enjoying a four-day week or sticking to the classic grind, it’s all about what works best for you and your priorities. 

I feel organisations should let employees choose what works best for them, as long as the work is done.

The concept of a curtailed workweek is still being tested worldwide and may take some serious thinking and tweaking by businesses before adoption.

It might not be a magic fix for every enterprise or organisation, but the costs and benefits are worth thinking about. 

Cheers to the weekend – whenever it starts!

Divsha Bhat is technology editor

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