The last two years have transformed the traditional concept of a workplace and working hours. The contagious nature of the COVID-19 pandemic forced nearly all organisations around the world to initiate Work from Home (WFH) or operate in a hybrid mode. While this approach unleased new opportunities and offered diverse benefits, it also stirred the conversation regarding a four-day workweek. The concept is not novel, yet it gained renewed traction following the pandemic. The idea is simple: Employees work four days a week with the same workload and same pay. The number of working hours is subject to variation. There are some organisations that want the employees to work for longer hours to compensate for the extra off day. Other organisations allow their employees to reduce the required weekly hours while the workload remains the same.
The acceptance of this approach is gradually growing worldwide, given that it offers diverse benefits. To begin with, it provides an opportunity to do more focused work in less time. On the financial side, reducing the number of working days can cut an employer’s overhead costs as well as the employee’s transport costs and saves commute time. Simultaneously, it has the potential to create a positive impact on employee productivity, job satisfaction, and personal life. Moreover, technological advancement with greater availability and accessibility to digital tools has made it convenient to switch to a four-day workweek without any disruption to work.
Such advantages have encouraged several organisations to try out this model. Successive experiments in Iceland have proved quite successful. The results revealed that productivity remained the same or improved in majority of the workplaces and increased employee job satisfaction. In the United Kingdom, 60 companies, with approximately 3000 employees, are also due to commence a six-month trial in June this year. Similarly, Ireland, Spain and Scotland are also experimenting with similar work models.
Interest in a four-day workweek is also visible in the Western hemisphere. 38 companies in the United States (US) and Canada have also opted to practice a four-day workweek for the next six months. There are approximately 31 companies which have already switched to a four-day workweek in the US. In all likelihood, larger conglomerates will opt for this path paving way for smaller organisations to follow suit.
As far as output is concerned, Microsoft Japan’s experiment with a four-day workweek was an interesting case which noted that the results marked a 40% spike in productivity. The experiment revealed that increased flexibility stirred a positive impact on overall employee performance. This has been followed by similar trends in various organisations throughout Japan. Likewise, Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based company, found the results of its trial so encouraging that it formally declared a four-day week as its modus operandi. These changes manifest that more focused work in less time is possible while observing an additional day off. It can lead to better work-life balance and improved mental health.
This approach is not limited to the organisational level only. It can also be implemented at the state level. In early 2022, citizens of Belgium were allowed a four-day workweek. The decision was made to improve the quality of life and the pandemic was a major motivating factor for such action. Likewise, the Emirate of Sharjah has also officially implemented a four-day workweek in the public sector.
Confronted with environmental, financial, and energy-related problems, a four-day workweek can function as a viable remedy for countries around the world. This becomes even more relevant vis-à-vis developing countries such as Pakistan.
Reduced working days is a pragmatic measure to encounter several challenges being faced by the country. The energy sector is undergoing a major crisis and is unable to meet the required demand, with a shortfall of 7000 megawatts. Moreover, intense temperatures have led to more power consumption. With a surge in demand, power breakdowns are likely to soar and be more severe in the future. Shifting to a four-day workweek has the potential to shrink the energy expenses by 20%. Resultantly, closure of offices/businesses throughout the country for an additional 4-5 days per month can provide some relief to the energy sector.
The case for a four-day workweek is further strengthened by the fact that the ongoing geopolitical tensions have led to a global rise in oil prices. In Pakistan, there has been a notable increase in oil prices, making it even more important and necessary to decrease its use. A four-day workweek can reduce fuel consumption vis-à-vis commute as well as provide economic relief to the citizens. It will also save diesel from firing up generators during prolonged power breakdowns. It is pertinent to mention that these measures are also environment-friendly and will be beneficial with respect to climate change.
Obviously, the concept of a four-day workweek is more suitable for some institutions and not all, considering the nature of the respective job. For example this approach may not suit hospitals, district administrations, courts and manufacturing industries. Similarly, it might suit some employees over others and may take some time to show positive outcomes. Most importantly, it will require a renewed approach regarding our work practices. However, the experiment is worth a try given its potential advantages. Hence, the Government of Pakistan should encourage the move towards a four-day workweek for the public sector and private organisations which can avail such an option.
Modern 21st Century problems require new and innovative solutions. It is high time that we review traditional ways of how workplaces are run and explore new measures to reap maximum benefits without compromising on productivity. Moving towards a four-day workweek has the potential to prove beneficial for citizens and the state.
Shaza Arif is a Researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Islamabad, Pakistan. She can be reached at email@example.com