Are We Ready for a Four-Day Work Week? The Truth Behind Productivity Claims

The concept of a four-day work week has gained significant attention in recent years, with proponents arguing that it can boost productivity, improve work-life balance, and enhance employee well-being. As companies and governments around the world experiment with this idea, a critical question arises: Are we truly ready for a four-day work week, and do the productivity claims hold up under scrutiny?

This article delves into the origins of the four-day work week, examines the evidence supporting and challenging its productivity benefits, and explores the potential implications for businesses and society.

Four-day workweek

The Origins of the Four-Day Work Week

The idea of reducing the standard work week is not new. In the early 20th century, labor movements advocated for shorter working hours, leading to the adoption of the five-day, 40-hour work week in many countries. The advent of technology and increasing automation have renewed discussions about further reducing work hours.

The four-day work week, typically involving 32 hours of work spread over four days, has emerged as a potential solution to modern work-life challenges.

Proponents of the Four-Day Work Week

Supporters of the four-day work week argue that it offers numerous benefits, both for employees and employers. Some of the key arguments include:

  1. Increased Productivity: Proponents claim that employees can achieve the same or higher levels of productivity in fewer hours by working more efficiently. They argue that a shorter work week can reduce burnout and enhance focus, leading to better performance.
  2. Improved Work-Life Balance: A four-day work week can provide employees with an additional day to spend with family, pursue hobbies, and recharge. This improved balance can lead to higher job satisfaction and overall well-being.
  3. Health Benefits: Reducing the number of working days can alleviate stress and improve mental health. Employees may experience lower levels of anxiety and depression, and have more time to engage in physical activities and self-care.
  4. Environmental Impact: Fewer working days can lead to a reduction in commuting, which can lower carbon emissions and contribute to environmental sustainability. Additionally, reduced office energy consumption can further lessen the environmental footprint of businesses.
  5. Attraction and Retention: Offering a four-day work week can make companies more attractive to top talent. This benefit can enhance recruitment efforts and improve employee retention rates, reducing turnover costs.

Case Studies and Experiments

Several companies and countries have experimented with the four-day work week, providing valuable insights into its potential impact. Here are a few notable examples:

  1. Microsoft Japan: In 2019, Microsoft Japan conducted a month-long experiment, reducing the work week to four days while keeping salaries the same. The company reported a 40% increase in productivity, along with higher employee satisfaction and reduced energy costs.
  2. Perpetual Guardian: A New Zealand-based trust management company, Perpetual Guardian, implemented a four-day work week in 2018. The trial resulted in a 20% increase in productivity, lower stress levels, and improved work-life balance for employees. Following the successful trial, the company made the change permanent.
  3. Iceland: Between 2015 and 2019, Iceland conducted the world’s largest pilot of a shorter working week, involving more than 2,500 workers. The trials, which included both public and private sector employees, found that productivity remained the same or improved in most workplaces, while employee well-being increased significantly.
  4. Treehouse: The online education company Treehouse adopted a four-day work week in 2013. The company reported that employees were happier, more focused, and equally productive compared to a traditional five-day work week. Treehouse has continued with this model, citing long-term benefits.
Business team working remotely
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Challenges and Criticisms

Despite the promising results from various trials, the four-day work week is not without its challenges and criticisms. Some of the key concerns include:

  1. Industry-Specific Limitations: Certain industries, such as healthcare, customer service, and manufacturing, may face difficulties in implementing a four-day work week due to the need for continuous operations. In such cases, alternative scheduling solutions may be required to maintain service levels.
  2. Initial Adjustment Period: Transitioning to a four-day work week can involve an adjustment period during which employees and managers adapt to new workflows and time management strategies. This period may temporarily impact productivity and efficiency.
  3. Potential for Increased Workload: Critics argue that compressing the same amount of work into fewer days can lead to increased workload and stress. Employees may feel pressured to complete tasks within a shorter timeframe, potentially leading to burnout.
  4. Equity and Inclusivity: Not all employees may benefit equally from a four-day work week. For example, those with caregiving responsibilities or part-time workers may face challenges in adjusting to the new schedule. Ensuring equity and inclusivity in the implementation of a shorter work week is essential.
  5. Economic Impact: There are concerns about the broader economic impact of a four-day work week, particularly for small businesses and startups. The potential increase in labor costs and the need to hire additional staff to cover reduced hours could pose financial challenges.

Strategies for Successful Implementation

To address the challenges and maximize the benefits of a four-day work week, businesses can adopt several strategies:

  1. Pilot Programs: Implementing pilot programs allows companies to test the feasibility of a four-day work week and gather data on its impact. Pilot programs can help identify potential issues and refine the approach before full-scale adoption.
  2. Flexible Scheduling: Offering flexible scheduling options, such as staggered work weeks or compressed hours, can accommodate the needs of different employees and industries. This flexibility can help maintain productivity and service levels.
  3. Clear Communication: Transparent communication with employees is crucial for a successful transition. Clearly outlining expectations, goals, and potential challenges can help employees understand and adapt to the new schedule.
  4. Focus on Efficiency: Encouraging a culture of efficiency and productivity can help employees make the most of their reduced hours. This includes minimizing distractions, optimizing workflows, and providing training on time management techniques.
  5. Monitor and Adjust: Continuously monitoring the impact of a four-day work week and gathering feedback from employees can help identify areas for improvement. Making necessary adjustments based on feedback and data can ensure long-term success.

The Broader Implications for Society

The adoption of a four-day work week has broader implications beyond individual businesses. If widely implemented, it could lead to significant societal changes:

  1. Improved Public Health: Reduced working hours can lead to better physical and mental health outcomes, potentially decreasing the burden on healthcare systems.
  2. Environmental Benefits: A reduction in commuting and office energy consumption can contribute to environmental sustainability and help combat climate change.
  3. Economic Productivity: By improving employee well-being and productivity, a four-day work week could enhance overall economic productivity and competitiveness.
  4. Social Equity: Ensuring equitable access to the benefits of a four-day work week can promote social equity and inclusion. This includes considering the needs of diverse employee groups and addressing potential disparities.
  5. Cultural Shift: A widespread shift to a four-day work week could lead to a cultural transformation in how society views work and leisure. It could encourage a greater emphasis on quality of life, well-being, and work-life balance.
Working from home
photo credit: Hean Prinsloo / Unsplash


The four-day work week presents a compelling vision for the future of work, offering the potential to enhance productivity, improve work-life balance, and promote employee well-being. While there are challenges and criticisms to address, the evidence from various trials and case studies suggests that it is a viable option for many businesses.

By adopting a thoughtful and flexible approach, companies can successfully navigate the transition and reap the benefits of a shorter work week. As society continues to evolve, the four-day work week could become a cornerstone of a more sustainable, equitable, and productive future.