Why my work week should be shorter

People, who are in labour force, generally spend one third of their daily time at work. A lot of them find working five days a week quite stressful and there are various reasons for it. I often question myself how the counterfactual of my work-life balance might look like to keep me motivated at work as well as to allow me to spend time with family/friends and devote leisure to my favorite hobbies.

An option that recently popped-up in my mind was about having a four day work week with the remuneration staying unchanged. This idea has already been implemented by a kiwi company Perpetual Guardian which is trailing to raise their productivity.

Let’s consider why the four day work week could be beneficial for both employees and employers.

Employee benefit

An extra day off normally improves our work-life balance – or in other words it allows us to spend more time on leisure (potentially also reducing work-related stress). For some people the cost of leisure is very high. Particularly, this cost is high for sole parents who have scarcity of time and support to spend on their children compared to the couples. Sole parents are also more disadvantaged compared to singles, by having extra responsibilities on their dependents.

What about the transportation burden? For some people, commuting is a big challenge, especially for those who live far away from the workplace. An extra day off would cut the transportation costs and would allow to alternate commuting time with additional leisure time.  Daily long hours on transportation are an external cost placed on the employment process which has a dead-weight loss, which can be reduced by needing to travel less often.

We probably all agree that having an extra day off would improve our work-life balance regardless of our family composition or the length of commuting.

So what happens if “the four day work per week” policy is widely implemented?  Is it a fixed day, should it be up to the employee to choose, or should there be some type of random rotation introduced?

My view is that the weekdays that employees are off should be rotated among workers. If not, then a Friday becomes another Saturday. In this case, everybody has a day off, and problems with “dentist visits” or “children’s school visits” remain unsolved. Adding another Saturday/Sunday to an employee’s life is great, but the marginal improvement is much less than having the day off with rotation.

Employer benefit

At first glance, the approach of paying same wage for 32 hours a week instead of 40, seems expensive. But have we already considered the productivity increase of employees?

An earlier post on  TVHE has already shown that the productivity drops as the number of hours of work rises. A Scandinavian research also demonstrated how the six-hour work day increases productivity here.

“A year’s worth of data from the project, which compares staff at Svartedalens with a control group at a similar facility, showed that 68 nurses who worked six hour days took half as much sick time as those in the control group. And they were 2.8 times less likely to take any time off in a two-week period”.

As a result, higher productivity would at least reduce the cost – if not completely cancel it out.

Although this does raise the question “if firms can get the same output from you in 32 hours instead of 40, and thereby can reduce their costs of operating even keeping wage payments the same (due to other variable costs), then why aren’t they?”.  So do you think there are reasons why firms may be failing to do this, even if the cost or low or it is even in their own interest?

Conclusion

Often time costs us more than million dollars as the happiness cannot be quantified or bought by money. Any company caring to keep their trained specialists around might want to be ready to cover this cost.

A successful outcome of the Perpetual Guardian’s trial on four day work could encourage other companies in NZ to think about how to widely apply this policy among their employees.

I wonder what your thoughts on this topic are. Do you think shifting from five to four days work might impact the NZ economy significantly?