Is The 5 Day Workweek Dying?

It was at the dawn of the new year in 1948 when Australia first embraced the 40-hour workweek. Before that employees worked anywhere between 44 to 48 hours per week and often for more than five days.

This was a massive change for Australia. So when first implemented, it ignited fear and worry among the business community. Many thought it would cost their companies in productivity and ultimately in profits. The concept, however, was not new. In the US, the five-day workweek (which was revolutionary for its time) was recorded to have been implemented as early as 1908 and further popularised in the 1920's thanks to Henry Ford.

Fast forward more than 70 years later in Australia and the right number of working days (or hours) in a week seems up for debate once again. Much like Ford in its time, another corporate giant has sparked life into the idea of reducing the number of working days per week.

Big brand bucks the trend

Last year Microsoft famously shut its Japan offices every Friday for an entire month to try the four-day workweek. The result? An increase in productivity of almost 40% compared to the same month in the previous year. Microsoft also enjoyed cost savings in electricity and office resources.

Other companies have also reported similarly promising results after switching to a four-day workweek. After trialling the shorter work period stress levels went down and commitment, stimulation and empowerment all went up.

Three things to consider when changing to a four-day workweek

So, should you also implement a four-day workweek? While it is effective for some companies, there are, of course, several things to consider before making the change.

Here are three questions to ask yourself:

  1. Will it disrupt your business processes? The concern 70-odd years ago in Australia is that a shorter working week would impede existing business processes. Before taking the four-day leap, carefully assess whether any of your critical business needs will be impacted (i.e. do customers need to contact you outside of work hours, do you provide services on an on-demand basis etc.).

  2. Can you offer it to most (if not all) your employees? You wouldn’t want a negative backlash to something that is supposed to create a better working environment. Be candid and pragmatic when analysing whether a four-day workweek is practical for all your employees.

  3. Does it fit within your overall wellbeing strategy? There is no point trying to reduce stress and promoting good wellbeing through reduced working hours if an employee has to work those four days in an unhealthy work environment. The four-day workweek should be just one of many ways you look after your employees’ wellness. A holistic approach which includes exercise, diet and mental health support is still the best way to look after employees (whether or not that includes implementing a four-day workweek).