Much has been said about the four-day work week, its potential and its dangers, often its impossibility, that one or another company in a distant country has already adopted the system. There is talk that the State is looking for voluntary companies for a pilot project, a kind of guinea pigs to test something very complex and risky.
As a partner in a company that adopted this system with clear success over three years ago, much of what I have read seems to me to be both understandable and strange or absurd. Understandable, because changing models rooted for decades can raise insecurity or doubts in the minds of entrepreneurs. Strange, because I live in a great situation and I see widespread skepticism, mostly on the part of those who hire, in the face of the possibility of this change.
However, since the distant seventies when the current five-day model was instituted, we have been living in the period of Great Acceleration, a radical evolution in terms of work tools and data sharing, the result of the colossal evolution of digital systems. We are witnessing an exponential increase in speed and productivity, but this has not resulted in benefits for people’s daily lives, a logical one being the reduction in the number of working days, along with the introduction of teleworking options.
But there are more reasons for this. Contrary to what many entrepreneurs think, postponing this change does not make any sense for the interests of companies. It is feared that the reduction of one working day will have a negative impact on productivity. However, my practice with the model reveals just the opposite.
The quality of productivity is inherent to the degree of happiness in the workplace and not to the imposition of extended hours and tight control of compliance. And one of the conditions for this happiness is for those who work to have the perception that their well-being is a central issue in the company they are part of. More is produced when you are more motivated, also because you feel protected, respected, and because you live in an environment of trust.
Another fundamental aspect has to do with the importance of leisure in its relationship with work, which has been debated at least since the end of the 19th century. Beyond the contradiction of whether work is an end or a means, I am interested in a fundamental question that seems clear to me: the quality of leisure is inseparable, as cause-effect, from the quality of the work product.
If, on the one hand, what we intuitively feel is scientific evidence, that good intellectual functioning is profoundly dependent on effective periods of removal from tasks, pauses, during which the brain recovers its capacity – namely critical, on the other hand, the rest and human construction resulting from having more time for the family, for cultural, social and recreational activities, makes us much more available and competent for professional performance.
If we take into account that the majority of families, especially from less favored social backgrounds, spend their weekends doing housework and supporting school-age children – basically working, that extra day may be the only one that all that remains is for them to rest, for that ludic dimension, to enjoy life. Is it not entirely pertinent today, after decades of operating on the five-day model and in the face of such radical changes, that efforts are being made, even if only gradually, to release that additional day?
I have found from experience that the mere condensing of the weekly work time into four days is generally preferred, particularly by the younger set. Based on this possibility, an immediate or gradual reduction in weekly hours should be made, with the possibility of meeting the specific needs of some workers, namely those related to children of a more dependent age, through the incorporation of teleworking periods.
Excluding very specific areas of work where it will be more complex or impossible, in most cases it is not difficult to implement the four-day model, naturally requiring careful preparation, a gradual transition made in dialogue, where everyone assumes the commitment to make the change work . From our experience, in which there were corrections after the first year of implementation, we felt a greater degree of happiness in people, that productivity increased, with the advantage of a faster response in each of those four days.
As for people’s lives, having a working day off during the week, in addition to increasing the length of the weekend, allows them to deal with personal matters that otherwise would not be possible without asking the employer for special tolerance. In terms of reducing anxiety levels, it is extremely important.
Moreover, if we take into account the reduction in travel days and the fact that these are made outside peak hours, we conclude that, in addition to people spending less time confined to cars and public transport, they literally recover many days throughout the year. Additionally, with a positive environmental impact for the cities, with fewer cars circulating and the relief of crowding in public transport. These are too many benefits not to be taken seriously.
On the part of our customers, more than acceptance and respect for the model, I remember expressions of admiration for an option that they see as progressive. For these and many other reasons, it doesn’t cross my mind to go back. As I usually respond to those who ask me, it was perhaps the most important business decision I took part in, it would be a kind of civilizational setback.