Most of us feel exuberant and refreshed after a three-day weekend, so it’s no surprise that a regular four-day workweek is healthier for us than a typical five-day workweek. And as the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend our work lives, some companies are pausing to take a big-picture look at how we work — and that includes reconsidering the five-day workweek.
But the trend started long before the pandemic. Professor John Ashton, one of the U.K.’s leading public health doctors, has been calling for the reduction of the British work week from five to four days for years, telling the Guardian in 2014 that “the stress that people are under, the pressure on time and sickness absence, [work-related] mental health is clearly a major issue.”
In that interview, Ashton noted that workers in the U.K. rarely even take a lunch hour, instead working through lunch. This is a trend that’s become the norm in the U.S. as well, with fewer than 20% of American workers leaving the office for a lunch break.
Ashton says that workers would see a broad range of benefits if they took an extra day for themselves.
“We need a four-day week so that people can enjoy their lives, have more time with their families, and maybe reduce high blood pressure because people might start exercising on that extra day,” he told the Guardian.
Companies that have made the switch to a shorter work week report noticeable improvements in the well-being and productivity of their employees.
When Microsoft tested out a four-day workweek in Japan in 2019, the result was a 40% bump in productivity.
In a study in Sweden in 2015, workers with reduced hours were sick less often and even ended up being more productive.
Less time at the office also translates to less sedentary time, which has been shown to have broad negative health consequences.
But the benefits of a shorter workweek go beyond reduced stress and better physical health for the individual.
According to Alex Williams, a lecturer in sociology at City University, London, a four-day workweek could have a big environmental impact as well.
Fewer working hours usually mean less energy is consumed, and an extra day of commuting back and forth to work could be avoided.
In fact, reducing a person’s work hours by only 10 percent would reduce their carbon footprint by an impressive 15%.
Office buildings that close completely for an additional day are able to keep the lights and air conditioning or heating units turned off, translating to a win for both the environment and companies’ bottom lines.
So who’s ready to take Friday off? We certainly are!