What a 4-day workweek could do to your brain and body
- The average American's work hours are nearly the same as they were fifty years ago. Working such long hours is associated with increased levels of stress and burnout.
- Moving to a four-day workweek could increase productivity, loyalty, and overall happiness, all while helping the climate.
- More and more people, including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and the owner of restaurant chain Shake Shack, seem open to the idea.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
In 1930, ten years before Americans would win the fight for the 40-hour workweek, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that Americans would have a 15-hour workweek within the next hundred years. His reasoning: As technology advanced, people would need to work less and less.
That hasn't happened. The average American's work hours have barely budged for the last 50 years. We work long and we work hard, but we may not be working smart.
In recent years, the idea of moving to a four-day workweek has started to gain traction. Fans of the concept include restaurants like Shake Shack, labour unions and the UK's Labour party. Even presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is open to it.
Here's how it could benefit you.
A four-day workweek has been associated with increased productivity in over 30 years of scientific research.
The internet is full of success stories about companies that switched to a four-day workweek.
Microsoft announced in August 2019 that switching to a four-day workweek led to a 40% boost in productivity. The company had theorized that freeing an up extra day a week for leisure would leave its employees refreshed and newly productive.
Research backs this up.
As early as 1975, studies concluded that the four-day workweek made employees more efficient. According to a paper released by the International Labour Organization in 2018, "working excessively long hours on a regular basis has been shown to reduce hourly productivity due to greater fatigue, and those workers with long hours and/or heavy workloads report decreasing job satisfaction and motivation."
Another study, which gave people working 40 hours a week and people working 55 hours a week the same cognitive tests, found that the latter group performed far worse.
"I think that efforts to lengthen the workday is clearly counter-productive for work that requires concentration and encourages quality," Dr. Anders Ericsson, a research on expertise, told Vice.
Working 32-hours a week creates a better work-life balance.
When New Zealand trust management company Perpetual Guardian tried out a four-day workweek, it saw employee work-life balance increase 45%. The New York Times also reported that the employees' "actual job performance didn't change when doing it over four days instead of five."
Perpetual Guardian has since made the policy permanent.
One theory as to why the quality of work didn't deteriorate is that most of our eight-hour workday isn't spent working. One study even showed that only about three hours of the day are spent working. The rest of the time is usually wasted, spent at work because that is the requirement. And all of that time spent at work can foster some serious guilt and resentment.
A four-day workweek could ease some of the guilt, allowing people to spend more time with their families and friends.
The four-day workweek could make people happier overall.
The requirement to be constantly online has completely changed how and where we work. People can now send work emails from their phones at night and clock in unpaid overtime doing some work-related internet research on the weekends. But being constantly connected can lead to stress and burnout.
Burnout is so common that it is now an officially diagnosable condition.
One way to make sure workers aren't as stressed and burnt out is to ensure they are cared for. A four-day workweek could be the antidote to burnout, giving employees the leisure time they need to create a less stressful, more productive work environment.
It could also lead to more time affluence -a term thought up by researchers to describe a feeling of being rich in time. In America, where residents work far longer than Europeans, people can be financially affluent but poor when it comes to having enough time to do the things they want.
Research shows that longer work hours make for less happy people. One study found that happiness was often associated with the amount of leisure time a person had, even when taking increased income into account.
A four-day workweek isn't just good for you, it's good for the climate.
Researchers have found a direct correlation between longer work hours and increased pollution levels. One study found that if Americans, who work some of the longest hours in the world, were to work the same amount as Europeans, the US would consume 20% less energy.
Another study discovered that with every 1% decline in working hours, there was a corresponding .8% drop in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet another study showed that a four-day workweek or 25% decline in work hours led to a big carbon footprint reduction.
When Elon Musk tweeted that "nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week," the negative reaction was swift. American perceptions towards work have changed. Maybe its time the American workweek changed with it.
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