Employee Mental Health: What a 4-Day Work Week Looks Like

Say goodbye to the 40+ hour work weeks; the stress of working at all hours of the day; the limited free time during nights and weekends. There’s a new way of life and it’s taking the corporate world by storm. Enter: the 4-day work week. 

While the idea of work-life balance isn’t a new one–the concept dates as far back as 1930 when economist John Maynard Keynes predicted an eventual shift to a 15-hour work week–it’s become a bigger point of interest to employees and companies alike in recent years. This increased interest in a shorter work week is largely due to the fact that much of the working class in modern America has, at some point in their career, experienced burnout. 

In 2018, a Gallup study found that, of the 7,500 full-time employees studied, almost half reported feeling burned out sometimes and 23% reported feeling burned out often or always. This kind of burnout can lead to decreased job satisfaction and overall happiness at work, as well as a higher turnover rate. But worse, the stress and exhaustion brought on by feeling burned out can impact an employee’s physical and mental health. 

We’ve all read the frightening statistics that sitting at your desk for too long can lead to harmful health implications like chronic back pain, eye strain, and even carpal tunnel syndrome. But what about the mental health of an overworked employee? The stress of working long hours for five days out of the week and only getting two days to recharge can leave employees feeling so exhausted and unhappy that they’re only doing the bare minimum at work. Even just one extra day away from work could change this.

So, what would the world look like with a shorter work week? Some countries have already begun testing this out–with interesting results. 

During the summer of 2019, Microsoft Japan tested out a 4-day work week, giving employees the same full-time pay. The results? According to Microsoft, there was a 40% increase in productivity. The initiative also included cutting meetings from one hour to 30 minutes, and limiting those in attendance to just five team members. The trial was so successful that Microsoft is considering implementing the shorter work week again this winter. 

In another study in 2018 The Perpetual Guardian, an estate management firm in New Zealand, also experimented with a 4-day work week with employees receiving the same pay. According to their results, 78% of employees reported feeling like they could balance work and life, an increase of 24% prior to the trial. The shorter work week also decreased employee’s stress levels by 7% and overall job satisfaction increased by 5%.

These studies prove what many already know, which is that working less hours can increase health and happiness without decreasing job performance. With one less day in the work week, employees are often more motivated and engaged at work. This can lead to more creative thinking as well as being more efficient with their time. They’re also motivated by the fact that they have an extra day in the week to do whatever it is that will bring more joy and balance into their lives, whether that’s work on a hobby, spend more time with family, volunteer, or simply recharge. 

As a society, our identities are often tied very closely to our work. This can result in spending too much time working and not enough time exploring different activities, socializing, or maintaining our health–all of the things that humans need in order to function and remain balanced. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that we are not our work. Allowing employees more free time in their schedules with a shorter work week will encourage them to seek out a more balanced lifestyle,  ultimately increasing happiness and decreasing stress. 

While many companies have adapted this progressive work schedule, only time will tell if it will become the new normal.