There’s been a lot of dialogue lately about creating a four-day workweek. The benefits seem obvious. Reducing the workweek would relieve employees of the stress of working long hours over five days, and allow for more family time or time for personal activities and hobbies. It could open the door for hiring more people, creating more job opportunities, and has the potential to stagger work days and hours to get the job done on more flexible schedules.
After years of working at a very stressful job for upwards of sixty hours a week, I would have jumped at the opportunity of a four-day workweek. In fact, two years before I retired when I was suffering serious burnout, I requested a four-day week. I took Mondays off because Fridays were always fairly quiet in the office and I could get a lot more accomplished. (Remember the olden days when we had to be visible and at our desks all day, every day, in high heels and pantyhose?) Those individuals that are able to, usually do slack off on Friday afternoons and sometimes all day Friday. There will always be slackers. I was not one of them.
While I thoroughly enjoyed not getting up at the crack of dawn to commute on Monday mornings, there were a few surprises hidden in my four-day work-week arrangement. First of all, my suggestion that I would be willing to take a twenty percent pay cut for the one day off, turned out not to be as simple as I thought. I still did five days’ work with its attendant fifty hours or so, but I was only being paid for four days. My workload did not decrease. Just my paycheque.
Stress levels for a full-time job spread over four days can be mitigated somewhat by reducing the days but only if reductions in the hours and the workload follow. Some companies are offering four days at the same pay as five but that must surely be employers with generous profit margins and employee benefits. Those companies are few in number.
Employers who offer four-day workweeks with a corresponding pay cut must be prepared to hire extra workers to pick up the extra workload or, as I did, their employees will burn out. The catch in that scenario is that most employers are already having trouble finding enough qualified people to fill their current requirements, without reducing the weekly hours. Labour shortages are rampant.
I must confess that I do not totally understand why there are so many companies looking for qualified help and are not able to find it. Is it because so many young people are being directed into going to college or university when they should be looking at other opportunities? Where did all those workers from pre-COVID disappear to?
Coming from a background in construction, I know the industry is starved for qualified tradespeople. The construction industry has been pushing this message for decades now and it is being ignored as young people are conditioned to think they cannot get a good job unless they go to university.
Some of today’s most successful entrepreneurs do not have a college or university degree. Electricians, plumbers, mechanics, and carpenters can earn six figures a year no matter where they live because they can work anywhere. They have valuable skills, probably more valuable than a degree in Women’s Studies or Sociology. The best training is often on-the-job.
Working a four-day week would have been like dying and going to heaven for me. Women in particular often bear the additional demands of family obligations and single mothers and fathers are heroes beyond description. Spending your weekends cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, doing errands, and running the kids to sports and dance lessons is hardly soul-soothing and rejuvenating.
Everyone would benefit from having more personal time, especially now that we seem to be on call 24/7. The workweek has in fact expanded to seven days for so many workers thanks to email, Zoom, global communication, and other so-called modern conveniences.
As a retired boomer, every day is Saturday. I like the idea of a four-day workweek but only if accommodation is made to hire additional staff to pick up the extra workload and employees are allowed to turn off on their days off. Otherwise, we’re all going to lose our minds. Boomers will remember that song from 1966 by Napolean XVI, “They’re coming to take me away, hey, hey, ho, ho, ha, haaa!”. That day may be closer than we think.