Less work, same salary – realistic or utopian?

How many minutes do you spend in your work time just for nothing? If you count every coffee break, chattings with co-workers’ trips to meetings, and everything else, you quickly notice that a surprisingly large part of the day is spent on everything except work. And that’s more than understandable because people usually have time for that. Many studies show that a 5-day workweek with 40 hours is not necessary because many people can do the same work in less time if they are just a little bit more practical.

But where does the 40-hour workweek even come from? In the 19th century, when the Industrial revolution grew rapidly, people worked significantly more than nowadays. At some point, workers started demanding better work schedules and, thus, fewer work hours. In the 20th century, the western world slowly moved to a 40-hour workweek, and this model has remained until now. But why a 40-hour workweek? Labor rights activist Robert Owen’s phrase “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest” started the idea of a 40-hour work week. The main point was to get a balance between work and free time.

Recently, some countries have been considering a four-day workweek. For example, in Iceland, there was a trial between 2015 to 2019 when 2500 workers moved from a 40-hour to a 35-hour workweek without a reduction in pay. However, it should be noted that it wasn’t necessarily a 4-day workweek in all cases, only reductions in working hours. The trial was still quite successful, and many studies showed that people can still do the same amount of work in a shorter time even though there is not that much time. Studies showed that people are more effective when they don’t have much time just for chatting.

Every trial about a shorter workweek hasn’t been that successful. In Germany, a small company with 16 workers decided to work five hours instead of the typical 8-hour workday. The trick was that phones, social media, or every contact with the other world were forbidden, so the workers didn’t have the opportunity to send messages, for example, to their families. Workers also felt much pressure, and the time was too limited. This led to the resignation of two people. Shorter work time also took away bonding with co-workers, and that’s why there wasn’t any team spirit in the office.

An example from German shows that the idea of a more effective workday in a shorter time doesn’t always go well. This may be because somebody simply has more tasks to do than others. Some workers have to work only eight hours with little pauses while the employees of another company can take much more breaks. Another problem with the trials about shorter workweeks was that the employees had more free time and didn’t commit to work that much anymore.

Because of these cases, we can’t say that, in general, a shorter workweek is always a good idea. However, in addition to Iceland, there have been successful trials in other parts of the world. For example, in Japan, Microsoft tested a four-day workweek without decreasing pay, and the results showed that in a shorter time, employees were almost 40% more productive and also happier. In addition to that example, a shorter workweek has many other advantages. Your workplace will look more interesting, so job listings will get more applications. Also, if we think about the environmental aspect, it is much better for nature that people go to work only four times a week and not five. Then people don’t use cars or public transportation that often because they don’t go to work.

In Macedonia, a shorter workweek is not a thing. Olgica Arsova, who works as an IT Helpdesk specialist from Monday to Friday in Skopje, is aware of that topic, and as she said: “I would love for that to be implemented in my country, where do I sign for it?” Working from home is usually in two shifts, which should be 8 hours. Olgica also has some freelancer jobs, and that’s why there are days that she works 16 hours. Because of that and the lack of breaks, weekends are not enough time to rest, and that’s why Olgica thinks a 4-day workweek would be more than welcome. “I think it would work anywhere. It might be a bit hard and weird at the beginning, but every beginning is hard, isn’t it? We can get used to it and make it work”.

Happier, more motivated, and more productive workers and time to rest. The shorter workweek is slowly becoming more popular. If we think about history, it took decades to get a 40-hour workweek. Let’s see how long it takes to achieve an even shorter one.

Katariina Weijo


The career contessa podcast – The argument for a four-day workweek

4dayweek.io – Why should you hire on a four-day workweek

Yle.fi – Kelpaisiko nelipäiväinen työviikko?

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