Up for a 4-Day Workweek?



You know that feeling when you wake up on a Friday morning and realise it is the last working day of the week?


Imagine getting that feeling on a Thursday! Every week.


The Indian government is in the process of launching guidelines as part of the Labour Code to provide an option of four or five-day workweeks to corporates. This flexibility in the rules will allow corporates to adopt 4-day workweeks without getting a prior government nod.


The catch is that 48-hour weekly limit might remain intact, and hence might lead to longer workdays. Although, the repercussions of a 12-hour shift are under government lens. Further, employers cannot force the decision on employees. It has to be decided mutually.


Another fact to be noted here is that, mostly, Indian employees are used to working more than 48 hours per week, which is above the International Labour Organisation’s standards. So to what extent this new format gets adopted is a mystery worth looking forward to.


If companies do adopt the four-day workweek, wouldn’t it be a dream come true?


Surprisingly, the answer is no. Especially in a country like India, where there are diminished work boundaries, it would hardly work. Although, the non-customer facing profiles might still benefit, sales people would not.


How many times have you received a call from a client on a late Saturday afternoon, expecting for an immediate resolution?


“What? You don’t work on Saturdays?! How lucky!”


That’s a statement I have encountered on many occasions, in every industry I was a part of.

The fact is we Indians do not respect boundaries. Period.


In Sales, the main reason behind it is, if you don’t respond, someone else will. And that either means an annoyed client, or a lost one.


Be it connecting with a client for getting a final yes or a no, getting the product dispatched on a holiday, getting the invoice prepared ‘right now!’ or simply getting the customer query resolved immediately, we can’t wait.


To a great extent, the pandemic worsened the situation. It blurred the lines between availability and the absence of it.


Now, the whole country is back in office to revive the economy. The concept of alternate working days is quite prevalent now. The Indian government is also acting proactively on the four-day workweek guidelines.


This made me do some research on the what, why and the how of the shorter workweek concept.


The What


The idea of a four-day workweek entails working only between Mondays and Thursdays, with a three-day paid weekend starting form Friday.


So where did it all begin?


The first company in the world to adopt a five-day workweek was the New England Mill in 1908 in the US. This was done so that the Jewish workers and managers could observe the Saturday Sabbath.


Later in 1926, Henry Ford had adopted the five-day workweek concept to increase the productivity of his employees. This opened up the way for the rest of the corporate America to employ the method.


In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes had predicted that the world will move to a 15-hour workweek by 2030. (Do you see it happening?)

On December 1st, 1930, Kellogg’s had adopted the six-hour workday format. They gradually had to return to eight-hour workdays for a surprising reason. The same employees who voted for a six-hour workday format, became embarrassed of not having the same badge of honour as their counterparts in other companies, who worked for eight or more hours per day.


The 4-Day Workweek concept is surprisingly, almost as old. The US Congress had almost passed a bill declaring a mandatory 30-hour week to curb unemployment triggered due to the Great Depression of 1930’s. The bill faced severe opposition and hence was scrapped.


Many companies in the US, Australia, Europe and Japan have been working four-days a week since 2017.


In the four-day workweek, some companies refrain from increasing the daily working hours, while the others don’t. The idea, usually, is to complete 32 or 40 hours in a week over a period of four days.


The Why

So why or why not to adopt the four-day workweek format? Below are the pros and cons of the concept, as witnessed by companies who employed it.


The How

There are two important How-questions:


How to decide if and when to employ a 4-day workweek?

It really depends on the industry, business model and requirements of the organisation. For instance, in aviation or air cargo industry, a 4-day workweek might not work as the staff needs to be there to handle the cargo and the passengers all the time.


Ultimately, your objective for considering a shorter workweek needs to be clear. It cannot be only employee satisfaction and productivity. Not every company with a four-day workweek saw an increase in productivity.


How to implement it?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Involve the Employees: Don’t forget to involve your employees, especially the first and middle level managers, in this decision making. A lot of companies, like Perpetual Guardian, ran surveys to understand how to shorten their workweek without adversely affecting the productivity. You need to employ a bottom-up approach here.

  2. Run Trials: Most companies, that employ the format, run a trial for at least 8 weeks to test the applicability.

  3. Run Basic Research: Basic research goes a long way. Besides just Googling it, maybe you can try looking for Research papers and articles or even corresponding websites like https://4dayweek.com/

A Business Inside survey conducted showed that Indian employees feel the four-day workweek is at least five years away. Indian employees are used to working beyond 48 hours, more than five-days a week. But every major change begins with a single step.


Let’s see who takes the first leap. Who knows, we might be moving closer to John Maynard Keynes prediction faster than we realise!

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