Should the Week Be Four Days Instead of Five?

Should the Week Be Four Days Instead of Five?

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Microsoft Japan made headlines recently after it tested a shortened workweek — four days instead of five — and found that productivity at the company improved by about 40 percent.

What is your reaction to this news? Do you think all companies and schools should adopt a four-day week? Why or why not?

In “What if You Had a Four-Day Week? Why Don’t You?, Niraj Chokshi writes about the promises of and barriers to a shortened workweek:

Nixon predicted it. Workers have asked for it. And businesses and governments have experimented with it for decades. The world has been talking about the four-day workweek for half a century, so what’s taking so long?

The idea pops up every so often in expectant headlines. Just last week, Microsoft Japan inspired a flood of stories after reporting that, in a trial, shortened weeks had boosted productivity by about 40 percent. Yet the four-day workweek is the flying car of labor: a profound advancement that has seemed just around the corner for decades.

“In America? I’m not expecting it anytime soon,” said Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, who made the case for a shorter workweek to business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year.

The reasons that a four-day workweek hasn’t yet taken hold are varied, Mr. Grant and others argue. Some barriers are institutional and some are cultural. And then there’s the most human reason of all: inertia.

However, Mr. Chokshi writes, there may still be hope for the four-day workweek:

Historically, experiments with the idea have tended to focus on its effects on employee happiness and work-life balance. But the Perpetual Guardian trial last year and the test conducted by Microsoft Japan this year focused on a benefit that might motivate employers: productivity.

“It is making it safer for chief executives, for boards, for companies around the world to say, ‘Well, actually, I’m not just doing this because it is a good thing for my employees, I can also do this because it is good for business,’” Mr. Barnes said.

At the same time, there’s a widespread desire among employees to work shorter weeks.

About two-thirds of workers favor a compressed workweek, according to recent surveys by the staffing firm Robert Half and the public radio program Marketplace. And a poll conducted last year by The Workforce Institute, a think tank at Kronos, a maker of work force management software, found that 34 percent of global workers wanted a four-day workweek compared to 28 percent who were happy with a five-day one. (Some unions have pushed for shorter weeks, too.)

Millennials and the generation that follows, Generation Z, also seem to be driving a broad shift in priorities when it comes to work, focusing less on pay and more on balance, Mr. Hunnicutt argued.

“My generation, the baby boomers, may be the last true believers in this really bizarre belief that work can really answer all of our questions as human beings,” he said.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Do you think the school- and workweek should be four days instead of five? Why or why not?

  • What might be some of the advantages and disadvantages of a shortened week? In your opinion, do the pros outweigh the cons?

  • How do you think your life would change if you went to school for only four days a week? Would you be more or less productive at school? Would you spend more time doing things you enjoy outside of school or would you waste more time? What else?

  • In the article, professor Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt says: “We value work more than any other culture in the history of the world … We value work as an end in itself.” Do you personally see work as a means to an end — for example, working to get good grades so you can get into the college of your choice or having a high-paying job so you have money to spend on other things? Or do you see work as an end in itself — that is, simply working for the sake of working? Why?

  • Mr. Hunnicutt also argues that Millennials and Generation Z seem to be prioritizing work-life balance over pay. Does this ring true for you? In your future career, would you rather have a job that pays you a lot but requires more working hours? Or a job that pays you less but offers you more time off? Why?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.