John Maynard Keynes is rolling in his grave. Nearly 100 years ago, the famed economist predicted we would all be working just 15 hours per week. Yet, here we are. Working five days a week, for forty hours or more. Despite a century of technological advancement powering our productivity, we are still slogging away at work Monday through Friday every week. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We arrived at our current work day arrangement mostly through arbitrary decision making. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary, the working world has held fast to the mythological sanctity of the five day work week. Making the shift to a four day work week has the potential to improve both our work productivity and our personal lives. And now is the perfect time for such an experiment. The upending of rules about where work happens has already proven positive as remote work is showing itself to be a productive arrangement in the midst of Coronavirus quarantines. Yet, the challenge of initiating the change to four working days remains. Before we can implement this change for the future of work, it’s important to first understand the history of how we got here.
The seven-day week traces its origins thousands of years back to Ancient Babylon. They believed in a seven planet solar system and decided to build their calendar around that premise. The five-day, forty hour work week is a relatively modern invention by comparison. The trend was not popularized until about 100 years ago. Prior to that, societies often worked six or seven days per week. Practitioners of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism have historically taken a day off dedicated to worship or rest. Cotton mill owners of New England have been credited as the originators of the two day weekend. The owners of the mills took Sunday off in observance of the Christian day of rest. A large number of their employees were Jewish and took Saturdays off for religious observance. Out of respect for both groups, leaders decided to give all workers Saturday and Sunday off. This arrangement slowly spread across the nation and eventually the world as labor unions fought to ensure fair and humane working conditions for all. This coincided with the changes brought about near the end of the Second Industrial Revolution. With Industry 4.0 upon us, now is the best time to re-evaluate the work week.
The five day work week served it’s purpose, but that arrangement is outdated now. Our productivity has exploded in recent years and we accomplish far more in far less time than ever before in history. And mounting evidence indicates that we would be better off converting some of that productivity into leisure time. New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, initially experimented with a four day work week in 2018. The switch resulted in a 20% productivity gain and employees reported greater work-life balance. The company has now made the switch to four day weeks permanent. The largest scale test of this approach thus far took place August 2019 in Japan. Microsoft implemented the 4 day work week for it’s office of 2,300 employees. This resulted in an increase of productivity by 40%. Statistics also show, that such a shift is deserved by the working class. A report from the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics found that productivity by 5% annually from 1987 to 2015. But compensation only rose by 2% annually. The value of those gains have been captured by organizations, without any benefit to the workers.
In the same way that the Coronavirus pandemic spurred on the prevalence of remote working, the four day work week is also uniquely positioned to see gains in adoption. A plan proposed by a team of computational biologists and an economist in Israel aligns with the four day work week and offers a plan for reducing outbreaks related to a return to business. In their proposed “10-4 Method” employers would divide their employees into 2 groups and implement 2 week work cycles. Group one works on premises for four days then returns home for ten days. This arrangement eases society back into work but maintains a level of precaution since the average span of time between when a person becomes infected by the virus and when they can pass it on to others is three days. Just as the infection period would begin for a hypothetical work related infection, workers would be headed back home for 10 days of quarantine.
In the transition to a four day work week, the first order of business is deciding which day gets absorbed into the weekend. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are out as options since they would only serve to break up any momentum one was attempting to build up during the work week. That leaves us with Monday or Friday. We all know everybody’s favorite weekday isn’t going anywhere. Given the fact that no one on Earth has ever uttered the phrase “MonYay” it’s safe to say that Friday is fine as is. Aside from the designation of being the first day of the week, Monday doesn’t really have much going for itself. Nobody likes Monday. If they did, the “Sunday Scaries” wouldn’t be a thing. Absorbing it into the weekend works wonders for Monday’s rebrand. The new Monday can be a day of leisure or a day duty. Workers would have the option to spend their extra day relaxing and gearing up for the week ahead or as a day for the work they couldn’t previously get to; like cleaning up around the house, volunteering for a worthy cause, enjoying a hobby, or even kickstarting a side hustle. We could take the rebrand a step further and even roll out a new name, Nunday. This is a play on the latin word for errand, nuntius. You can spend your extended weekend on important errands, or at home doing “nun” at all.
Monday is canceled. And honestly, truly, will you even miss it?