Is a 4-day workweek the cure for burnout?

Yolande Coombes Psychologist, Coach & Facilitator

Don’t you find it surprising that many work cultures and leaders still celebrate long hours and blind devotion to work?

A 16-hour day is held up as a badge of honour instead of the first sign of madness. Companies are still caught up in thinking they pay staff for their hours rather than outputs.

A retired colleague and I contrasted our workdays. In the 1970s, he responded to a few letters in the morning and then focused on thinking and writing in the afternoon (after a full hour for lunch). Mine, at that time, started by responding to emails before leaving home, I tried not to drop crumbs on my keyboard from breakfast and lunch, and I had meetings and phone calls across the globe well into the evening. My thinking time was as I bathed my children or loaded the dishwasher.

For most of history, the workweek has been six days long. Taking one day of rest, Muslims traditionally took Friday, while Jews Saturday and Christians on Sunday. It wasn't until the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s that the concept of a two-day “weekend" began to take shape. This gave workers the opportunity to spend their down time buying consumer products, keeping cash circulating through the economy.

We know that a four-day week is good for the planet, but it is even better for people?

The data on increased productivity from the four-day week experiments is compelling and universal across industries, sectors, and countries. None of this is new. It’s what happened when we moved from a six-day to a five-day week a century ago. Automation and technological improvements drove that move and increased productivity, yet we still have the same scepticism a century later. Technological advancements have accelerated, but instead of reducing our time, we are, as a species, on a fast track to burning out.

A 4-day week is a move to increased agency and autonomy. It allows the individual and team to establish what needs to be done and then figure out how best to do it. Autonomy increases engagement, in turn increasing connection and productivity, and there we find ourselves in a nice upward spiral with a range of tangible benefits.

A recent Gallup survey reported that highly engaged teams are 23% more productive than teams with the lowest engagement.

A four-day week allows us to think, connect, and engross ourselves with what we do and why we do it. In short, a four-day week facilitates balance; it allows us time to be whole human beings – when this happens, we are less resentful of our work.


If you enjoyed this post you may be interested in our white paper “The Crisis of meaning in the workplace“. We continually research and publish white papers which are available to download from our web site so do keep in touch.

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