Is It Time To Retire The 5 Day Work Week?

Oct 19, 2022

Did you know that the 9 hour work day, 5 day work week was invented in the 1920s? It was my Henry Ford and the American Labour Unions that came up with it as way to limit the hours worked by manufacturing and industrial workers, ensuring they didn’t end up spending all of their time working. Since these people were doing manual labour for 10-12 hours a day, Henry Ford wanted to protect them and improve their conditions by limiting the number of hours they could work, and ensuring there were ‘break days’.

In the 1920s that was fantastic and forward-thinking. But now, 100 years on, we are still following the same patterns. The world has moved on in a lot of ways, and the big question now is whether the same 9-5, 5-day work week is the right fit for modern workers.

The World Of Work Has Changed

The simple fact is that the world of work has gone through a lot of changes in a century, and now things look very different. The purpose of the eight-hour workday and 5 day work week (to protect the workers who held jobs brought about by the industrial revolution), the advances of technology, globalisation and outsourcing means that even those jobs just don’t work that way anymore. And now, the focus has shifted to creating a good work-life balance, a good company culture, and keeping employees happy while at work.

Because business owners have finally realised that the key to productivity isn’t long hours chained to a desk – it’s happy employees.

So now, there’s less of a focus on long hours, and more on productivity. There is also the need for businesses to be more creative and agile to handle the new challenges thrown at them. And in our always-on, always-connected world, it doesn’t make sense to expect employees to work an eight-hour shift and still do their job to a high quality. Instead, the immersive work experience is no longer limited to a desk at the office, and many employees find their productivity improves when they work fewer hours or fewer days, and have the flexibility to work when they want, where they want. It’s a new look for the world of work, but the companies embracing flexible hours and shorter work weeks are seeing incredible results. After all, each employee has their own set of responsibilities, and as long as they’re doing their jobs and doing them well, does it really matter how many hours they put in each week?

We Understand How Our Brains Are Wired

One of the big reasons we think the long-haul 9-5 is dead is really simple – our brains just aren’t wired to work for that long! While the working limits were originally set to bring industrial workers hours down from 10-12 hours to 8 per day, the fact is that the world of work has changed a lot since then, and those limits can be a little high for some people. In fact, research has shown that for the over 40’s, working more than 25 hours a week can cause fatigue and physical/psychological stress that actually damages cognitive function.

And for people below 40 (and those above), working in such large, continuous blocks of time does nothing but harm our productivity. Our brains aren’t wired to focus for such long periods of time, and actually force us to take regular breaks to stop if becoming overloaded. So, we end up getting much less done in the day than we would have if we only worked a few hours. The same goes for working 5 days a week vs 4 – we get more is done in 4 days than 5!

In fact, studies have shown that the average full-time worker is only really productive for around 3 hours a day, with the rest of the day filling up with unproductive activities like:

Reading news websites (1 hour 5 minutes)

Checking social media (44 minutes)

Discussing non-work-related things with co-workers (40 minutes)

Taking cigarette breaks (23 minutes)

Looking for new jobs (26 minutes)

Making calls to partners or friends (18 minutes)

Making hot drinks (17 minutes)

Texting or instant messaging (14 minutes)

Eating (8 minutes)

Making food (7 minutes)

All this is because our brains aren’t designed to be working so hard for so long.

So What’s the Solution?

For many, the solution seems simple. Give the work week a makeover! Several countries are actually ahead of us with this one, with Iceland pioneering a 4-day work week and seeing amazing success. Belgium, Sweden Germany, Japan and Spain have also started trialling the 4-day week, and are already seeing a lot of positive results.

Here in the UK, some companies have been trialling a 4-day week under a government initiative too. Since starting in July over 70 organisations have made the switch, and while initial reports described the first week as ‘chaos’ and ‘difficult to adapt to’, 3 months on they are seeing s lot of positives.

The biggest shift to making the 4-day work week work isn’t actually in logistics – it’s in mindset. Companies in the past have been very hours-focused, measuring every employee’s performance in part by the hours spent working. But businesses who have made the switch to focusing on output rather than time have found that their employees are more refreshed, revitalised, and are generally performing better when working fewer hours. For example, TRO Media, a participant in the government trial, have reported a 44% improvement in employee performance, despite a 20% reduction in working time.

All the signs are there. It’s time to retire the 9-5, 5 days a week way of thinking, and usher in a new work week. At Wildcat Careers we’re excited to see the changes to the workforce, and would love to work with any businesses who is considering trailing the 4-day week for their employees.


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