The four-day workweek suggests that people have increasingly complex lives, and as a society, need rest. Rest shouldn't be a luxury — it’s a necessity and a basic human function. There’s nothing special about the 40-hour, five-day workweek; there is something magical, however, about people living their lives to their full potential and working to live, rather than living to work. The four-day workweek would allow people to enjoy time with family and friends, pursue hobbies and passions, or simply enjoy some downtime.
The trials behind the four-day workweek have shown that it is beneficial and well-received. In 2018, a firm in New Zealand took the leap and introduced a trial for the four-day workweek. They asked researchers to study what would happen if they let its 240 employees work four days whilst retaining the same salary. As a result, their employees reported a 24% improvement of their work-life balance, and when at work, supervisors reported that employees were more efficient, creative, and content.
Similarly, in Iceland, a four-year trial was deemed an ‘overwhelming success’. The trial concluded that the four-day workweek is good for people and good for business; there was no harm to the economy and a dramatic improvement in employees’ lives.
As a result, these trials led unions to renegotiate working patterns, and now 86% of Iceland’s workforce has now moved to working shorter hours with the same pay. While the four-day workweek has mostly been experimented with by western countries, the United Arab Emirates has decided to follow suit. Starting earlier this year, public sector employees work only four and a half days a week, which the government implemented to emphasize work-life balance and overall wellbeing.
It goes without saying that a four-day workweek is key to creating a healthy work-life balance and managing burnout and stress. However, there are continuing arguments behind how it will help with gender equality and creating a balance in domestic labour.
The male breadwinner ideal has been around since the industrial revolution. At the time, women looked after the children, cooked, cleaned, and also nurtured exhausted, hard-working men. However, as women entered the workplace and actually developed lives outside of their domestic routines, their responsibilities ironically doubled. Women got stuck with a ‘second shift’ of unpaid labor — they went to work, got home, and were faced with an entire second stretch of domestic duties.
Many believe that shortening work weeks serve to reduce this gap in unpaid labor by allowing men more time at home to take on chores, and lessening the burden on women in the workforce. But how much would that help, really? If men and women had the same amount of free time, why would mindsets change? The real issue with domestic labour is the expectation that women are better suited for it, so does giving men one extra day off really solve that problem?
The idea that implementing a four-day workweek is the shift our society needs in order to combat gender inequality and the patriarchy is nothing but hopeless optimism. The four-day workweek only benefits those who already have it good in society.