Can a 4-day working week be the answer to revive the failing economy and strike work-life balance?


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Can a 4-day working week be the answer to revive the failing economy and strike work-life balance?

Representational image
Representational image
The Coronavirus or Covid-19 pandemic has brought the world to a standstill, at least a major part of it, if not all. With countries religiously following lockdown for months, this stagnant period has shut down many small businesses and caused almost irreparable financial damage from which the citizens and economies are trying to limp back to normalcy. As workplace and businesses, both online and offline, start to open slowly, and in a staggered manner, many are worried about their safety at the workplace. Also, the question about how this would help the economy return to a strong position looms large.
Work from home: Good or bad?
It is heartwarming to see how organisations across the world are trying to find their own solutions to this never-before-encountered situation. Some organisations, like the micro-blogging site Twitter, were in favour of work from home and Twitter recently announced that its employees can work from home even after social-distancing norms are eased-up. However, not all seem to agree to this new trend of working remotely. In an interview with the New York Times, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that permanently working from home can be detrimental to the mental health of the employees. According to Nadella, it can also have serious consequences for the employees' social life as 'virtual video calls cannot replace in-person meetings'.

4-day working week
While the world is torn between the debate of whether it is good for employees to work from home or not, Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern had made a suggestion of considering a four-day working week for employees, which have caught everyone's attention. During a Facebook Live video, the Prime Minister also suggested considering other flexible working options that might help employees balance work-life balance while keeping themselves safe from any Coronavirus-related health risks.

“I hear lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day workweek. Ultimately that really sits between employers and employees. But as I’ve said there’s just so much we’ve learnt about Covid and that flexibility of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of that. I’d really encourage people to think about that if you’re an employer and in a position to do so. To think about if that’s something that would work for your workplace because it certainly would help tourism all around the country," said Ardern on Facebook Live.

Past experiments about 4-day working week

The debate over a 4-day working week is not new. Last year, tech giant Microsoft carried out an experiment with a four-day working week in its offices in Japan. The project that was called the 'Work-Life Challenge Summer 2019", was conducted for a month in August and it involved 2,300 employees who worked only for four days in a week (from Monday to Thursday) and were paid the same salary as employees who worked for five days a week. At the end of the four-day working week trial, it was found that the participants (employees) were comparatively happier and more productive than those who worked for five days a week. “Work a short time, rest well and learn a lot. I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20% less working time,” said Takuya Hirano, the Microsoft Japan president and CEO in a statement on the Microsoft Japan’s website.

What experts believe

Even experts agree that this could be the right approach to mitigate the stress of working in the new normal post Covid19. "As we evolve in our fight against Covid19, it's important that we collectively put in our efforts, compassion, empathy and social responsibility together during these times. Work from home has its own stress factors, especially the blurring of boundaries and added pressure of looking at the home chores parallel to work. Flexible days, structured shortened more focused timings, and peer support and peer buddies would be the right approach to mitigate the stress of working in the new normal post Covid19," said Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Healthcare.

Could a four-day working week be the answer to all our economic and work-life balance problems? Only time will tell but till then we can only hope for the best.

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