In a world that never slows down, job burnout has become a very tangible problem.
Many workers struggle to find work-life balance, leading to stress, anxiety, extreme burnout and even depression. In fact, the WHO says that in just 7 years’ time, mental health problems will be the biggest cause of sick leave. And the UN, in turn, shows that depression and anxiety cause the annual loss of 12 billion working days and around one billion dollars. Anxiety disorders are often triggered by prolonged exposure to stressful situations, however some people are more vulnerable to stress due to genetic factors, among other things.
Considering that problems at work and lack of work-life balance are one of the most common sources of stress, could the 4-day working week be part of a solution to mental health problems? After discovering the results of the world’s largest trial carried out in the UK by a team of scientists at Cambridge University, it has become increasingly obvious.
The study involved more than 3300 employees, who had their working hours reduced to four days a week (with no reduction in pay). The results show that by working four days and having three days off, employees are able to spend more time on their personal lives, resting, enjoying family, friends and hobbies, and taking care of themselves and their personal development. This, as the UK trial in late 2022 has shown, helps in reducing stress and anxiety, improves quality of life and makes people feel happier and healthier overall. This can increase employee retention and reduce absenteeism, resulting in better performance and long-term benefits for the company.
But what about employers and productivity – wouldn’t they be affected by a four-day working week? Surprisingly, according to research, this is not necessarily the case:
- According to a 2019 Microsoft Japan study, implementing the four-day work week in the enterprise increased productivity by 40% compared to the previous year.
- Meanwhile, the International Labour Organization (ILO) reported in its 2019 report that a shorter working week could improve the quality of work and personal life, which can increase motivation and job satisfaction.
Data suggests that, by having an extra day off, employees return to work feeling more rested, focused, motivated and less likely to procrastinate. Moreover, as the American Psychological Association points out, employees who have more time off to relax and do what they enjoy are more likely to feel energised and engaged at work.
While this is clearly not applicable to all sectors, it seems that initial trials of 4-day working weeks show promising results. These kinds of measures can be very beneficial to reduce burnout and take care of the mental health of workers; especially those who are particularly vulnerable (because of their genetics or internal psychological factors) and/or who are exposed to environmental risk factors (because of their context, economic or family situation…).
日本マイクロソフト株式会社. (2019). Publicó los resultados de la medición de la efectividad del proyecto práctico interno «Work-Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer» centrado en «Semana laboral de 4 días y semana laboral de 3 días». News Center Japan. https://news.microsoft.com/ja-jp/2019/10/31/191031-published-the-results-of-measuring-the-effectiveness-of-our-work-life-choice-challenge-summer-2019/
Staff, F. (2023, 21 febrero). La semana de 4 días convence a empresas británicas tras el mayor ensayo mundial. Forbes Colombia. https://forbes.co/2023/02/21/capital-humano/la-semana-de-4-dias-convence-a-empresas-britanicas-tras-el-mayor-ensayo-mundial