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The unexpected social perk of four-day weeks

The Australia Day long weekend will have a lot of us wishing for all weekends to be this long. Image: Getty

Workers across the country will be having the same conversation next Tuesday: “Why can’t all our weekends be three days long?”

Well, that idle dream could have major payoffs for worker wellbeing, productivity and even gender equality.

“I think we have some good experiments showing that if you reduce work hours, people are able to focus their attention more effectively, they end up producing just as much – often with higher quality and creativity,” explained University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Adam Grant at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week.

“And they’re also more loyal to the organisations that are willing to give them the flexibility to care more about their lives outside of work,” he added.

And it’s not a new concept either, added Rutger Bregman, the author of Utopia for Realists.

“For decades, all the major economists, philosophers, they all believed up until the 1970s that we would be working less and less,” he said.

“In the 1920s and the 1930s, there were actually major capitalist entrepreneurs who discovered that if you shorten the working week, employees become more productive.”

Henry Ford found that by cutting the working week from 60 to 40 hours, his employers became more productive because they could rest in their spare time.

The OECD has also observed that Greece, which has one of the longest working weeks in Europe, performs worst on GDP per hour.

Gender equality

A four-day working week could even be a boon for gender equality.

The gender pay gap tends to kick in once women have children and take more time away from the office, both in maternity leave and carer roles.

However, cultural norms can also mean employers are more comfortable granting parental leave to a mother than a father, limiting the ability for parents to share the parenting duties.

But a four-day working week could make a massive difference as women with children would be free to spend one day a week with them and maintain their career, while their partner does the same, argues scientific research foundation The Wellcome Trust.

“Moving to a four-day week is one of a number of very early ideas that we are looking at that might be beneficial to welfare and productivity for everyone at Wellcome,” Ed Whiting, Wellcome’s director of policy and chief of staff, said a statement.

“It will be some months before we can consider a formal decision and we’re carefully considering the potential impact it could have.”

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