Irish study confirms: A four-day work week is better for everyone.

I don’t often take days off. Some days I’ll do the bare minimum, but I’m still doing at least a little work. Part of that is because I’m afraid that if I take time off, I won’t be able to start back up with daily posting. A lot of it is that if I hope to ever get to the point where I’m making even minimum wage, I need to post often, and have content that people might consider paying for ( Basically, I’m an internet busker, and if I’m not putting in the time, I can’t expect to make a living. Honestly, I don’t expect that even if I do put in the time, which is part of why I’m working on the novel I’ve mentioned before. All of this is to say that I basically have a 7 day work week, which pulls in very little money (though you could help change that!), which makes it just a little amusing to write about a resoundingly successful trial of a four-day work week that took place right here in Ireland!

The project, backed by Fórsa and carried out in partnership by Four-Day Week Ireland, University College Dublin (UCD), and Boston College, examined the financial, social, and environmental impact that a four-day working week would have on businesses and employees in Ireland.

Following the trial, 100 per cent of employees indicated they would like to continue a reduced work schedule. Nine of the 12 companies involved are committed to continuing with the four-day week, while the remaining three are planning to continue but have not made a long-term commitment.

Lead researcher Dr Orla Kelly said: “All participating organisations plan to continue the reduced work schedule. Productivity levels are up. We found significant improvements across a wide range of well-being metrics, including positive affect, work-family and work-life balance, and several domains of life satisfaction.

“Conversely, stress, burnout, fatigue, and work-family conflict significantly declined. Levels of sleep deprivation have also fallen dramatically. We observed an increase across three forms of pro-environmental behaviour.

“The trial was particularly successful for women. They reported a significantly greater improvement in life satisfaction, had larger gains in sleep time and reported feeling more secure in their employment. Our findings hold important lessons for the future of work in this country.”

I’m not surprised. I’m a huge advocate of people having as much control over their own time as possible, and every time I see research on it, the result seems to be the same – moving to fewer days on the job is better for everyone, even the bosses. The one way it’s not better, which the articles I read don’t mention, is that it means that bosses have less control over their workers’ lives. Personally, I don’t think that’s a “downside” worth considering, but I think it’s something that does need to be considered when thinking about the motivations of business owners. A disproportionate number of them seem to be some form of petty tyrant.

It’s somewhat irritating to me that “improves productivity for employers” always has to be a part of it, though:

“In today’s working world there’s a mismatch between the amount of time we spend working and the time we spend with our families and friends. The four-day week can be at the forefront of a new age of work, providing transformative social benefits without losing pay or productivity.”

In a just world, the fact that the companies can afford it, and that it makes the workers’ lives better, would be enough. Still, in this case it seems that the drive for “more productivity” lines up with the goal of more freedom for workers, since happy, healthy workers tend to be more competent as well.

Despite this research, I suspect that it will be a long, hard struggle to make a shorter work week the norm. Powerful people seem to have a deep horror of any movement away from the arrangement that gave them their power, so we have to make the world better despite them.

But the case can be made, and studies like this show how important it is to fight for this stuff. Another day off is a huge boon in a world where so much of our time is dictated by work, getting to and from work, and trying to find moments to live in between it all. Further, with overproduction driving this climate crisis, a lot of the work that’s being done now needs to stop being done, and it would be good, in my view, if that didn’t result in anyone losing their home or going hungry. Some of that work can be replaced with environmental cleanup and restoration work – there’s a lot to do – but this is a golden opportunity to start to undo some of the social damage that has been done over the last couple centuries, and start moving towards a world where the point of life isn’t working, but living.

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  1. Katydid says

    I have worked 4, 10-hour days a week and 4, 8-hour days/week. I agree that more time to take care of the living part of life is very important.

  2. planter says

    I think you make a great point on the value of control Abe. I am thinking about my own work (professor). The expectations are high and I have to put in a lot of hours, but I also have a very high degree of control over both the tasks I am working on at any one time and my daily schedule.

    I, for example, find that a schedule that has me dealing with the email inbox early in the morning before the kids are awake, followed by getting them on to the school bus, followed by a trip to the gym or the ski trail, and only then showing up in the office works very well. Colleagues take very different approaches, none of which would satisfy a control-freak boss.

    I try and mirror this approach for my graduate students, letting them self manage their schedules with weekly and monthly “productivity” goals. Most do well with this, though there are some who are not able to self manage their time and require closer supervision. They are in the minority, but I think that most bosses assume that all their employees are unable to self manage.

  3. says

    @Planter – One of the foundational assumptions of my personal view on policy is that if people had their needs met, they (a) would be generally willing to do some work to pay it forward, (b) would want to do work of some sort, because people like doing stuff, and (c) would want to do work in order to improve their life beyond basic necessities.

    I’ve encountered a lot of resistance to that idea, along with the insistence that while I might be the sort of person who would choose to work, most people would just lie around all day doing nothing. That also seems to be an assumption, but I think it’s rooted in observing what people do with their small amounts of time off, within our current system.

    When I was working 9-to-5 kind of job, I often didn’t have any energy at all during my “free” time, so yeah – I’d just play video games or watch movies for the most part. Even when I was actively job hunting, the work I had to do for the approval of others was just draining.

    I think that if we were to switch over to my current ideal system tomorrow, a lot of people would do very little if anything for the first year or so. It took me a fair amount of time to get to the point where I could reliably write every day, partly because I wasn’t used to that being my primary “duty”. One of the hurdles we’d have to get over, in that first year, would be a lot of people having to learn how their own brains work when they’re not forced to spend most of their lives laboring for someone else’s enrichment.

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