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The 4-day week

Summary:
I just got invited to put a short entry on the 4-day week in the 2nd edition of the Encyclopedia of HRM . It’s over the fold Four Day Week The five-day working week and the two-day weekend, have been standard for so long, it is hard for many to imagine anything different. But, as a normal way of working, it dates back only to the middle of the 20th century. Before that, Saturday was a normal working day in Western countries and only Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, was normally taken as a day of rest. The advent of the weekend, and the associated standard workweek of 35 to 40 hours was the culmination of a long series of reductions in working hours from the peak, of 70 hours or more reached in the early 19th century. At the time, it was expected that these reductions would

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I just got invited to put a short entry on the 4-day week in the 2nd edition of the Encyclopedia of HRM . It’s over the fold


Four Day Week

The five-day working week and the two-day weekend, have been standard for so long, it is hard for many to imagine anything different. But, as a normal way of working, it dates back only to the middle of the 20th century. Before that, Saturday was a normal working day in Western countries and only Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, was normally taken as a day of rest.

The advent of the weekend, and the associated standard workweek of 35 to 40 hours was the culmination of a long series of reductions in working hours from the peak, of 70 hours or more reached in the early 19th century. At the time, it was expected that these reductions would continue, as technological progress reduced the labour input needed to produce any given volume of output.

Reductions in annual hours, through increases in vacation time and other forms of leave continued during the middle decades of the 20th century,. However, with the increase in the bargaining power of employers which began with the neoliberal ‘counter-revolution’ in the 1970s, progress towards reduced working hours halted and was, in many cases, reversed.

The shock of the pandemic has created conditions for a resurgence of interest in reduced working hours and, particularly, the idea of a four-day week. The pandemic exacerbated existing disillusionment with working arrangements, and showed that alternatives are possible. As a result, a phase of experimentation has begun.

Proposals for a four-day week differ regarding the associated change in working hours. At one extreme, some proposals leave weekly hours unchanged, compressing five days’ work into four. At the other, daily working hours are unchanged, and the number of hours in the standard working week is reduced by 20 per cent.

It’s also necessary to consider whether a four-day week should take the form of a three-day weekend, extended to include Mondays (or perhaps Fridays). One alternative is an extension the rostered day off prevailing in some parts of the building industry, where all workers have one day off each fortnight, but the number rostered on any given day is constant. Another option, drawing on the experience of the pandemic would be a core 3-day week (Tuesday to Thursday) with workers having either Friday or Monday off.

One way or another it seems that the four-day week is now firmly on the policy agenda.

John Quiggin

References and selected further readings

Quiggin, J. (2022), ‘There’s never been a better time for Australia to embrace the 4-day week’, The Conversation, 14 February https://theconversation.com/theres-never-been-a-better-time-for-australia-to-embrace-the-4-day-week-176374,

Schor, J. (1993) The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, Basic Books,

John Quiggin
He is an Australian economist, a Professor and an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland, and a former member of the Board of the Climate Change Authority of the Australian Government.

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