Is A 4 Day Workweek The Game Changing “Solution” To The Overworking Epidemic Or, Another Hypocritical Ploy To Assuage Concerns

4 Day Workweek
Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

There is an acute mental health crisis among us, especially after the pandemic, and it is high time we acknowledged the problem and addressed it. With high rates of burnout and stress taking their toll on the present workforce, it is not surprising that nearly 50% of them are either contemplating quitting their jobs, or have already done so. Indeed, the latest Microsoft Work Trends Report points that the Great Resignation, the term used for the trend of professionals quitting en mass, has worried many business leaders such as Sundar Pitchai and Satya Nadella of Google and Microsoft respectively. As a response to this and other trends such as Millennial’s and Gen Zers making up the majority of those resigning their jobs, a 4 Day Workweek has been proposed as a partial solution to “arrest the attrition”. This 4 Day Workweek has already been implemented in leading firms such as Panasonic and Bolt, and the draft of the legislation to overhaul the labor code in India, mentions the 4 Day Workweek as a feasible solution to ease the problem of employee burnout and stress.

However, while the 4 Day Workweek seems ideal in the context of the pandemic imposing a high toll on our mental health, it is a moot point as to whether this can be actualized in practice. For instance, the 5 Day Workweek became the norm in the 20th Century as a response to similar problems of overworked workers in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution. As we transition from the “smokestack” Industrial Era to the Tech driven Digital Age, there is a need to reorder our lives around the changed realities such as Anytime, Anywhere work and Remote work. So, in theory, the 4 Day Workweek seems to be a recognition of the “new realities” in a pandemic impacted world. However, all of us would readily agree about “bringing work home” and taking calls and attending meetings during weekends and for that matter, after office hours on weekdays as well. So, there is a big question mark about whether a 4 Day Workweek would work (pun intended) in the manner that it is being touted as the solution.

Of course, a start is a start and hence, I am all for implementing a 4 Day Workweek, especially since the pandemic has “eaten into” our spare times and blurred the distinction between the professional and the personal. Moreover, the WFH or the Work From Home norm has made it virtually (literally and figuratively) impossible to separate work from housework. However, will this work in the Indian context, where it is considered “routine” to work during weekends and after working hours. In addition, will a 4 Day Workweek improve productivity or be BAU or Business As Usual with no perceptible increase in employee efficiency? Recent research has shown that while a 4 Day Workweek has been enthusiastically welcomed by professionals, measured changes to productivity add up to much. So, does this mean that the 4 Day Workweek is just another capitalist ploy where the stated goal differs from the intended aims?

Having said that, one need not be overly cynical about the 4 Day Workweek if the law is accompanied by a corresponding rule to bar bosses and higherups calling employees after work and during the weekend. For instance, Europe is steadily moving towards this model where employees are not obligated to check official mail and reply to queries and take calls once they leave the workplace. Perhaps with suitable thought and considered deliberation with all the stakeholders, a law can be brought to make the 4 Day Workweek a reality, sooner than later. If not for anything else, this would be a much needed respite to our overworked selves, in times when tech driven acceleration and pace of change have us trapped in a treadmill to nowhere. So, I am all for a “game changing” 4 Day Workweek, keeping up with the changing times as long as it is in the interest of the employees and not a hypocritical measure aimed at assuaging widespread concerns over high rates of burnout and stress, especially among the 18 to 25 Year olds.

The last point is especially moot as it is disturbing that burnout and stress are impacting Millennials and Gen Zers more which means that just at the time they are either starting their careers or are settling into them, they are being hit by the Double Whammy of the Tech saturated and Pandemic impacted world. Already there are high profile celebrity sportspersons such as Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, who dropped out midway through the delayed 2020 Olympics, held in 2021, as they simply could not “cope up”. Perhaps a 4 Day Workweek would help this generation, which is badly needed for future growth of themselves as well as the wider economy and society. So, let us welcome the 4 Day Workweek, if not for anything other than the extra day it lets us be in our pajamas.

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