It’s Time to End the Five-Day Workweek
5 min read | May 2022

It’s Time to End the Five-Day Workweek

The idea of where to work has been challenged, but what about when?

Bor Kela Ko'Korgan / Gen X / Progressive / Game Tester and Editor

A few months ago, I had the privilege of writing about how COVID changed where we work. It helped us realize that work doesn’t always have to come at the expense of family and that by changing where we work, we could save time, save money and be more green.

For my wife and I, we reinvested that time and money into our family and it’s helped us better move through the world together and be happier. COVID has probably been the largest work upheaval to have occurred since the creation of the workweek and workday. This pandemic forced us into an examination of how our work and personal lives interact. We should voluntarily continue that examination because the mindset of “it’s always been done this way” is always a strong one, and we should always fight that urge of complacency.

“”

An Eight-Hour Workday Doesn’t Work for Everyone

The standard workweek since the late 1920s has been 40 hours of work, eight-hour time periods spread over five consecutive days. It’s what both my wife and I have done for a very long time before COVID. Through the flexibility that working at home has provided us, we’ve discovered that we don’t need to work like that anymore. My wife is very much more productive at home. No one drops in randomly to socialize. There are fewer meetings, no water cooler conversations and other office distractions that happen regularly. She’s found that she can extend the Monday to Thursday workday by 30 minutes (which is shorter than her previous commute), and with the gains she’s made in efficiency, her workweek is done by noon on Friday. It’s two hours of extra work on those four days for four hours of extra weekend almost every week. She likes to spend that extra time in the garden, reading or crocheting. It’s what she likes to call the “extra sanity saucy” on her week, that bit of peace and relaxation that’s hers to claim. 

That’s her work story.

She has good supervisors who have had a very large shift in perspective and have started tailoring the time spent working to the employees. People are exceptionally different. There are natural night owls, early risers and late sleepers, people who work fast in spurts and people who work steady all day, no matter what gets in their way. With the disconnection from that office space, the employees have been able to tailor their work schedules to the strengths they bring. Some employees have started working at 6 a.m., some at 10 a.m. Some have moved their workload around like my wife has but to a greater extreme: They do four ten-hour days, and one of her co-workers does three 12-hour days, working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, because he found he works best having much longer, more productive days. He’s getting more work done because he was able to tailor his hours to himself. The same work he was doing in 40 hours in 36 hours and a four-day weekend.

My wife's workplace is very task- and milestone-oriented, and not every job can have that flexibility to define their own hours. Working the line in a factory or having a government office that needs to be accessible to the public have different requirements. That doesn't mean the traditional use of workers is the best way. If you were to search the term “four-day workweek,” you would see that there is a change in many places in the world. Some government offices have switched to 10 hours Monday to Thursday. This change allows them to be open for a wider swath of time that allows people who need government services to come in before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. Extending government hours past the traditional bankers hours of 9 to 5 served the community better than having a fifth day with the same hours. It also meant the employees saved on gas, and the building’s lighting, heating and cooling could be minimized for a three-day weekend. It saved taxpayers money, it saved employees money and it was caused by disconnecting ourselves from “the way it’s been” and reexamining how we best use our time. There are a few companies that have made this switch, as well, and have found retaining employees to be easier when the competitors are still using a five-day week.

“”

We Need to Take All Employees’ Needs Into Account

Before 1926, Sunday, the “day of rest,” was the weekend. Henry Ford standardized the five-day workweek in 1926 when he realized a longer weekend would increase productivity during the week. He could get more and better work during every work hour by maintaining his workforce, just like his equipment. Like a machine that overheats, humans need rest to be at their best. It was possibly a cold calculus on Ford’s part, but it worked out for everyone. People work better when they are happy, when they are fulfilled. We understand people better now than we ever have. We know people don’t fit into tidy boxes; they are messy and complicated. We need to reexamine how we get the best work from people but also how we best serve people. 

I‘m a prime example of this. I have medication-resistant attention deficit disorder. I mentioned the people who work fast in spurts earlier and that’s me. My brain is constantly grasping for something more interesting, more distracting. I can strong-arm it into focusing for a limited period of time, but I could never do a 12-hour day. Counterintuitively, my work tends to get done over 16 hours instead because I’ve figured out that I need breaks and lots of them to let my mind be distracted. Fighting it to stay focused for eight hours is exceptionally taxing and often just impossible. So I write for an hour and take a break. This break is a time to do a sudoku, read a chapter or a comic book or do some other task that has a distinct end (the day could be lost if I were to play a few minutes of a video game). I repeat this process, excluding my daily revision work, which is saved for late in the night when my mind has recharged. I’m doing better, more consistent work this way than I ever did before COVID, and it’s because when I work isn’t defined by “the way it’s always been.” It’s not defined by others' expectations but my actual abilities.

This is a call to consideration for companies, unions, the government and, most importantly, employees. Look at the people and the work that is being done around you and tailor when you work to both or at least experiment to see what is best. An eye toward the worker and how they best use time can allow them to do their best work and feel more fulfilled by it. My wife is happier and more fulfilled by adjusting her schedule, and my own work is of a higher quality.

Of note, my final revision of this writing is at 12:23 a.m. I was only distracted once.

This Narrative Belongs To:

Next Up