Uniqlo is letting employees opt for a four-day work week. One expert explains how much healthier and happier we'd be if we all did the same
It's hard to imagine a world in which having Fridays off is the norm, or where "Sunday Scaries" don’t exist because Mondays aren’t dreaded. Well, it's not such a fantastical idea: One major company is trying out three-day weekends, leading us to hope that with any luck, the five-day workweek will soon become an archaic idea.
Clothing giant Uniqlo recently announced that they will be offering a four-day workweek in their Japan stores, giving their full-time employees the option of a three-day weekend in exchange for 10-hour workdays the other four days. (One small catch, though, for those who opt into this program: working Saturday and Sundays—the busiest days for retail—are a must.) If the trial goes well, Uniqlo plans to expand the offer to their stores in other countries (possibly even the U.S.) and at its corporate headquarters.
The fact that Uniqlo is joining the long weekend club isn't totally out there: Forty-three percent of companies already offer four-day workweeks to some employees, and 10 percent make it available to all or most of those that work for them, according to a study from the Society for Human Resource Management. Companies that have already implemented the four-day workweek include tech startup Treehouse, global auditing and tax companies like KPMG and Deloitte, many state and local government offices, and most large hospitals.
And there's good reason for them to do so: It helps the company's bottom line. “If people are happy, the retention rate is high. If not, the retention rate is low,” Uniqlo USA Chief Executive Larry Meyer told Bloomberg. Needless to say, employee turnover is incredibly expensive, whether you're talking about replacing retail workers or highly-skilled professionals like doctors. Not to mention, the four-day workweek is an incredible recruiting tool for companies looking to attract the best and brightest, as well as talented people who are looking to find more of that elusive work/life balance, explains management psychologist Paul Powers, Ph.D., author of the recently published Don’t Wear Flip-Flops to Your Interview.
You might be wondering, then, why isn't everyone already doing it? Well, for many companies, it comes down to control and power, he explains. “A lot of organizations confuse visibility with productivity, and activity with accomplishment. They want to see people buzzing around,” Powers says. “We need to be smarter and trust our employees more. If they are getting their work done in four days versus five, what does it matter?” Preach.
Below, Powers makes a pretty good argument as to the ways a four-day workweek could help us lead happier and healthier lives (and actually be better employees while we're at it).
1. We’d be more efficient: “Work is like gas in a sealed container. It tends to fill the time we have allotted to do it,” Powers says. A three-day weekend is a motivator to buckle down and get your work done in the time allotted since—as you may remember from your college paper-writing days—people tend to focus more when they have less time. Plus, with only four work days, we'd be way less likely to waste time at the water cooler or in non-essential meetings, he points out.
2. We’d be less stressed: Even if you love your job, workplace stress is pretty much inevitable. In fact, 60 percent of Americans say it's their number one source of stress (beat out only by money), according to the American Psychological Association's latest 'Stress in America' survey. The good news: studies show that, in the long run, the more often you take vacation, the less stressed you'll be. More time away allows you to recharge your batteries and return with more energy, helping to prevent burnout, which if untreated can lead to serious health issues like chronic depression (And you should definitely take burnout seriously.)
3. We may live longer: In addition to all the time we waste in the car, train, or subway getting to and from work, studies have shown the scary health affects of commuting. According to one 2013 study, women who live farther away from work tended to die sooner than those who lived closer, due to the stress of traveling and time it takes away from other priorities. With one less day of travel, we'd not only cut back on this risk, but we’d have more money in our pockets (especially if you factor in the cost of childcare) and less pollution.
4. We’d be more creative: Simply put, with three-day weekends, people have more of their life to live their lives, which in turn improves morale and employee satisfaction, says Powers. And, going back to the benefits for employers, research shows that happy employees also improve almost every business metric. A meta-analysis of 225 studies found that happy employees have, on average, 31 percent higher productivity, and three times higher creativity. Not to mention, time away lets us generate interests other than just work—allowing us to think outside the box and have breakthroughs we wouldn't otherwise.
Sure, there may be instances where the four-day workweek is harder to implement, but if you can find a way to make it work, there's really no reason that this shouldn’t become the status quo, Powers says. Until then, we'll be dreaming of the day we get to say "TGIT" and have it signify more than just Scandal night.