Is the 4-day work week the new golden pot at the end of the rainbow?

Jan 30, 2023

Time and Money. The two variables that make up the most difficult equation to solve since the moment the concept of "paid work" was created. Those who hire, tend to focus on paying less. Those who work, on getting more. Only 50 years have passed since the beginning of the standardization of the 40-hour week without loss of salary mass. In Portugal, for example, it was only in 1997 that the 40 hours were legislated in a more consistent way... 25 years have passed, and we already feel that it is not enough.... We need a week with four days of work to be happier and more productive. Is it really?

 I would like to remind you that this is an opinion article, by the author, and does not represent the position of any institution or person, other than her own. 

 In all the contexts where I have spoken and discussed this issue, the natural emotion that arises is that of freedom and hope in this new future. The idea of having a 3-day weekend makes anyone smile and dream of personal plans to fill them. Happier people, work better, give more of themselves, are more committed to their work. Everybody wins.

 The trial that was conducted in Australia, in 2018, at Perpetual Guardian, supports all the direct benefits of this rescaling, and I invite you to meet the organization that promoted it here:

 I like to delve into topics that impact our lives, and thus two questions/thoughts come to mind, which I invite you to do on an individual basis:

 What are your working days like at present? Is there respect for work-life balance? Is the workload adequate? Are weekends respected? Are the teams well balanced? If you answered positively to these questions, I would say that you are in a good starting point to consider this approach of reducing the hours dedicated to the business. I said reduction, not compression. What is on the agenda is an effective reduction of 8 hours of work, not a redistribution over the other days of the week. If your answers were negative, what would immediately cause an 8-hour reduction? Is the company ready to hire more people to compensate for what is already lacking? Is this reduction realistic? Will it have a genuine positive impact on the hours you dedicate to your work?

 Is this the ideal balance after it is no longer novelty? I don't know if anyone has the answer. I believe that in 1970, when the recommendation came out to go from 48 to 40 hours a week, without loss of pay, many felt happy and fulfilled. But somehow, it doesn't seem to be enough anymore. So, I ask myself this question. How long will this infatuation last? With the speed at which we live our lives, I would venture to say that the need to change something outside of ourselves to find more inner peace and balance will be quicker and quicker.

 It is not clear for me to say whether I advocate this change of reducing workdays or not. But I appreciate that this topic is gaining relevance because it allows me to ponder the profound changes that life is proposing us.

 I feel that as long as we focus on the number of hours, we are deviating from the essential point: to re-signify the concept of "work".

The word itself is always associated with effort: what I need to do (like it or not) in exchange for something I need or want. It is exactly this transactional concept that gives it this more negative tone. Whenever we make a transaction, we expect an outcome where most of the time one loses for the other to gain. What if, instead of exchanging time for money, we committed ourselves to projects, to deliveries, to specific dates, but the journey, the "how" to complete them was flexible? Science has already proven to us that we don't have the same energy daily and that when we respect our own unique cycles, we give our best. Our focus could be on respecting those cycles and not on worrying about keeping a schedule, or going to the office, where we are often just bodily present, and deeply damaging our mental health, which in a long-term way, leads to physical problems.


Autonomy and flexibility can be scary, but you practice them too. And we don't all like them. If there was one thing that the lockdowns have brought us, it is to recognize that the concept of the "home office" has not served us all identically. So, respecting each person's individuality to enhance natural talents really seems to me to be the turning point that life is proposing to all of us. Much more than trying to achieve a balance through a "new" standardization of working hours. May we all dedicate more time and awareness to our unique contribution to a better world, and may the way be free to energize and sustain us.



Rita Carvalho de Matos