Why One Company Is Experimenting With A Four-Day Workweek

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/EUGENE HOSHIKO
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/EUGENE HOSHIKO

Fast Retailing, which owns Uniqlo, Theory, and J Brand, will give about a fifth of its employees the option to work four days a week starting in October, Bloomberg News reports.

In exchange for a three-day weekend, workers will have to put in 10-hour days when they are at work and some will have to work Saturdays and Sundays. The option will be available to about 10,000 of its full-time, in-store workers in its Japan locations.

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The experiment is to see whether it helps the company retain full-time employees. If it goes well, the company could introduce a four-day week at more stores and at its corporate headquarters.

The idea of working shorter weeks but longer hours each day to forestall burnout has gained some currency recently. Tech companies have experimented with it and report that they still pay their employees a full-time salary yet make plenty of profit. An entire city — Gothenburg, the second largest in Sweden — is experimenting with having some workers put in just six-hour workdays at the same pay to see if they improve in efficiency and use fewer sick days. And Carlos Slim, the world’s second-richest man, has called for a widespread overhaul of how we work that would include a three-day workweek to “have more time to relax; for quality of life.”

Japan is a place where particularly long work hours have become a major concern. More than 20 percent of Japanese workers put in more than 49 hours a week, far more than in many other developed countries. There is a word specifically for working oneself to death, and the government estimates there are 200 such fatalities a year. To push back on this culture, the Japanese parliament has considered a law that would require companies to make sure their employees take at least five vacation days a year.

The United States is not quite as workaholic as Japan. But here, too, long hours have become the norm. The average workweek is actually almost a full day longer than 40 hours. We put in average workweeks that are much longer than in other developed countries, and while we’ve reduced the number of hours over recent decades, our peers have been far more successful.

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Yet the countries that put in the fewest hours are among the most productive. There’s a good deal of evidence that working longer hours can give employees a short productivity spike that then disappears.