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A Shorter Workday Would Be Much Better Than a Shorter Workweek

Three-day weekends are tempting, but they may not be the best way to give parents more time off.

Ad hoc experiments in Japan and New Zealand each found that workers granted Fridays off were more productive and more satisfied at work. You won’t find any arguments here, because who doesn’t love a three-day weekend?

But before we turn around and redefine the Monday to Friday, nine to five hours that have been both the legal and cultural default since the middle of the last century, it’s worth asking if there might be a better way to give people more time off. Namely, would shortening the workday be a better reform than shortening the workweek?

Anthony Veal, an adjunct professor in the Business School at the University of Technology in Sydney, thinks it might be. He argues in an article for The Conversation that shorter workdays could be more impactful, particularly for parents who want to spend more time with their kids, and more practical.

His main argument is founded on the fact that, for most working families, the time between the end of work and bedtime is the primary window for families to spend time together, and that it would be lengthened if parents got out of work earlier. If workplaces simply started closing on Fridays, this period would only be longer on Fridays, leaving Monday to Thursday’s after-school and after-work time just as rushed as it is now.

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Veal cites the work of Cynthia Negrey, a sociologist who argues that shorter workdays would also mean better alignment with school schedules, something that could alleviate the “sense of daily time famine” many parents feel. In other words, you might feel less like there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it.

Fridays off might mean eight extra hours for parents, but those hours would, at least during the school year, likely be spent without the kids. They might be more productive in some ways—imagine the chores and errands you could finally get done!—but it doesn’t mean more family time.

Veal also points out that the biggest single cut in working hours in history, from six to five-and-half days per week, was a reduction of just eight percent. Cutting an entire day off of the schedule would be a 20 percent decrease, or two-and-a-half times as drastic as the most drastic previous reduction.

If you were to shave, say, an hour off of each workday, you’d be cutting work time by 12.5 percent: still a huge change by historic standards, but one that Veal argues might actually be easier to implement.

So while pretty much everyone with a job wouldn’t mind have more personal and less professional time, it’s worth taking the time to figure out the best way to do it.