Could You Be Putting Your Health at Risk With a 4-Day Work Week?

For many people, the three-day weekend is a welcome break from the 40+ hour work week. It is a time to recharge, spend more quality time with family and friends, and maybe even squeeze in a little trip. With Labor Day now behind us, we are left craving our next opportunity for a little holiday. For some, that means Columbus Day. But others will have to grin and bear a 5-day work week until Thanksgiving. But is that such a bad thing after all?

A recent article about the beloved 4-day work week highlighted some unexpected negative side effects associated with it. While a shortened work week most likely results in happier employees, the potential to lower overhead costs (less electricity and other utilities used in the office), and might even result in less pollution (from fewer people commuting), it could have some harmful effects.

Allard Dembe writes:

The math is simple: working five eight-hour shifts is equivalent to working four 10-hour shifts. That’s true. But the implications of these schedules are different. The danger is in disregarding the health effects that can occur as a result of fatigue and stress that accumulate over a longer-than-normal working day.

[...] Dr. Xiaoxi Yao, a colleague of mine who is now at the Mayo Clinic, and I recently performed another study using 32 years of work-hour information to analyze the relationship between long working hours over many years and the risk of being diagnosed with a chronic disease later in life. We found that the dangers were quite substantial, especially for women.

These studies show that not all hours are created equal. The research suggests that harm may occur past a certain point. A four-day week causes workers to squeeze more hours than usual into a day. For workers who are already prone to overwork, the additional burden of compressing five days into four could literally break the camel’s—or worker’s—back.

As more employers embrace the flex workweek and more employees consider asking for Fridays off (to care for young children), it is important to take into account what that might mean in the long run. With this study in mind, is the potential harm really worth it?