“Overworked.”, “I’m not paid enough to work like this.”
Some of you might be harbouring these thoughts.
After all, there are some truths behind these statements. A recent survey conducted by The Instant Group found that Singapore is the most overworked country in the Asia Pacific.
In fact, Singaporeans are working an average of 45 hours per week. Among those surveyed, 76% of employees want a four-day work week to reduce overworking.
So, I’ve decided to ask the Seedly Community about their preference and, 65% of those who voted said a four-day work week is feasible and worth trialling!
Is this really something we can do in Singapore? Let’s find out.
4-day Work Week & How It Came About
Before we move on, we should first understand where this idea came from.
Historically, as early as 1922, automobile manufacturer Ford Motor Company, shortened its working week from six to five days to encourage workers to spend more time with their families.
“Every man needs more than one day a week for rest and recreation….The Ford Company always has sought to promote [an] ideal home life for its employees. We believe that in order to live properly every man should have more time to spend with his family.”
~ Edsel Ford, President of Ford Motor
Over the years, companies have started to follow suit. Some have also started experimenting with shorter days, and the four-day working week became prominent in the wake of the pandemic.
More specifically, the four-day work week’s prominence was due to:
- Reduction in carbon emissions in general as fewer cars were used
- Savings on company expenditure as usage of utilities decreased
- Fewer burnouts and improved mental & physical wellness among employees
All over the world, countries such as Span and Scotland have started trialling this arrangement, and Belgium has made an official recommendation to give employees the option to work four days while being paid for five.
A study which involved over 500 business leaders and 2,000 employees in the United Kingdom (UK) found that the combined savings to UK businesses are £92 billion (SGD150 billion) a year!
The most prominent case study is in Iceland, where 1% of its population participated from 2015 to 2019, and organisations that enrolled in the study shortened their workweek to 35 or 36 hours.
The study was a success with workers finding new ways to work more efficiently, acquiring more autonomy and support from colleagues, and being clearer with their roles.
Japan Setting a Precedence in Asia
These studies then started having some influence in Asia.
For instance, Japan touted for its “karoshi,” or “death by overwork” culture has rolled out guidelines and recommendations for companies to switch to a four-day work week initiative.
This came about as the pandemic brought changes to the way businesses run, and political leaders were convinced that it’s possible to move away from a “rigid” and “traditional” way of doing business.
In fact, there are different variations of a four-day work week:
- Work four days, each at 10 hours (i.e. increased working hours);
- Get Fridays off without working longer on the four days;
- A reduction of workload by making the days shorter, with employees, still working 5 days but end earlier;
- A reduction in salary due to a reduction in the number of working hours;
- Half-day on Friday;
- Work a four-day week as long as employees fulfil their required hours each month.
Is It Feasible To Implement a 4-day Work Week in Singapore?
Present Work Situation in Singapore
According to Mercer’s 2022 Global Talent Trends Study, one in five Singaporeans feel de-energised at work, and this is twice Asia’s average and 6% higher than the global average.
Furthermore, 85% are expecting to experience burnout, and nearly half intend to leave their jobs in the next six to 12 months.
The main reasons cited were that employees feel overloaded at work and uncertain about organisational changes.
More interestingly, one in two said that the future of work is about fitting work around life, and not vice versa, and compared to 2020, life-related factors such as flexibility and healthcare are more likely factors that make Singaporean employees stay, as compared to the company’s vision and leadership.
Well, if you’re overworked, this might be you at some point.
So, Is a 4-Day Work Week Really Preferred? Are There No Other Methods?
A recent online study concluded by Qualtrics showed that 64% of Singapore employees prefer working whenever they want over a five-day week, rather than having fixed hours over four days, as the latter has its potential trade-offs.
Similarly, six in 10 said that not being able to work remotely or hybrid permanently is a “deal breaker” when considering whether to join or stay with an organisation.
I’ve mentioned Japan earlier, and I’ll use Japan to benchmark due to the similarities it shares with Singapore:
- Both are Asian countries
- Has an “overworking” culture
- A large proportion of the working population identifies themselves as middle-income
- The population is highly educated and low birth rate.
More specifically, some Japanese companies began trialling this a few years ago even though the results have not been released:
- Fast Retailing (which owns Uniqlo)
- Mizuho Financial Group (Bank)
- Hitachi (Electronics)
- Panasonic (Electronic, just started recently)
- Shionogi & Co (Pharmaceutical)
- Yahoo Japan Corp and Sompo Himawari Life Insurance (third day off for caregivers)
So far, the most successful example is Microsoft Japan where work productivity increased by 40% across the firm, with over 90% of employees preferring this option.
While Microsoft Japan’s success seems achievable, we can’t judge it at face value. Why?
But it seems too good to be true.
Unlike a small company that has a smaller staff pool, a large company like Microsoft has thousands of employees to rely on. Some roles may only be filled by one person, and the burden may fall on other employees if the work is incomplete, and clients are left to fend for themselves.
So clearly, companies that engage in this sort of arrangement will require a sustainable business model that’ll not pass on costs to consumers.
Questions on Productivity, Salary & Employee Entitlements Remain
There have been many upsides to a four-day work week, but the big questions remain:
- With lesser hours put into work, would this reduce productivity, hence affecting the country’s productivity?
- Older workers would be potentially disadvantaged by the need to do more in a shorter period of time
- A reduction in working hours means a reduction in the number of vacation leaves?
- A reduction in labour supply may worsen labour shortages
- Increased work hours across the four days may not reduce fatigue as people are working longer to compensate
- Less time to fulfil work duties and employees may end up working overtime
- Project delays will negatively affect the business
- Planners have to do a complete overhaul of the work calendar and employment benefits such as public holidays, reduction of vacation leaves etc.
And, these are questions that can only be answered after a company starts trialling it with its employees.
Singapore Companies That Hopped on This Trend
Unsurprisingly, a survey by Milieu Insight found that seven in 10 Singapore employees want this arrangement.
In fact, some local companies have already jumped on this bandwagon:
- PropertyGuru (Property)
- Sultans of Shave (Barbershop)
- DP Dental (Clinic)
- Tenya Singapore (Food & Beverage).
(There might be more that we’re unaware of!)
- Singaporeans Are Overworked AF: Is the Pursuit of Work-Life Balance Even Possible?
- Thinking of Quitting? Here Are The Top 5 Reasons for Leaving a Job.
- 7 Signs Of A Toxic Work Environment And How To Deal With It
Businesses may need to carefully consider which kind of flexibility will help their employees’ productivity and wellness the most, and remain open to this possibility.
Perhaps, some companies can be picked to study the effectiveness of a four-day work week.
Or, the civil service can start trialling since it’s the biggest employer in Singapore?
After all, this is something that cannot be implemented immediately and it requires time to figure out the best configuration.
Personally, I think flexible working arrangements are essential in this post-pandemic era, and a four-day work week without a pay cut is certainly a bonus.
What are your thoughts? Start a discussion on the Community page!