Four-day work weeks won't fix labor conditions and could even make you sick

Four-day work weeks won't fix labor conditions and could even make you sick
Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

Four-day work weeks are frequently touted as a solution to several workplace issues, such as employees feeling overworked, the plight of working parents and much more.

However, Allard Dembe, professor of public health at Ohio State University, isn't having it. He took to Quartz on Labor Day no less — to throw cold water on the idea that four-day work weeks are great for all involved.

At the heart of his objection isn't a loss of productivity due to shorter weeks, which declines with long hours too. He's worried four-day work weeks might actually make us sick.

"What I worry about is people's health and population health," Dembe said in a phone interview. "And 89-90% of the research [out there] says that after a certain amount of hours there can be certain health effects."

Dembe argues that in order to to squeeze a full week's work into fewer days, people will be forced to work longer hours on those days, and that working longer shifts throughout the weak can lead to 
minor health issues like insomnia — even in the short term.

"[If you think] you're going to get it all back with your relaxation over the weekend, you're kidding yourself a little bit," Dembe said.

There's some evidence to support that notion: In 2014, the Atlantic gleefully cited one entrepreneur whose four-day work week "skyrocketed" morale and cut down on sick days. 

All employees had to do was log in from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. — an 11-hour day. 

That might be long enough to create problems for those workers down the line. 

According to a study that was led by Dembe and published last July, women who work an average of 60 hours a week for three decades or more triple their risk of diabetes, heart problems and cancer. 

The same study also found that 56% of Americans work more than 40 hours a week; 16% of American employees surveyed reported working more than 50 hours a week.

Instead of trying to compress the work week, Dembe says employees and employers alike would be better off seeking ways to improve arrangements and organization within the typical five-day week.