All about 'flex': 4-day workweek not yet feasible in India, but companies look at flexible options

All about 'flex': 4-day workweek not yet feasible in India, but companies look at flexible options
  • A trial in Microsoft Japan found that a 4-day workweek made employee productivity go up by almost 40%.
  • However, it makes employees less productive since they will have longer working hours on the 4 days.
  • If not a 4-day workweek, many employers are looking to provide employees with flexible work options.
Before we talk about a 4-day workweek and whether it can work in India, it makes sense to go back a bit in history. Robert Owen, a Welsh textile mill owner, social reformist, and labor activist, began advocating a shorter workday way back in 1817. “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest,” was his slogan. Back then workdays used to range from 10-16 hours, but it was only more than a century later that his ideas were adopted by Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company. His factories in the US were some of the first workplaces to introduce a 40-hour 5 day workweek.

It was in 1956 that the then US vice president Richard Nixon predicted a 4-day workweek in the ‘not too distant future.’ But it was only 54 years later in 2019 that Microsoft trialed a 4-day workweek in their Japan office with no loss in pay and claimed that productivity went up by just under 40%. In the largest ever experiment of its kind, 33 companies in the US adopted a 4-day workweek in February 2022. Companies in the program reported increased revenue and improved employee health and well-being, and after its success, 100 other companies are implementing the same approach.

The pros and cons of a 4-day workweek

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Here, one may look at the advantages and disadvantages of a 4-day workweek. “A 4-day workweek would help employees save time and money on transportation. They'll also enjoy long weekends with friends and family,” says Sumit Sabharwal, CEO of TeamLease HRtech.

Consumer major Unilever in New Zealand has experimented with a 4-day workweek trial. The trial was run from December 2020 to June 2022, one of the world’s most rigorous trials of the 4-day workweek. “All employees participated in the trial which measured success through online surveys, business results and in-depth interviews with team members as well as external stakeholders. The results demonstrate encouraging benefits of the 4-day workweek across financial, cultural, and operational measures – including growth, productivity, staff wellbeing & engagement,” says Anish Singh, Head, HR Unilever Australia and New Zealand. Singh stresses on the multiple benefits of a 4-day workweek- namely improved mental health, reduced stress levels, increased employee morale, higher productivity, decreased absenteeism and attracting and retaining top talent.


Saraf Furniture, a solid wood furniture player, announced its new 4-week work policy on January 01, 2023. Raghunandan Saraf, Founder, and CEO, Saraf Furniture says that the policy allows employees to have more free time for personal and family activities. Also, longer work hours and work-life imbalance can lead to burnout and stress. A shorter work week helps reduce these issues.

“On the flipside, looking at the present scenario in India, most employees work for around 8-10 hours per day. However, setting a mandatory 12-hour work day in a 4-day work week might end up putting additional pressure on the employees. As burnouts are on the rise, the 4-day week may not be sufficient to compensate for a longer working day,” says Anjali Raghuvanshi, Chief People Officer, Randstad India, a recruitment agency.

Agrees Ankita sen, Head HR, Powerplay, a construction management app, “I believe this can even have a counter effect on some people who may feel stressed to complete tasks of the week within four days.”

Pratik Vaidya, MD & Chief Visionary Officer (CVO), Karma Global, a tech-enabled HR & Compliance Organisation, also feels that a 4-day workweek will make employees less productive and since they will have longer working hours and will affect their mind and body.

Will a 4-day workweek work in India?

This brings us to the question- will a 4-day workweek work in India? Singh feels that it depends on various factors including the industry, cultural and economic factors, and employee preferences. In some industries and sectors, the traditional 5-day workweek may still be the norm, whereas in others, the 4-day workweek could be seen as a more flexible and attractive option. “Ultimately, the feasibility and success of a 4-day workweek would depend on the specific needs and priorities of the business and its employees, as well as the willingness to adapt and make necessary changes to accommodate the new schedule. Likely this concept will work more on office-based employees and sales functions and will have challenges in factories,” he says.

Sandesha Jaitapkar, COO and CHRO, Artha Group, which operates in the energy and entrepreneurial sectors, has an interesting take on this. She says that when COVID hit in 2020, New Zealand was a country that dealt with the aftermath relatively better than other countries. There was a debate about how Jacinda Ardern was an incredible head of state based on her response and actions to COVID; and how other countries, including India, should measure up to such standards. The problem with this and such comparisons is the ignorance of the sheer difference in demographic, policy, and many other factors, making it simply not such a good comparison. “While there exist countries for which the 4-day workweek structure works incredibly, India isn’t a country that’s ready for it just yet. The kind of economy and the work outsourced to us are significantly different and incomparable to other first-world nations, making this not a feasible model for us. The mentality of Indian corporate hierarchies and management wouldn’t be in line with such a structure, thereby negatively hampering the overall productivity of an organization and a person,” she adds.

In fact, implementing a 4-day workweek in India would violate the new labour codes that came into effect from July 1, 2022. According to Reetika Arora, head, HR and compliance, Compliance Hawks, a company that provides advisory and regulatory compliance support services, the minimum requirement in India is 48 hours of work per week and switching to a 4-day workweek would mean working 12 hours per day, which might not be feasible in the majority of sectors like manufacturing, FMCG, healthcare, consulting etc. In addition, all the establishments covered under Factories Act 1948, cannot ask employees to work more than 9 hours per day. In such cases, the wages for overtime must be double the actual rate.

Flexible working options

While a four-day workweek may not be feasible in India, many companies are recognizing the need to offer employees more flexible working options.

“Instead of looking at a 4-day workweek, companies need to keep in mind that the needs of every employee are going to be different and therefore organizations need to create a band of flexibility with respect to work hours and work rhythms. Any kind of such approach should also be aligned to the business goals of the organization,” says Shabbir Merchant, Chief Value Creator, Valulead Consulting, a leadership development consulting firm. He says that the 4-day workweek has come as an antithesis to Jack Ma’s controversial 996 approach which refers to working from 9am to 9pm 6 days a week. According to him, organizations would be better served to adopt the 8585 approach which says that -’get your employees to work 8 hours of productive work 5 days a week, ensure that they are getting 8 hours of good sleep and also have your employees focus on 5 other life priorities apart from work.’ Some companies are also looking at options like one or two Fridays off every month, which is somewhat of a mid-way approach but may be more doable.

Many companies are already adopting flexible working models. Joseph Fernandes, Senior Vice President Human Resources, Mastercard, says, “ We have introduced an option for employees to work from a different location than their home bases for up to four calendar weeks per year. We have also implemented weekly flex timing, enabling employees to take time off every week to focus on their learning and well-being.” Ritesh Kumar, Country Lead, Wiley India, a books and e-solutions publisher, says that they have a tradition of more flexibility on Fridays throughout the year to allow their people to prioritize their personal development and passion projects alongside impactful work.

Also, to begin with, a 5-day workweek could most definitely be a great start in the right direction. “While our country consists of organizations that follow anything from 5-day to 6-day models based on their respective work cycles, we are headed towards standardizing the 5-day workweek model. It’s important to iterate that none of these models are ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ but their application heavily and rightly depends on the organization’s needs,” says Jaitapkar.

So, while most of us might not be lucky to have 52 extended weekends in a year, one may expect more flexibility in their work lives going ahead. And it has been proven that it will be a win-win situation both for employees and the organization.

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