New Labor Codes May Allow 4‑Day Work Weeks With Longer Shifts. Can It Work?


Feb 10, 2021


Image Credit: Getty

India’s Union Ministry of Labor and Employment is set to implement new labor codes soon, and they may include permission for companies to opt for four-day workweeks. The number of working hours, however, will remain 48, which means four-day workweeks will require longer shifts — as long as 12-hour working days. 

“Companies will have to give three days’ of paid leaves and 12 hours of work per day to their employees with the consent of the workers. We are not forcing employees or employers. It gives flexibility. It’s an enabling provision in sync with the changing work culture,” Labour and Employment Ministry Secretary Apurva Chandra told the media. 

Considering the constantly connected nature of modern work brought forth by private laptops and phones, any change in work-day or work-hour structures is likely to be a farce that doesn’t address the overtime work that goes on in the background. Yet, the four-day work week experiment has yielded positive results previously. Private companies like Microsoft Japan and New Zealand-based Perpetual Guardian reported significant increases in productivity and a decrease in stress levels.

However, maintaining the four-day workweek while condensing 48 hours of work within it seems like an exercise in failure rather than a means to provide flexibility. Research has also previously shown that a four-day workweek can lead to lower employee engagement, i.e. the passion they felt towards their work. Plus, working 12 hours a day in order to complete 48 hours of work each week may also increase fatigue by decreasing the time individuals spend in post-work recovery, that is, the pursuit of non-work, hobby-based tasks that can recharge and motivate an employee for the next workday.

Related on The Swaddle:

Microsoft Japan Tests a 4‑Day Work Week, Sees a 40% Rise in Productivity

In contrast, working fewer hours each day was far more beneficial for employee productivity. Entrepreneur Steve Glaveski ran a two-week experiment instituting the six-hour workday to understand its value. He writes in the Harvard Business Review, “The shorter workday forced the team to prioritize effectively, limit interruptions, and operate at a much more deliberate level for the first few hours of the day. The team maintained, and in some cases increased, its quantity and quality of work, with people reporting an improved mental state, and that they had more time for rest, family, friends, and other endeavors.”

Similarly, a Swedish city — Gothenburg — ran an 18-month experiment at an elderly care home that shifted workdays from eight hours to six. Nurses who worked six hours logged less sick leave, felt healthier, and organized 85% more activities for their elderly patients — a massive boost in productivity. The only problem with the six-hour workday was that it was economically unsustainable, costing the city 12 million kronor (around Rs. 100 million).

There is no ‘right’ answer with respect to what workday and workweek structure benefits both employees and employers. Yet, what is clear is that employees are working far more than what mandated workweeks, or even International Labor Organization guidelines, deem a hard limit. An experts believe one particular option might trump workday and workweek guidelines: flexibility.

“Each employee is unique,” Scott Dust, a management professor at Miami University, U.S., writes for Fast Company, ” Everyone has different needs, motivations, values, work-home situations, and more. You can’t structure an organization around a narrow approach to work hours without annoying a subset of your talent pool, he argues. Therefore, it should not be a surprise the only consistently effective approach is to be flexible, by allowing employees an assortment of options.

Allowing employees to decide their own work times might actually work best.


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.


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