Could Three Day Weekends Save The Planet?

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison

Three-day weekends are the best — but what if they could also save the planet? Sociologist Alex Williams believes that three-day weekends could significantly help the environment and improve workers’ mental health. And he’s not talking about an occasional Monday off — he wants workers to have a four-day workweek Every. Single. Week. Um… where can I sign up?!

Williams, a visiting lecturer at City University London and co-author of the book Inventing the Future, explains the benefits of a shorter workweek in an article for The Conversation. “Beyond the possibilities for leisure, three-day weekends might also be one of the easiest steps we could take to radically reduce our environmental impact — and future-proof our economy,” he writes. Williams cites research suggesting that reduced work hours result in reduced energy consumption, a claim that makes sense; after all, if people aren’t working on a given weekday, they’re also not commuting, and businesses aren’t having to heat, cool, or clean their offices. Williams claims that simply reducing American work hours to those of Europe would reduce energy use by 20 percent.

The claim that shorter workweeks will positively impact the environment isn’t hypothetical: Utah experimented with instituting a four-day workweek for more than 17,000 state employees in 2007. Employees didn’t actually have reduced hours; rather, they simply had longer (10 hour) workdays Monday through Thursday, and then had Friday off. Within the first 10 months of the change, the state had saved $1.8 million in costs, and the Friday office closings combined with the reduction in employee commuting saved the state 12,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. Furthermore, employees loved the change, with one survey finding that 82 percent preferred the shorter week. (Utah went back to a 5-day workweek in 2011 due to complaints from the public about Friday office closures.)

Williams also claims that a shorter workweek will improve mental health and help employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Moreover, he argues, the change wouldn’t harm businesses, and, in fact, might help them. Experiments with reduced work hours in Sweden have resulted in fewer sick days, less employee turnover, and increased productivity.

So, to recap: Help the environment, save money, improve mental health, AND get Friday off? It seems like a win-win all around.