There are many articles claiming that a shorter workweek (4 days) has no productivity loss vs a 5 day work week or it's a net positive for the company.

However, in the sector that I work, it's more common to work 6 or 7 days a week, for many weeks non stop, when there is a client delivery, and the 4 day week is not even up for discussion.

I feel like working seven days in a row (while doing a lot of overtime) makes people a lot less productive the following week, maybe even less productive overall than the total output would have been if the Sundays weren't spent at work (and made up for in the next week).

Are there any studies that have looked into working 5, 6 & 7 days or just this one study from Iceland that compared a 4 to a 5 day week?


Clarification: I'm talking about the VFX industry, particularly about "creative" and Management Tasks.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Nov 26 '21 at 15:46
  • Could you refine the specific work circumstances, are there particular reasons why it requires 7/7 work or is this just bad planning? This question is prone to having different voices from different circumstances not really considering the others' circumstances. Some cases are just completely different from others. Most conversations focus on 9-to-5 office jobs but this should not be taken to apply to every work situation. E.g. shipmen (shippeople?) who work on and off for long periods, waitstaff in busy seasons, actors during a run of plays or shooting a movie, ...
    – Flater
    Nov 29 '21 at 14:03

That's not easy to answer since productivity is very difficult to define.

Take a look at: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/productivity-vs-annual-hours-worked

This graph measures it in "dollars per hour" and as expected Europe has high productivity and low hours whereas the China and India have low productivity and high hours. That's somewhat disingenuous since the type of work and the cost of living is very different in these countries. For many salaried jobs it's also very difficult to determine how many hours are actually worked, since they are not tracked.

The "total productivity" would be the product of hours worked and productivity per hour (which the graph doesn't show and I'm too lazy to calculate). The "best" from a business perspective would be the upper right corner, which is, off course, empty. Highest are countries like US, Norway, Singapore (which are all in the $110k/year region), whereas China comes in at only $22k/year.

It is safe to assume that there is an "optimum" somewhere. If you only work 1 hour a week, you just don't do enough work and if you are working 100 hours/week you will keel over from exhaustion and make many mistakes

So there is a "optimum" spot somewhere in the middle, but it will depend a lot on what type of work you are doing and how exactly you measure and define productive and work hours.

I worked for a while on a collaboration with the Swedish company IKEA (largest furniture maker in the world). Headquarters pretty much shuts down the entire month of August and they are doing just fine. If a manufacturing plant in China shuts down for a month, they loose a month's worth of production and revenue.

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    Way to go Norway and Germany, in the "best" place from an employee perspective ;) It must be comforting for future generations to see the lines trending down, eventually hitting some floor and just stretching to the right ;) The waiting game pays off. The Great Resignation probably ain't helping the biz side of things either...
    – A.S
    Nov 24 '21 at 13:16
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    I would add that the general trend is the more sophisticated the work is the lower the optimum number of work hours to maximize total productivity. If the workers are supposed to do simple manual work very high working hours produce most. If they are supposed to do complex creative brainy stuff working too many hours is counter productive. Unfortunately, the more sophisticated the work is the harder it is to measure the productivity.
    – quarague
    Nov 24 '21 at 18:28
  • @quarague: Why should it make any difference if you do manual or "brainy" labour? After a certain amount of time, you are exhausted either way. And you can make mistakes in any kind of work, which may cost the company more money than they have won by letting you work longer. Nov 25 '21 at 10:40
  • @WorkingHard_Guy: because if the job is manual labor, the losses are frequently just loss of the labor. Costing 3x for a specific period, but that averages out over the long haul. I have both spilled a wheel barrow full of bricks, and switched some numbers around on a ledger, tracking down and fixing the swapped numbers was much harder than refilling the bricks.
    – jmoreno
    Nov 28 '21 at 14:56

It depends.

For a highly motivated workforce, striving towards a common goal which is seen as imminent, important and achievable - the productivity could even increase by working 7/16. Been there, seen it.

However - this emergency/pull-through mode doesn't hold up over time. And people's ability to keep it up, will not hold up over time. So which will start failing first, people's motivation or their health? hard to say - but usually it is the motivation. It is interesting (or, rather, tragic) to read reports from places where workplace motivation is culturally extremely high (Japan...) - it is clear that even if you are well motivated, your body will just drop dead by itself. Not to mention the extreme rates of suicide you see when people start feeling like they cannot handle their job.

Now, it is clear that people that drop dead are reduced to 0 productivity. According to this meta study any schedule that does not exceed 45h/week over a 6 month period is not strongly linked to risk of brain and heart disease.

As for whether a 4 days workweek is better than a 5 day workweek is harder to study in these terms and I have not found any decent literature that proves a point either way. But I would hardly dismiss the claim. If I were to guess, it would also strongly depend on the actual tasks that needs to get performed as well. Being a security guard, a surgical nurse, an industry worker or a shop attendant - the tasks and requirements of your body and mind is very different and the opportunity for breaks, the opportunity for focused uninterrupted work is different. I suspect it would matter.


That's going to vary a lot by what job you're doing.

Working consumes personal resources - physical, mental, and emotional. Time off gives you a chance to restore those resources. At the extreme on one end, if you don't have enough time off to eat and sleep, eventually it'll kill you. At the other extreme, it's not really possible to be productive if you're not doing any work at all. In the middle? Depends on the job - depends on which resources you're burning and how much of them. For example, in my personal experience, jobs that require significant mental strain can suffer pretty badly when I don't get enough sleep. Jobs that are more physical don't suffer nearly as much. Jobs that make demands on personal motivation require downtime for emotional recovery... and so forth. Of course, some of these things can be adjusted for in other ways, too - having perks at your job that make your life easier and that you honestly appreciate can help compensate (to a degree) for a lack of personal downtime, as can having a really compelling story that really inspires you to want to work hard. On the flip side, a toxic work environment is going to erode your motivation pretty quickly no matter what else they do... and so forth.

You're not going to get a general answer, because there is no general answer. At the same time, pretty much regardless of what your profession is, you're going to eventually hit a point of diminishing returns, and then after that hit a point where extra work time is actively counterproductive. The only question is where those two points are. If you're working 6-7 days a week and frequent overtime? I'd be somewhat surprised if you weren't there already.

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