What India's four-day workweek entails: 3 paid leaves, 12-hour shifts

Gayatri Vinayak
·5 min read
The Man proposes four-day week sign. Notepad in hand.
The Man proposes four-day week sign. Notepad in hand.

The Government is considering allowing companies the flexibility of creating four-day work weeks, with increased shift timings. This is part of the Government of India's plans of amalgamating 44 Central labour laws under four labour codes on wages, industrial relations, social security and occupational safety health and working conditions.

Organisations would need to choose between 4, 5 or 6-day workweeks, keeping the 48-hour weekly work hours into consideration. Companies opting for a four-day workweek will have to give three paid leaves a week, with 12-hour shifts. Similarly, those that have 5/6-day workweeks, will have reduced shift timings, as per the 48 hour-week limit.

The pandemic has reinforced the need for flexible work solutions. This has also led to the call for options such as remote work, work from home or working fewer days a week.

With the Government finalising the labour laws, it is a step closer to allowing companies to choose four-day work weeks for the employees, instead of the regular five or six.

While the Code on Wages was passed by Parliament in 2019, the other three codes got clearance from both the Houses in 2020. The Government is considering implementing the labour codes, which is in the process of being finalised, from April 1, this year.

Global precedents

The concept of a four-day workweek is not new. However, wherein in India, four working days would mean increased working hours per day, in many other countries and organisations, the aim is to work four days a week, at reduced hours, to enhance employee happiness and in the long run, productivity.

The Spanish Vice President, Pablo Iglesias, put forth a proposal to shift to a four-day workweek, or a 32-hour week, in December 2020. The Spanish Government is also set to offer Eur 50 million in financial incentives to companies that will attempt at bringing in a 32-hour week. Spain currently has an upper limit of 40 hours a week, with no more than 9 hours a day.

Finland’s Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, who at 35 is also the youngest PM in the world, had put forth the idea of such a flexible six-hour day and four-day workweek. This would be to ensure that people have more time to spend with their family, friends and to pursue aspects such as hobbies, learning something new and exploring culture.

Microsoft Japan experimented with a four-day workweek in August 2019 and saw productivity jump by 40 per cent. Under its project titled Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019, the company gave its 2,300 strong workforce Fridays off for five continuous weeks, without reducing salary. This led to more efficient meetings and happier workers, thereby boosting productivity.

It also translated into financial gains. Office electricity use was down by 23 per cent, while employees printed 59 per cent fewer pages during the trial period.

In his book titled, The 4 Day Week, entrepreneur and business innovator Andrew Barnes, speaks about how a flexible work week can make people happier and healthier in their personal lives and mosre focused and productive in their professional lives.

Barnes had trialed a four-day workweek for two months across the offices of Perpetual Guardian, New Zealand's largest corporate trustee company that he has founded. In February 2018, Barnes announced that employees in his office would work eight-hour days for four days a week while getting paid for five.

It’s not just having a day off a week - it’s about delivering productivity, meeting customer service standards, meeting personal and team business goals and objectives.Andrew Barnes

The trial proved to be highly successful and the results were impressive – 78 per cent of employees felt they could manage their home-work commitments better after the trial was implemented, while stress levels decreased by 7 percentage points across the board.

In November, last year, Unilever New Zealand announced that 81 staff members across its offices in New Zealand will work for four days a week for a year till December 2021. After the end of this period, Unilever will assess the outcomes and decide on implementing it across all its employees globally.

The aim, according to Managing Director Nick Bangs, would be to change the way work is done and not to make people work for more hours during the working days.

Stretched work-hour concerns

While such a policy sounds highly progressive, the question remains on whether organisations would be willing to adopt it. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has set the upper limit for weekly working hours at 48 hours, however, most employees in India work much more than that, with 10 hour days the norm in most organisations in the country. To compensate for the three paid leaves, organisations would be allowed to stretch shifts to 12-hour work days. This could add on to employee stress, rather than alleviate it.

A majority of employees have also questioned the feasibility of such a concept. As per a 2020 survey, 77 per cent of respondents felt they were closer to a six-day working week than a four-day working week. Over a third of respondents also felt that it would take at least five years for their employer to offer a four-day week at the same salary as a five-day workweek.

Ninety seven per cent of the respondents, however, also note that they would take up a four-day workweek, at a five-day salary scale, if given the opportunity.

A move towards four-day workweek becomes more vital during the COVID-19 pandemic with employees, especially those working from home, putting in more hours every day, and the distinction between work-family life blurring. However, such a move should not be offset by increasing daily working hours, as that could counter the whole argument of having a better work-life. The focus, rather, should be on ensuring maximum productivity within those stipulated four-day workweeks, without having to stretch the daily work hours.