Four-Day School Weeks Are the Right Move

The lines between personal and work life became blurred two years ago when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and launched a worldwide virtual work experiment in which students fell into a year of online school and many adults had to adjust to working remotely.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from having to be in a school/work environment from home, it’s the importance and achievability of balancing your personal life with your work life by reducing workload and stress. 

Work culture in Japan is especially known for being demanding, even having “rush hour,” but the government has stated that it wants companies to offer four-day workweeks and even incorporated this idea into its policy, leading to progression in the workforce. Some countries have already widely adopted four-day work weeks, but if Japan did so too it could have a much stronger influence on other countries. (Photo Taken From Nikkei Asia)

Every day we go to school for six hours, and many of us are in rigorous classes that have us leave with hours of additional homework. For people in after-school activities, including myself, we sometimes don’t get home until it’s already dark. By then there are only a few hours until midnight, leaving little time to eat, talk with family and friends or sleep due to the amount of homework there is to complete by the following day.

Many of our mindsets have therefore been trained to prioritize school over our mental well-being, however, it’s an unhealthy mindset grown from a damaging system that needs to be changed.

An abundance of homework affects the physical and mental well-being of students. In a study by Stanford University, 56% of students found homework to be their main source of stress and the amount of homework resulted in little sleep, headaches, exhaustion and even loss of weight.  

Our lives should not revolve around constant work. A work-oriented society can create a burnt-out, overworked and unmotivated population. 

Although it’s a significant change to the typical school structure, shifting to a four-day school week and reducing homework by increasing productivity in class could be revolutionary: four days of school would allow students to rest an extra day and come back less tired, causing them to be able to get more work done in class while also having more motivation to learn. It would put an emphasis on mental well-being and rest, helping clear the toxic mindset of prioritizing work in and out of school at all times.

National Honor Society club was one club of many that met during Asynchronous Wednesdays last school year. Since the day was free for students to utilize how they wanted, many clubs used the time to meet, as most student schedules had more availability. (Photo by Nancie Huang-Ball)

While having homework is useful to strengthen understanding of topics, some homework could still be completed in class if time allows. Even though I’m enrolled in several AP classes, I still feel as if class time could be used more productively, however, the motivation to do so isn’t there because of how busy and tired we all are. 

Completing homework in class, essentially just having more in-class assignments, would also be more beneficial in general since there’s active access to a teacher and a group discussion. Students could get a more solidified understanding of the topics they’re learning about, as well as more hands-on experience. 

The only way to achieve more productivity in class is to allow students to rest more, hence the need to reduce homework or even shift to a four-day school week.

Last year during online school I realized how productive, awake and enthusiastic I was with an additional day off—remember Asynchronous Wednesdays? Students could personalize this day however they wanted and it catered to their own needs. They could rest (reducing the risk of burn-out by giving their mind a break), attend office hours with teachers to catch up or ask questions, or even have extracurricular meetings without as much scheduling conflict.

Although it’s a significant change to the structure of school and work, reducing work weeks has been adopted by several countries and companies across the world, and it just continues to expand.

Reykjavík City Council was one just part of Iceland that ran trials of four-day workweeks. In their Council’s trials, over 2,500 workers participated, which is around 1% of Iceland’s working population. Because of the “overwhelming success,” lots of workers have therefore shifted to shorter hours. (Photo Taken From BBC News)

One of many countries that have tried reducing work-weeks is Iceland, which had test cases of 35-36-hour workweeks with no reduction in pay. The main result was that the well-being of workers increased: from less burnout and stress to better health and work-life balance.

The amount of trial success influenced Icelandic trade unions and what they negotiated for, as well as changed much of the country’s workforce schedule as a whole. 86% of the country’s workforce now have shorter hours or are gaining the right to shorten their hours and almost 90% of the working population either have accommodations or fewer hours

The trial data were analyzed by Autonomy along with the Association for Sustainability and Democracy to secure quality control. According to Will Stronge, the director of research at Autonomy Will, Iceland’s success isn’t something that can just apply to one country.

“This study shows that the world’s largest ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success,” Will Stronge said. “It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks—and lessons can be learned for other governments.” 

Major Japanese company Panasonic also wants to reduce stress amongst workers and encourage a positive work-life balance, so they offered an optional four-day workweek recently. In a country where only 8% of companies provide two guaranteed days off per week, this policy is a huge step forward.

Japanese company Panasonic is incorporating the option of four-day workweeks for their workers. Panasonic was founded in 1918 and is a major Japanese multinational conglomerate company, meaning it does a wide variety of businesses, many relating to making electronic products. (Photo Taken from Mint)

Chief Executive Officer Yuki Kusumi promotes local volunteer work, taking up side jobs, or simply relaxing on their extra day off, all to support more work style diversity.

“Our responsibility is to strike an ideal balance between the work style and lifestyle for our diverse human capital,” Kusumi said.

Other companies see the main focus of the extra day off as a time to rest and recharge. Ryan Breslow, CEO of Bolt, compares the adjusted workweek movement to animals in a jungle.

“What if we worked like lions?” Breslow asked, suggesting that the king of the jungle works with bursts of high energy and then recharge before the next sprint.

“With a four-day workweek, we can feel confident going all-in on those four days. We can truly give it our all,” he said.

I couldn’t agree more. One effect of the current school structure system has been my concept of time. My mind has been conditioned to think in terms of how many hours there are until midnight, partly since most homework assignments are due then, but also it’s a subtle reminder that I should go to sleep within the next few hours as it gets late. Many peers have also confessed to going to bed around 2:00-3:00 a.m. and getting only a few hours of sleep daily.

Bolt, a San Francisco-based e-commerce startup and tech unicorn—a startup company with a value above $1 billion—will begin four-day workweeks after their successful trial that increased productivity levels amongst many other things. The company is the first tech unicorn that will be permanently switching to four-day workweeks. (Photo Taken From India Times)

What’s the point of going to school if students are too tired to learn in the first place? A four-day workweek where students did more work in class rather than at home allows for them to not only recharge but focus their free time on personal desires for their well-being.

From hobbies to volunteer work to internships to even employed work, more free time after school could prepare students for the real world better while simultaneously improving their mental health. Students should be able to balance their lives with academic success easier.

So, what if we were able to run our own reduction of homework and four-day work week trials?