Home big read The Big Read: Is 4 the new 5? Clamour for 4-day work week but it may not be viable for all

The Big Read: Is 4 the new 5? Clamour for 4-day work week but it may not be viable for all

The Big Read: Is 4 the new 5? Clamour for 4-day work week but it may not be viable for all
In recent years, some companies here and around the world have moved to a four-day work week amid greater demand for work-life balance Singapore workers and companies on variations of a shortened work week tell TODAY about the benefits and downsides of such a systemBusiness and manpower experts say that the successful implemention of a four-day work week would require innovation and long term thinkingHowever, such arrangements may not easily fit all types of businesses and it would not be realistic to expect it to be a nationwide practiceTo achieve the end goal of better workers’ welfare, other forms of work flexibility can also be looked into

By Taufiq Zalizan Published September 23, 2023 Updated September 23, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

SINGAPORE —  While other employees dive straight into work right after a weekend respite, Ms Nabilah Awang spends her Monday mornings exercising, settling some house chores or “just recharging” herself.

Such luxury is made possible by her employer, a commodity price reporting agency, which has implemented a 4.5-day work week, giving her time off from work every Monday morning.

“I know it’s just some time in the day but those few hours really make a difference when you juggle work and caring for two children,” said the 30-year-old reporter who has two children aged two and one.

“Now I don’t get that dreaded feeling on Sunday evening thinking about work the next day…Overall as a mother and an employee, I feel recharged for the week.”

But some who have tried four-day work weeks said work performance and productivity were affected while others added that such arrangements are not practical for their industry.   

Mr Anand George, a partner at a law firm, said that in litigation, timelines are set by the court, resulting in a “trickle-down effect”. Developments in a case may occasionally crop up that necessitate urgent actions, he added.

“The pace at which the work has to be carried out is not always in the hands of law firms.”

Mr Anand added that while he could not speak for his firm, his personal view is that implementing a four-day week in his line of work is impractical.

He encourages working-from-home arrangements, as it would at least save lawyers commuting time and allow them to spend more time with their family.

“There is no perfect solution. Work from home also has its downsides, but I think it is more workable than a four-day work week,” said Mr Anand.

For Mr Aminurrashid Hasnordin, his 10-month experiment with a four-day work week from mid-2020 yielded mixed results.

“My team took less MC (medical leave). Maybe because they feel guilty missing any more work day since the work week was already short,” the chef and co-founder of food & beverage (F&B) business The Social Outcast said in jest.

However, he saw his workers’ productivity drop somewhat as they either felt less rested if given staggered off-days, or they would make mistakes, which “always happened when a worker comes back from the long weekend”.

The entire team then sat down to discuss the issue and agreed to returning to a five-day work week arrangement around mid-2021.

Young employees working regular five-day weeks told TODAY recently that they largely welcome the notion of a shorter work week.

However, given that they already frequently work beyond their official hours to complete their tasks, they dread having to stretch their work days even longer to make up for the lost fifth weekday.

MOM data showed that actual hours worked per week had declined marginally from an average of 44.7 in 2017 to 44.3 in 2022 – but they still remained above the global standard 40-hour week.

A data analyst at a bank here, who wanted to be known only as Mr Goh, noted that dividing 40 hours in a four-day week would end up with an 11-hour work day including lunch. 

“For example, 8am to 7pm — that’s a bit extreme for a day of work that is not factoring in commute timings as well,” he said.

One civil servant, who wanted to be known only as Ms Goh, noted how the work of an entity in the Public Service is usually linked to or to support the function of other government-related organisations.

“These entities may already have fixed operating days, so with the reduction of work days, they might be getting the short end of the stick since your support for them will be reduced,” she said.

While proponents of shorter work hours tout increased productivity due to better worker morale, use of technology and better work planning, some employees told TODAY that the problem is not always about the number of work hours one has to put in per se.

Another employee in the public sector who wanted to be known only as Mr Alif said: “I don’t think (any organisation) can be so efficient as to cut down five days’ worth of work to four days by just removing ‘fluff’.” He was referring to administrative and smaller tasks that are not part of an employee’s core job.

“I think the main issue that we should address, and which I don’t think is brought up enough, isn’t the number of work days, but rather the amount of work Singaporeans have to deal with.”

Over at public relations company Mad Hat, its employees enjoy a four-day work week on the last week of each month.

However, as with all PR agency firms, there is still an element of extended work hours, which sometimes spill into the designated long weekend, due to client-stipulated deadlines. Senior account manager Krisha Ramos acknowledged that spillover work is a given in the industry, and it does not diminish the joy she derives from the long weekends.

“In the event that there’s work needed on a Friday, it just means that I can clear that on my time and target without distraction or interruptions (as opposed to having an official workday Friday),” said the 29-year old, who has eight years’ experience in the industry.

The “spontaneous long weekend getaways on a regular basis” and extra time for her to pursue her hobbies have allowed her to achieve better work-life balance, she said.


While much of the conversation surrounding a shorter work week and better work-life balance could be traced back to the Covid-19 disruption which began in early 2020, Microsoft Japan was one notable company that was already experimenting with the four-day work before the pandemic. It ran a one-month trial by giving its employees long weekends in August 2019 and reported a 40 per cent jump in productivity, despite the cut in work hours from 40 to 32. 

Panasonic, another multinational headquartered in workaholic Japan, introduced an optional four day-work week in early 2022.

Elsewhere, 4 Day Work Week Global, a non-profit based in the United Kingdom advocating for the implementation of four-day work weeks, has reported largely positive results from companies participating in trials that it has helped to organise since last year.

In February, the organisation reported 56 of 61 companies in the UK that piloted the shortened work schedule from June to December 2022 decided to continue with the practice, with 18 of the companies making it a permanent policy.

Employees reported improvements in their overall well-being, including mental and physical health. Meanwhile, employers benefited from a decline in worker absenteeism and turnover rates and a stable revenue despite the cut in total work hours.

Such pilots have since been expanded to companies in other countries, with largely positive results.

According to 4 Day Week Global, the participating companies had implemented different methods of working time reduction with one objective in mind: “Meaningful” reduction in work time for employees with no pay cut.

Besides the straightforward long weekend arrangement in some companies, staff at other firms take the additional day off in a staggered manner to ensure the company’s services continue over five weekdays.

Other businesses, such as restaurants, may require its staff to work longer hours for certain periods but compensate for it by giving them shorter working hours during the lull season, resulting in an average 32-hour work week overall.

In Singapore, business, human resource and labour experts told TODAY that it might be challenging to shorten work days in a similar manner here, at least in the near future.

Meanwhile, F&B establishment Coriander Leaf started the four-day work week arrangement sometime in 2021 partly because it had a hard time hiring F&B professionals as business resumed after pandemic-related restrictions eased.

“We believed this flexible working arrangement would give us a competitive advantage for recruiting the right talent,” said its chief executive officer Rajeev Panjwani.

However, the restaurant found it challenging to offer the same arrangement to existing employees without compromising its operations.

“(Over time), we quickly realised that team members were actually looking for flexible work arrangements to balance their career and personal commitments, and not just a shortened work week,” said Mr Rajeev.

Coriander Leaf has since offered a range of work arrangements to better fit both the employees’ and the company’s needs.

This means some employees are on a shortened work-week while others are on shortened work hours and permanent work timings.

Still, there are business owners who find it difficult to implement a more flexible or a four-day work week, despite knowing that such arrangements would be good for their employees.

For example, cybersecurity talent development company Red Alpha offers a rigorous six-month full-time training programme with remuneration that averages 43 hours a week. 

“To accommodate a four-day week, that would be a 10- to 11-hour day for our trainees, which would be extremely tiring for them and may affect the learning outcomes, on top of being unsustainable to the well-being of our trainees,” said the firm’s chief executive, Benjamin Tan.

“For trainers, it is more effective for them to follow through with the students on specific modules, rather than stagger them for the sake of a four-day week, which would compromise learning outcomes.”


For some companies, the transition to shorter work weeks may be made easier if they can adopt high-productivity practices — and the Government can help with the latter by offering subsidies or grants, experts told TODAY.

However, they also acknowledged that a four-day-work-week solution may not be applicable to all businesses or industries.

It would thus be unrealistic to expect the Government to implement such a policy nationwide.

“While many industries can adapt to shorter work weeks, those that rely heavily on physical presence or customer service may face more significant challenges. Industries with highly specialised roles may also need to find creative solutions,” said Mr Naito of Reeracoen.

Even the biggest trial of shorter-work week practices in the UK facilitated by 4 Day Week Global saw companies implementing different ways of shortening work hours tailored to their respective operational needs, the experts noted.

With Singaporeans, by and large, still working longer than the expected 40-hour week, experts said that the big shift to a four-day week might not be likely.

“For Singapore, a transition to a 4.5-day work week may be more realistic given our (work) culture,” said Mr Bedi, who is Asean workforce advisory leader at EY. 

“And it requires the participation of the entire ecosystem — including workers, businesses, unions, trade associations and chambers and the Government.”