Israel should adopt a four-day workweek - opinion

Based upon the improved productivity trends, proven benefits and time for religious reasons and to spend with family/friends, Israel should explore and test a 4-day workweek.

 GOING WINDSURFING in Tel Aviv: The busy days at beaches and marinas are Friday and Shabbat, depriving those who are religiously observant of these experiences (Illustrative). (photo credit: Matt Hechter/Flash90)
GOING WINDSURFING in Tel Aviv: The busy days at beaches and marinas are Friday and Shabbat, depriving those who are religiously observant of these experiences (Illustrative).
(photo credit: Matt Hechter/Flash90)

One hot global topic is the four-day workweek concept. It has even spawned a not-for-profit organization (4 Day Week Global) to provide a platform for supporting the idea and research of the four-day week as a part of the future of work.

In the UK,  a total of about 2,900 employees across the country have taken part in a four-day workweek pilot program, which started June 2022. Surveys of staff conducted before and after found that 39% said they were less stressed, 40% were sleeping better and 54% said it was easier to balance work and home responsibilities. Of the 61 companies that entered the six-month trial, 56 (92%) have extended the pilot program, including 18 (30%) who have made it permanent.

Additionally, the number of sick days taken during the trial fell by about two-thirds and 57% fewer staff left the participating firms, compared with the same period a year earlier. The vast majority of companies reported that they were satisfied with productivity and business performance over the trial period.

Even the UAE has modified its workweek. As of January 1, 2022, it adopted a 4.5-day workweek. The transition is “in line with the UAE’s vision to enhance its global competitiveness across economic and business sectors and to keep pace with global developments,” the Abu Dhabi government media office said in a statement.

“The extended weekend comes as part of the UAE government’s efforts to boost work-life balance and enhance social wellbeing while increasing performance to advance the UAE’s economic competitiveness,” the state news agency WAM report said.

Office space [Illustrative] (credit: PIXABAY)Office space [Illustrative] (credit: PIXABAY)

Under this new model, employees will have to complete an eight-hour workday from Monday to Thursday but are expected to work only for 4.5 hours on Friday. Government employees will also be allowed to choose flexible work or work-from-home options on Fridays.

Israel does the five-day workweek differently

IN NEARLY all the world, the five-day workweek is Monday through Friday. In Israel, however, the work and school week is shifted to Sunday through Thursday and sometimes, adding a half-a-day on Friday.

The four-day (32-hour) workweek concept shines a light on a possible solution for the religious populations in Israel. An Australian-based Muslim journalist wrote an article in the April 16th issue of The Guardian titled “A four-day workweek could help communities of faith – and us all” where he “observed they seemed torn between the pressing demands of professional life and a deep-rooted spiritual satisfaction.”

While the author was referring to Muslims, by inference he could be referring to any religious observant person trying to balance the pressures of the modern work environment and the obligations of one’s religion.

In Israel, especially for religiously observant Jews, the shifted five and 5.5-day work and school week does not provide that life-work balance and an extra day for activities with family or friends, let alone enough time for chores or errands.

Many soccer games and other competitive sporting events are scheduled on the Sabbath. The busy days at beaches, marinas and other fun places are Fridays well into the Sabbath evening and Shabbat day. As I write this, I am confronted by my devastated and confused young grandson, whose regional swim meet is scheduled for an upcoming Shabbat.

This deprives those who are religiously observant of these life/community experiences, which in turn imposes additional pressure on those who might want both to unfairly have to choose between religion and a better life-work balance.

Why? Because the Shabbat and the five-to-5.5-day work or school week leaves no free time to take part in various leisure activities necessary for social development, household responsibilities and even job productivity. The results from the pilot program prove that having such free time available increases employee satisfaction.

In answer to the headline in‘s February 23 article “Four-day week: Which countries have embraced it and how’s it going so far?” the following was listed: Belgium (introduced in February 2022), Scotland (trial to begin in 2023) and Wales, Sweden (tested in 2015), Spain (pilot started in December 2022), Iceland (90% of the working population now have reduced hours or other accommodations), Germany (shortest workweek in Europe), Japan (big corporations involved), New Zealand (currently trialing), and strong interest being raised in the US and Canada.

What are the benefits of a four-day workweek?

WHILE IT is not a perfect fit for every type of business, the benefits of a four-day workweek demonstrate that it is most definitely worth exploring. Many other countries recognize the benefits and are getting on the four-day workweek bandwagon, not for religious reasons but for better employee productivity, as well as job and life satisfaction.

Another important reason for Israel to explore joining this global movement can be seen in some recent distressing Israeli economic statistics.

A McKinsey & Company report on Israel’s Productivity Opportunity (January 17, 2023) offered some key findings. Here are just a few:

  • Israel’s economy has grown faster than many other comparably advanced economies, fueled by a strong, globally oriented high-tech sector. However, it [Israel] has a significant productivity gap that constrains economic potential and has limited growth in GDP per capita.
  • Israel’s productivity, as measured in GDP per hour worked, is about 40% lower than the average of the top half of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) economies.
  • Israel’s economy needs to become more competitive and dynamic. Global rankings suggest the business environment is overly regulated, protectionist policies hinder the ability of foreign competitors to enter the Israeli market, digitization is lagging, and both the public and private sectors could be doing more to modernize.

These conclusions are further confirmed by the Bank of Israel (BOI) in its annual report, released and covered in the news on March 28. Dr. Eyal Argov, the head of the Macroeconomics and Policy Division in the Bank of Israel’s Research Department observed that “...labor productivity in Israel is still low in comparison with [OECD] countries and raising it is one of the main challenges that the economy faces.” He continued by emphasizing that “raising labor productivity is the key to a continual rise in the standard of living.”

Compare these distressing conclusions by the BOI and McKinsey to the results of the UK pilot four-day workweek and the global responses covered in the article, both referenced above.

To the question “Should Israel adopt a four-day workweek?” it seems that based upon the improved productivity trends and proven benefits to employees and employers, quality time for families/friends and personal religious spiritual satisfaction, Israel should explore and test a four and 4.5-day workweek for both business and government organizations.

Are we going to lead or follow the new global initiative for the future of the work environment? The Israeli people are waiting.

The writer, an MBA who made aliyah in 2015, is a former NYC advertising agency and marketing executive. He is the author of a forthcoming book How to Run the Business of You. Check out his blog: Follow him on Twitter: @DavidsLevine.