In Praise of the 3-Day Weekend

In the hallowed religion of American capitalism, the 5-day work week is sacrosanct. The central tenet of its orthodoxy. The firm foundation that undergirds the towering cathedral of the U.S. market economy.

I’m not familiar with any significant national efforts to call the 5-day work week into question, and until my mid-30s I myself took it for granted as a drab, draining, practical necessity.

But for 10 glorious weeks every year, I get a glimpse of something better. Something more breathable. Something more human.

I work in academia, at a law school, where the slowness of the summer semester years ago prompted a campus-wide policy of 4-day summer work weeks. We work a few extra hours on Monday to Thursday, and in exchange we are blissfully unencumbered every Friday from early June to mid-August.

To some, it might seem like a small thing. After all, we’re still working the same number of hours each week. And it’s only 10 out of 52 Fridays a year.

But man do those Fridays feel good.

The difference between being away from work for 64 hours or for 88 hours is psychologically significant and physically noticeable. As anyone who has ever worked a 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday job can attest, there are some weeks when you don’t truly feel mentally free of your job until Saturday afternoon. And the new work week often starts looming over your head by late Sunday afternoon. That gives you little more than 24 hours to truly relax, with your whole mind and body unburdened by the endless mouse marathon.

But what if I told you that we could add an extra 24 hours to that essential period of disconnection from the weekly grind? What if I told you that even after a rough work week that required half a day of decompression, you could feel like yourself again on Friday afternoon and then ride that feeling all the way to dinnertime on Sunday?

Many in the United States are so indoctrinated in the virtues of 9-to-5 capitalism that they can’t see any virtue outside of that rigid time frame. They don’t realize the extent to which our American way of life is less healthy and less family-oriented (and even less genuinely leisure-oriented) than many similarly affluent Western nations.

Just in the last 2 years, I noticed this contrast when my family visited Ottawa twice. My brothers observed it while traveling in Scandinavia a few years back. I witnessed it all 3 times I vacationed in Europe over the past 2 decades. These are places, generally speaking, where work and leisure seem to be valued equally. Where a healthy balance is achieved that often eludes us as Americans.

A nationwide shift to a default 4-day work week would publicly realign the priorities of our country. It would assert the importance of the family over the economy; of people over profit; of free time over the free market. It would give everyone an extra 8 hours (and really, an extra 24 hours) to spend with their partners, their children, their pets. To savor the company of our companions, both human and furry, who make work worth working — and life worth living.

This shift would be invaluable, even during a quarantine where many of us are already stationed at home. In fact, I would argue that it would be even more invaluable during a quarantine. Anything that brings us closer to the ones we love will make us stronger and more resistant to the viruses of modern life — apathy, disconnectedness, creeping despair. We are more susceptible to all of these infections during a pandemic, but a robust family life can help provide immunity.

I’m not telling you that the change to a 4-day work week would be logistically easy. I’m not even claiming that it would be equally profitable for businesses. I’m simply convinced that regardless of its effect on the rat race, it would be deeply beneficial to the human race.

And isn’t the outcome of that race, now more than ever, the one that should matter most?


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