Letter of the day

Four-day work week is a solution in search of a problem

A survey by American software company Qualtrics showed that, among other findings, nine in ten workers here believe a four-day work week would benefit their mental health (Workers here worry 4-day work week may mean longer working hours, June 22).

Recent discussions in the media similarly highlighted the expected therapeutic benefit of a four-day work week.

The truth is that working hours as stipulated in an employment contract are at best an administrative tool for the purpose of formulating compensation. They may bear no resemblance at all to the actual working hours in various workplaces.

In particular, those employed in PMET (professional, manager, executive and technician) jobs are generally assessed on the basis of their work performances or achieved outcomes. Therein lies the source of mental stress.

A driven employee is likely to end up working hours beyond regulation either of his own volition or due to being pressured by the work environment.

Instances of PMETs refusing to go on leave abound. Senior executives are reluctant to delegate responsibilities to subordinates. It is a common practice for them to insist on being consulted even when away from office.

Maintaining visibility in the workplace appears to be a survival instinct of any self-respecting PMET.

Clearly, mental health issues arising from the workplace require a more nuanced and perceptive solution than merely introducing a four-day work week. Both the public and private sectors have to devote more energy in dealing with this complex and all-important conundrum.

In the context of Singapore, our success as a developed nation requires us to maintain and continually sharpen our competitiveness as a place to do business relative to other countries.

Any social engineering initiative such as adopting a four-day work week must under no circumstances lead to a loss of our competitiveness.

At this point, the best I could say about the debate on a four-day work week is that it is a solution in search of a problem - nothing more.

Yeoh Teng Kwong (Dr)


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2022, with the headline Four-day work week is a solution in search of a problem. Subscribe