Light Wave


Forget the 4-Day Week - Top Economist Says We Should Work More

By Jake Beardslee · August 3, 2023

The president of Germany's Institute of Economic Affairs opposes the 4-day work week, warning it could lead to labor shortages and lower tax revenues.  Technologyrecipe/Wikimedia

The idea of a four-day work week has been gaining momentum in recent years, with trials taking place in the UK, Portugal and elsewhere. Not everyone, however, is convinced it’s a good idea.

Germany’s Institute for Economic Affairs President Clemens Fuest President raised deep doubts over making the four-day week standard practice on DW News.

“I think that we already have a situation where people can work two days, three days, four days, five days a week. I think there is no need for a general regulation on top of that,” Fuest said.

Fuest argued that a four-day week could exacerbate worker shortages in key industries such as healthcare. “If we encourage people to work even less, we will have problems,” he said, “For instance, if we think about hospitals, they already have problems finding enough nurses and employees generally. This would be made worse by a four-day week.”

Proponents argue a four-day week makes jobs more attractive without reducing pay. Fuest insists it is not that simple. “If we leave [pay] the same, that’s an increase in hourly wages of 25%. The question is who will pay for that?” he asked.

While Fuest acknowledged that individual companies are free to adopt four-day weeks, he strongly opposes mandating it across the board. “It’s certainly not something to be generalized,” he said.

Rather than encouraging people to work less, Fuest believes governments should provide incentives to work more.

“Where there is scarcity of workers, we need to pay them more,” he argued. “But encouraging them to work less will simply make shortages in public services worse.”

Fuest warned that if people work less, tax revenues will decline, undermining the financing of already-depleted pension and healthcare systems.

While the debate around a mandated four-day work week will no doubt continue, Fuest believes its potential drawbacks far outweigh its claimed benefits.

Light Wave commentary

The debate over the four-day work week underscores the complex tradeoffs involved in making major changes to long-established work norms. While a shorter week may improve the quality of life for many, valid concerns remain about its impacts on productivity, operating costs, labor markets, and the financing of major social programs. More extensive and rigorous trials would provide greater data and clarity regarding the idea’s viability. In the meantime, politicians and policy makers must resist the urge to sell the 4-day week as a panacea.