The Four-Day Work Week and the Buddhist Work Ethic – Buddhistdoor Global

Sociologist Max Weber (1869-1920) first proposed the idea of ​​a Protestant work ethic in his 1905 book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. According to Weber, Protestant Christians had made work an integral part of a person’s development and, ultimately, of his salvation. To work hard is to be holy. This wisdom is being challenged to some extent by a new movement to reduce the standard working week to four days in developed economies. While programs scattered around the world have shown varying degrees of success in implementing a four-day working week, a new large-scale experiment in Britain will include more than 3,300 workers in 70 companies. in a wide range of fields.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognizing that the new frontier of competition is quality of life, and that short-time, performance-driven work is the way to give them an edge. competitive,” said Joe O’. Connor, CEO of 4-Day Week Global. (NPR)

In Buddhist thought, there does not seem to be a broad theology of work. For most Buddhists throughout history, work has simply been necessary to survive. Insofar as the Buddha thought about it, he suggested that it was just part of what might constitute a virtuous life. In the Sigālovāda Sutta (DN 31), the Buddha advised the head of the Sigala household five ways of caring for workers that we can think of today. Slightly adapted to fit the modern world, these were:

(i) assigning them work according to their abilities,

(ii) by paying them a salary,

(iii) provide sick leave,

(iv) share with them the rewards of business growth,

(v) giving them reasonable time off.

Accordingly, there are five ways in which workers should discharge their duties for the benefit of their employer:

(i) they get up before their boss,

(ii) they fall asleep after him,

(iii) they only take what is given,

(iv) they perform their duties well,

(v) they maintain a good reputation.

In this way, says the text, the employer shows compassion towards the employees and vice versa. The text offers relatively straightforward guidance, a sort of framework within which employers and workers would be free to determine specific details.

However, little has been written about putting this advice into practice over the past 2,500 years. Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), an American network aimed at advancing workers’ rights based on religious commitments, offers only the Sigālovāda Sutta on its Buddhism page alongside a short passage from the 13th Dalai Lama and a piece from the Venerable Sevan Ross, an American Zen teacher.

The 13th Dalai Lama’s advice reiterates the ideals of providing a “reasonable life” and an attitude of bringing benefits rather than seeking big profits. Meanwhile, Roshi Ross teaches interdependence leading to “mutually productive work, everyone being treated fairly, everyone being treated right”. (Interfaith Workers’ Justice)

In the West, the Triratna Buddhist community, formerly the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, has given much thought to creating workplaces that reflect Buddhist values. Saddharaja, a member of the order and head of staff welfare at Windhorse:evolution, Triratna’s largest workplace, wrote in 2011:

We have a body of experiences and teachings of righteous livelihoods within us, but I feel they are not communicated and presented in a coherent way. Valuable lessons, but not easily accessible. In Triratna we have the Perfect Livelihood chapter of Sangharakshita in “Vision and Transformation”. There are also other texts and teachings in our Movement, but no primary source.

So it’s 2011 and society continues to change rapidly. Some of the traditional (and Triratna) approaches to righteous livelihoods, while entirely valid, may seem a bit outdated to me – they do not reflect the way we live and work now.

(Triratna Buddhist Community News)

Given these limited statements and the acknowledged lack of a clear document on creating a workplace with Buddhist values, one might wonder what a Buddhist employer should do. Enter that, the recent changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing movement to create a four-day work week.

For decades, some schools and workplaces have implemented a four-day week, often out of necessity due to understaffing or special needs in their communities. But it’s only in recent years that companies around the world have woken up to changing working hours as an opportunity to improve productivity, attract and retain key talent, and significantly reduce stress and related conditions, such as worker absenteeism.

In a recent TED talk, Juliet Schor, an economist and professor of sociology at Boston College, said that experiments with shorter workweeks have yielded extraordinarily positive results. A company that had seen its employees resign in large numbers due to burnout moved to the four-day work week and quickly noticed a turnaround in retention. More than that, the company’s revenue has increased, along with customer satisfaction. Schor noted that workers have developed a number of ingenious ways to fit five days of productivity into just four, from shorter meetings to cutting out chatter and social media browsing.

Schor also noted that countries with already shorter working weeks, such as Norway and Denmark, which only work an average of 1,380 hours per year, the equivalent of just 34.5 40-hour weeks, have in fact higher productivity than neighboring countries such as the UK and Italy, which traditionally have longer working weeks and fewer vacation days. Meanwhile, Japan, a country known for its overworked employees, ranked 20th out of 35 countries in a recent survey of worker productivity.


However, warn academics Emma Russell, Caroline Murphy and Esme Terry, the move to a shorter week can also be embraced incorrectly. They cite a study from New Zealand’s experience with a four-day working week, where managerial pressures and performance measures increased, piling additional stress on workers and management. Russell, Murphy and Terry recommend that reduced hours also mean reduced workloads and an eye to reducing work intensity. In part, they conclude, “Taking a long-term, holistic approach to workforce well-being is the best path to happiness and prosperity. (harvard business review)

To highlight the possibility of reducing even a 28-hour working week made up of four seven-hour days, Scottish recruitment agency Change Recruitment notes that during the time of Max Weber’s work, manufacturing employees in the United States worked an average of 100 hours. per week. After several decades and often contentious battles, the 40-hour work week has become more common.

A Buddhist case for recommending the four-day workweek might draw on another ancient Buddhist text, the Soṇa Sutta (AN 6.55). In this discourse, the Buddha teaches a middle way between excessive effort and laziness. Applied to the lives of workers today, we could see that much of life, at work and beyond, has become much more complicated than it was 50, 20 or even 10 years ago. year. To keep up, the average person has to put in more and more effort. The benevolent Buddhist employer, seeing this, might find reasons to reduce working hours and workload, thereby restoring balance to the lives of employees.

A final consideration is climate impact. Last year, a study suggested that widespread adoption of the four-day work week could reduce individual carbon footprints by up to 20% as commuting decreases and offices and other businesses reduce hours and energy consumption. In a society that has been driven by growth and consumption, it will take work for the idea of ​​a shorter working week to gain widespread acceptance. But as we see, even without this, the overall benefits of reduced work hours – and potentially workload as well – far outweigh the risks.


Kelly, John, Sawyer, Sue and Yareham, Victoria, trans. 2013. “Sigalovada Sutta: The Buddha’s Guidance to Sigalaka” (DN 31). Access to Insight (BCBS edition).

Thanissaro Bhikkhu, trans. 2013. “Sona Sutta: About Sona” (AN 6.55). Access to Insight (BCBS edition).

See more

A big test of the 32-hour work week is underway. Proponents think it could help productivity (NPR)
In Britain, a new test of an old dream: the 4-day working week (The New York Times)
Buddhism (Interfaith Workers’ Justice)
Six New Lectures on Livelihood Buddhist Practice: New Windhorse Lecture Series: Evolution Now Available (Triratna Buddhist Community News)
The case of a 4-day workweek (TED)
The Pros and Cons of a 4 Day Work Week (Recruitment Change)
What leaders need to know before trying a 4-day work week (harvard business review)

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