The traditional Sunday-Thursday workweek in Israel has been a defining feature of the nation’s work culture. However, there are those who argue that it poses certain challenges to the economy, primarily because at present it facilitates a five-and-a-half day workweek, with many workers laboring from Sunday to Thursday, with another half day on Friday.
In response to this concern, some have floated the possibility of shifting Israel’s workweek from Sunday to Thursday, to Monday to Friday, effectively freeing up Sunday as a free day away from the trappings of the daily grind.
That said, there are serious pros and cons to consider when making the move to a Monday-Friday workweek, primarily because doing so would effectively reduce it from five and a half days to four and a half days, as the nation’s religious background necessitates an early end to Friday labor.
Less chance of burnout
Israel’s workforce is known for its dedication and hard work, consistently surpassing global averages in weekly working hours. According to a recent OECD report, Israelis worked an average of 40.6 hours per week in 2022, ranking them among the top five hardest-working countries among OECD nations, exceeding the overall average of 37.6 weekly hours.
To some, this commitment to work may seem admirable, but it comes at the risk of burnout and diminished output at the end of the day (or week, as it were). While Israel boasts one of the highest levels of working hours per week, it simultaneously bears one of the world’s lowest levels of productivity.
With this in mind, reducing the number of days at work may serve to reduce the amount of stress put on the average Israeli, thereby acting to mitigate some of that burnout effect.
Alignment with global business hours
Shifting Israel’s workweek from Sunday to Thursday to Monday to Friday offers a compelling advantage in terms of aligning with international business hours. By doing so, Israeli businesses could be better enabled to effectively engage with partners, clients, and investors across diverse time zones. This alignment not only simplifies scheduling and communication but also fosters a more conducive environment for trade and investment.
Moreover, the enhanced global economic competitiveness that comes with this alignment can significantly benefit Israel’s economy. When businesses can operate during overlapping hours with their international counterparts, it streamlines decision-making processes, expedites negotiations, and facilitates quicker responses to market trends and opportunities.
Enhanced tourism and leisure industry
With a Monday-to-Friday workweek, Israel could expect an influx of tourists over the weekend, particularly from other countries that share the same schedule. This influx would not only benefit the tourism industry but also stimulate various related sectors, such as hospitality, restaurants, and entertainment, which in turn could contribute significantly to the national economy.
“From the point of view of the consumer, another day off can only benefit the tourism industry inside Israel. One more day to book an Israeli hotel, one more day to eat outside of one’s home. Like all leisure activities, the tourism industry will only benefit.”
“From the point of view of the consumer, another day off can only benefit the tourism industry inside Israel. One more day to book an Israeli hotel, one more day to eat outside of one’s home. Like all leisure activities, the tourism industry will only benefit,” said Mark Feldman, CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem.
He went on to explain that from the tour industry worker’s perspective, that isn’t necessarily the case. “Anyone employed in the industry will not see his or her workweek curtailed. Quite the contrary: With one less work day, more people will be traveling, which means most employees in everything connected with tourism will still have to work on Sundays, be they employed in a mall, or a restaurant, or a gift shop,” he said.
“Those directly employed by airlines and hotels and travel agencies will also be expected to work on Sunday. Will some employees stack their staff’s work schedule? Perhaps. But most companies that have to deal with the public on a Friday will have to provide the same level of service on Sunday. And if this work on a day off necessitates paying employees higher wages for working on their day off, that additional cost will be passed on to the consumer,” Feldman noted.
“Bottom line, while I understand the desire for a shorter work week, I am not enamored with the challenges that must be dealt with.”
Increased consumer spending
A shift to a Monday-Friday workweek could stimulate consumer spending. With more time available for leisure and shopping over the weekend, retail businesses could see an uptick in sales. Increased consumer spending can have a cascading effect on the entire supply chain, from manufacturers to logistics companies, ultimately boosting economic activity.
Some experts, though, are less than convinced. “The theory is that a shorter workweek allows more time for shopping, although today, a lot of shopping happens online. It’s not so much about going out on Sundays to shop as it used to be,” said Elise Brezis, professor of economics and director of the Azrieli Center for Economic Policy at Bar-Ilan University.
She went on to note, however, that at least one type of retailer would be positively affected by the increased time to mill around and window shop: malls.
“Interestingly, there has been a noticeable decrease in single-item sales, indicating a slowing economy. However, malls saw a significant increase in visitors in August, mainly because of the air conditioning and free babysitting services they offer. In Israel, the role of grandparents in child care is more significant than in other countries due to the necessity of both parents working. This shift in family dynamics contributes to people spending time at malls, and it’s an essential aspect of Israel’s unique consumer landscape,” she explained.
Exploring the three-day weekend option
While a Monday-to-half-Friday workweek offers numerous potential economic advantages, it’s also worth considering the potential impact of cutting out Friday entirely, and instead opting for a three-day weekend.
On the one hand, as seen in a handful of nations around the world such as Iceland, a three-day weekend could significantly improve work-life balance, potentially leading to increased job satisfaction and overall well-being. Employees who feel well rested and have ample leisure time may be more productive during their working days. This, in turn, could positively affect the economy by fostering a motivated and engaged workforce.
At the same time, though, a three-day weekend could present logistical and scheduling challenges for certain industries, such as healthcare, emergency services, and manufacturing. On top of that, Brezis – who is French – noted that the outcome of France’s recent four-day workweek implemented in recent years serves as a cautionary tale as to what such a move can do to a country’s global reputation.
“France is exactly the proof that a reduced workweek can be a catastrophe,” she said. “That was the end of France being an important country. Now, nobody talks about France [in the same breath as] Germany or the US. Everybody says ‘France, Spain, Portugal.’ France lost all its profitability on the day it did this.”
So what have we learned?
The potential shift in Israel’s workweek from Sunday-Thursday to Monday-Friday, or even the consideration of a three-day weekend, introduces a complex web of economic opportunities and challenges. While the traditional workweek has deep cultural roots, it also presents productivity and work-life balance concerns.
Transitioning to a Monday-Friday workweek aligns Israel with global business hours, enhancing its competitiveness and stimulating economic growth, particularly in the tourism and leisure sectors. Additionally, reducing work hours may mitigate burnout, resulting in a more engaged and productive workforce.
However, there are practical challenges to address, such as maintaining essential services and managing labor costs, as well as labor output reputation concerns. While there are hurdles to overcome, the potential for improved well-being, increased consumer spending, and enhanced global competitiveness underscores the significance of these considerations.
Whatever the case may be, it remains a certainty that the nation’s tour guides, mall clerks, working mothers, and journalists are unlikely to feel a personal difference one way or the other – after all, somebody’s got to keep the lights on while everyone’s away.