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The four-day workweek: Inevitable or too good to be true?

In case you missed it, the largest pilot program for a four-day workweek launched last June in the United Kingdom with 2,900 workers from 61 companies participating. After six months, the results are in and 92% of those companies state that they will continue the four-day workweek schedule with 15% of the employees saying, “no amount of money would make them accept a five-day schedule at their next job.”

Interested? Here’s what to know about a four-day workweek and what business journalists should keep an eye on next.

What was this study?

This study was sponsored by the 4 Day Week Global Foundation – a nonprofit that funds research for “4 day week practices and the future of work and workplace wellbeing.” The two founders, Charlotte Lockhart and Andrew Barnes developed their 100-80-100™ principle in 2018 while piloting a four-day week in their own business. The idea is that employees receive 100% of their pay and benefits while working 80% of the time they worked before, while still producing 100% of the productivity.

An earlier study conducted by the organization, which released its results last November, involved 30 companies and 1,000 employees from the U.S., Ireland, and Australia. That study had similar successful results with the vast majority of the companies seeing significant improvements in employee satisfaction, retention, and even revenue.

The impact on employees’ personal lives was especially pronounced. Employees in the study reported having more time to take care of their families, were less stressed, better rested and had higher levels of satisfaction with their time outside work.

The reality of a four-day workweek in the United States

A representative from California reintroduced a bill last week in the House of Representatives to make 32-hour workweeks the national standard. At the same time, a Maryland state bill that would bring a five-year pilot program to the state was withdrawn over concerns it would not pass due to the cost and the tradition of 40-hour workweeks.

Although the idea may seem far-fetched, it’s not the first time that the four-day workweek has been floated as a standard of the future. In 1956, Richard Nixon – then Vice President of the United States – stated that a four-day workweek was ‘inevitable’ in the ‘not-so-distant future’ and the hopes of the administration were to ‘double everyone’s standard of living’ and have a ‘fuller family life for every American.’

Whether or not legislation gets enacted, some companies are already making the switch. A tech company, Bolt, with over 500 employees made headlines last January for making the switch permanent after testing it out for three months.

Some things to consider

A four-day workweek doesn’t necessarily mean fewer hours or the same pay, nor does it look the same at every company. For example, Basecamp has had a seasonal four-day workweek since 2017, where employees work 32 hours from May 1 to August 31. Toshiba and Panasonic are two large Japanese companies that are among 8% of Japanese firms that allow four-day workweeks, many of which are optional and come with pro-rated pay. Check out this list for companies with four-day workweek policies.

Also, consider industries where something other than a 9-5 M-F has never been the ‘standard.’ Think nurses – many of whom work four 10-hour or three 12-hour shifts a week – or firefighters who often work 24-hour shifts.

The idea of the four-day workweek movement is to provide flexibility and find what works best for the company and its employees. Compare this movement to the Work-From-Home movement that has blossomed since the pandemic began. How may the two influence one another?

Author

  • Julianne Culey

    Julianne is the Assistant Director of the Reynolds Center with expertise in marketing and communications and holds a master's in Sociology from Arizona State University.

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