Four-Day Workweeks Are Happening in the U.S.—Here Are the Benefits and Risks
Think there are no downsides to a three-day weekend? Experts say otherwise.
When compared to workers in other countries, namely those in Europe, people in the U.S. tend to work longer hours and take fewer vacation days. But a new trend of companies implementing four-day workweeks could soon even the playing field.
"A four-day workweek is a huge sign of trust. When you show your employees trust, it can bring increased loyalty, vigor, and innovation to the company," says Laura Mills, head of early career insights at Forage. "In addition, a four-day workweek can improve employee satisfaction since it affords employees better work-life balance."
To put this in perspective, the Washington Post recently published a four-day workweek calculator. If a current 35-year-old's company was to adopt this schedule, they'd get 12,064 hours—or 502 days—back by the time they retire (assuming you work an eight-hour day).
And with large companies like Kickstarter transitioning to this model, the seemingly dream scenario isn't so far-fetched. But is it as simple as just enjoying a three-day weekend all year? We consulted business experts to find out. Read on for their thoughts on the risks and benefits of a four-day workweek.
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Quality of life can greatly improve.
A large study of the four-day workweek was conducted by the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global in conjunction with Boston College, University College Dublin, and Cambridge University. The study was comprised of 61 companies in the UK and around 2,900 employees and took place from June to December 2022.
All employees received their full compensation and each company designed its own policy, which ranged from the traditional "Friday off" model to staggered days.
Of the 61 companies, 56 are continuing with the four-day workweek, and 18 of those are implementing it as a permanent change.
The report points to employees' well-being as perhaps the biggest takeaway. "'Before and after' data shows that 39 percent of employees were less stressed, and 71 percent had reduced levels of burnout at the end of the trial. Likewise, levels of anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues decreased, while mental and physical health both improved," researchers wrote in the executive summary.
The summary also noted a positive shift in work-life balance. "For 54 percent, it was easier to balance work with household jobs—and employees were also more satisfied with their household finances, relationships, and how their time was being managed."
Fewer work days can equal more productivity.
"We're all familiar with how refreshed and recharged we feel after a three-day weekend," notes Mills. "That renewed feeling can translate into greater productivity if three-day weekends are the norm."
Fern Diaz, founder of brand consultancy Librarie, transitioned her team to a four-day workweek. Speaking from personal experience, she explains that "the schedule eliminates procrastination and unnecessary meetings, two big enemies of productivity."
Plus, when employees have three-day weekends, they're likely to take fewer personal and vacation days, says Mills, which means you'll have more people in the office at the same time.
Data from the UK study also supports this, as participating companies found that their revenue increased during the trial period by an average of 35 percent as compared to the same time in previous years.
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But a shorter workweek can also mean more pressure.
If a manager isn't totally on board with the benefits of a four-day workweek, they may simply try to squeeze 40 hours worth of work into 32 hours. This is especially true in industries where a standard nine-to-five workday is not the norm.
A 2021 study published in Employee Relations on New Zealand's move to a four-day workweek, found that "not only was work intensified following the change, but so too were managerial pressures around performance measurement, monitoring, and productivity," the Harvard Business Review reported.
It may be unfair to non-salaried workers.
For those who are paid hourly or are contractors, a four-day workweek could mean a very significant dent in their paychecks and benefits. This is why California Rep. Mark Takano recently reintroduced legislation to make the 32-hour workweek a national standard, reported the Washington Post.
The main thing this would do is start overtime compensation at 32 hours instead of 40. But Takano did say in an interview with the Post that there would have to be thought given to how hourly workers make up the pay difference. "How is it that we'll find a wage or compensation equilibrium that allows for 32 hours of work to be equivalent in pay to the 40 hours that were once worked?"
What about billable hours?
Many industries still operate on the principle of billable hours, mainly accounting firms, law firms, and consultancies—which could be challenging with a four-day week.
However, Joe O'Connor, director and co-founder of Toronto's Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence, told the BBC that even these companies are making adjustments in some cases.
"We're starting to see examples of law firms moving to four-day weeks by switching from billing by the hour to billing by project value, or by reducing their non-billable overheads so that their teams are more focused on client work," he said.
Rotating four-day workweeks could be a middle ground.
A year after taking over public relations and social media firm Kel & Partners as CEO in 2021, Julia McGovern ran a trial of a program she called "summer threedays."
The program gave employees three-day weekends every other week on a rotating basis. The schedule gave everyone more than two weeks of additional paid time off each year, but it ensured clients always have access to staff on a given weekday.
After polling her employees about the program, McGovern tells Best Life that she found 100 percent of them were happy with it. Eighty percent reported feeling more refreshed, and no one felt their productivity had suffered.
So, what's next?
If the way flexible, work-from-home policies caught on after the pandemic are any indication, the four-day workweek may soon start to be a realistic option for many U.S. workers.
As mentioned, Kickstarter—a Brooklyn, New York-based company that is a digital platform for crowd-funding campaigns—has already transitioned to a four-day workweek.
"The consensus is that the four-day work week has enabled us all to live brighter, fuller lives and has allowed us to return to work refreshed—every Monday brings great new stories about projects and experiences that our staff members have finally had the time to pursue," the company shares on their website. "In addition to benefiting us each individually, the four-day work week has also paid off for the company as a whole, through productivity gains that have resulted from staff finding smarter ways to work."
According to an article published in Diario AS in March 2023, others that have adopted a four-day workweek include social media software company Buffer and fin-tech company Bolt.