Our nearly century-long love affair with the five-day workweek is over. Countries worldwide piloted programs, funded studies, and polled citizens about reducing standard work days from five to four, discovering that over 90% of employees would prefer working four days per week if given the opportunity.
Why Do We Have a Five-Day Work Week in the First Place?
The five-day workweek took hold in the United States amid the Great Depression. Signed into law in 1938 with the Fair Labor Standards Act, it ushered in a new standard of wellness for American workers.
Though designed to reduce layoffs, the act offered workers more stability, better working conditions, and more free time.
It became part of our culture, helping create the ideal image of the American family, where dad would work from nine to five with nights and weekends dedicated to leisure and family.
As Society Shifts, Workers Demand Change
The five-day workweek enriched workers’ lives and became the gold standard for work culture, but after 85 years, many think it’s time to move on.
A recent study by Resume Genius found that nearly 99% of participants liked the idea of the four-day workweek, and 81% supported its implementation.
Those who like the idea, but don’t support it, expressed concerns about its practicality.
Employers rank as the most resistant to four-day work weeks. They were 50% more likely to say four-day work weeks weren’t feasible than workers, highlighting the disconnect between workers and employers on this hotly debated topic.
Some workers also expressed concern over four-day work weeks, citing increased stress as the top limitation. Workers worry that shorter weeks will make completing all their work challenging, increasing pressure and burnout rather than alleviating it.
However, most workers support the idea despite this potential limitation.
Pilot Programs Highlight Benefits of Four Day Work Week
The four-day workweek is no longer a lofty goal, resigned to daydreamers and idealists. Pilot programs seeking to determine feasibility yielded spectacular results for companies and workers.
The United Kingdom ran one of the most extensive four-day workweek trials ever conducted from June through December 2022. Nearly 3000 employees across 60 companies participated in the trial, and the majority loved it.
Over 90% of the participating companies continued with four-day work weeks in some capacity. Some decided to expand the trial, while 18 companies saw enough improvement to implement the change permanently.
A smaller trial in the US yielded similar results. A 2022 study conducted by 4 Day Work Week Global included 33 companies, the majority hailing from the US and Ireland, 27 of which completed the trial and responded to survey questions. Most companies reported improved productivity and overall company performance, while revenue rose over 8%.
Employees loved the trial as well. 96% of participants said they wanted to continue working four days a week. They reported increased productivity, less burnout, and improved work-life balance. Reducing work hours improved the quality of life for most participants.
Employers Remain Skeptical
Employers are more likely than workers to say implementing a four-day workweek is impractical. Some research indicates that a shorter workweek will reduce shift coverage, increase employee fatigue, and escalate employee disengagement.
A Gallup poll found that employee disengagement is higher in workplaces with a four-day workweek than those with a full five-day schedule.
Some of the discrepancies arise from varying definitions of the four-day workweek. The Gallup poll only included employees who work over 35 hours per week, and many of the negative findings came from companies with compressed schedules, where employees still work 40 hours but over four days rather than five.
The four-day workweek pilots sought to reduce total work time by 80% without lowering pay rather than compressing a full work schedule into four days.
Is the Four-Day Work Week the Future?
Despite employer trepidation, the four-day workweek is widely popular among the public. A recent Newsweek poll found that 71% of respondents support the idea, while only 4% oppose it entirely. Qualtrics conducted a study in early 2022, finding that 92% of employees support a four-day workweek.
The idea is gaining traction in the political world as well. Representative Mark Takano (D – Calif) introduced a bill in February to shorten the standard work week to 32 hours from the current 40. The eight-hour-per-week reduction would lend itself well to a four-day, eight-hour-per-day standard work week.
However, the bill has far to go before becoming law, and it’s unlikely to make it through even the first step in today’s Congress. The Hill reported that the bill would need to pass through House Education and Workforce Committee before a vote, but the chairman doesn’t seem willing to promote it.
Despite the likelihood that this bill will fail, a four-day workweek remains popular. Companies may continue offering reduced schedules to boost productivity and attract top talent, and the government may eventually catch up.
We don’t know what the future of work holds, but we know the increasingly popular four-day workweek is here to stay, at least in most companies that have tried it.
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
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