Could a four-day work week work in the United States?
A four-day work week may sound impossible. But a new study out of the U.K. finds that employers love it.
“Employers are realizing that if they can rethink where people work, they can also rethink how many days are on the job,” Juliet Schor, a professor and economist at Boston College, says.
Workers were less stressed, less burned out and got to spend more time with their families.
And business didn’t suffer:
“In most cases they are as productive in four days as they are in five,” Schor, lead researcher on a four-day work week study, says.
15% of employees who participated in the study said “no amount of money” would convince them to go back to the five-day work week.
However, some people say a four-day work week wouldn’t work in the United States.
“It’s like trying to put less gas into a gas tank and expect to go the same distance, if not further,” Shawn Noratel, CEO of the advertising agency Liquified Creative, says.
Today, On Point: Testing out the idea of a four-day work week.
Juliet Schor, professor and economist in the Boston College Sociology Department. Lead researcher on the U.K. four-day work week study for 4 Day Week Global. (@JulietSchor)
- Find the U.K. study results here.
Matthew Bidwell, Xingmei Zhang and Yongge Dai professor and professor of management at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
Shawn Noratel, CEO of the advertising agency Liquified Creative. His company tried the four-day work week and said it didn’t work.
Claire Daniels, CEO of Trio Media, a digital marketing agency in Leeds, U.K.
Colleen Kelly, an employee at Trio Media.
Sam Smith, co-founder of Pressure Drop Brewing in London.
Brad Praught, an employee at Pressure Drop Brewing.
Jon Leland, chief strategy officer and head of sustainability at Kickstarter. The company has been doing a four-day work week since April 2022.
Bryan Tyner, employee at Kickstarter.
CHAKRABARTI: Five days, 40 hours a week. The conventional work schedule, though I know for many of you that’s not the schedule you work at all. You might do three twelves; you might do 60 hours over six days. You might not have the same schedule week to week because you’re gig working. So yes, how we work is pretty varied, but let’s accept that in many sectors that five-day, 40-hour work week is still pretty standard. After all, it is the basis of how we define full time employment. So is it time to do away with it all together? What would life be like if a normal workweek were only four days long?
COLLEEN KELLY: I’m just so grateful that being able to have like this extra day to do what I want to do and what I need to do.
BRAD PRAUGHT: That extra day during the week gives you a lot of time to do your errands, you know, doctor’s appointments, which are almost impossible to get, sometimes paying bills and all that sort of thing. I’m spending more time with my wife because I’ve got that extra day off. … Who could ask for more than that, really?
CHAKRABARTI: Colleen Kelly works at Trio Media, a digital marketing agency in Leeds in the United Kingdom. Brad Praught works at Pressure Drop Brewing, a brewery in London, and they’re workers at two companies who recently participated in a six-month study about the feasibility of a 32-hour workweek. And they both say working less actually made them more productive.
KELLY: I think it’s one of those things where if you get told you can do something in five days, you take five days to do it. And as soon as I was told I needed to do it all in four days, the same standard, I just became a whole bunch more productive.
PRAUGHT:You just got used to getting the work done in the time you had. Having that day off is just such an incentive that you kind of want to work a bit harder and just knowing that you’re going to savor that Friday off.
CHAKRABARTI: And Colleen says that being more productive meant having to increase organization and efficiency, which meant having to do things to reduce wasted time.
KELLY: The reduction of meetings to having a meeting about meetings, that’s completely stopped. We used to do that all the time.
CHAKRABARTI: I’m going to gently slide that across the table to management in my world. Now, 61 companies in the U.K. participated in the study over a six-month period, and as you heard, employees loved it. A sizable percentage of them even said that no amount of money would ever get them to go back to a five-day workweek. But what about their employers?
CLAIRE DANIELS: We performed 47% better financially than the previous year, compared in the same six months on the trial and also 33% better to the six months prior to the six months on the trial.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, that is Claire Daniels, the CEO of Trio Media, where employee Colleen Kelley works. Sam Smith is Brad Praught’s boss over at Pressure Drop Brewing. And Sam two said the curtailed workweek was actually better for his business.
SAM SMITH: You know, I’ve worked in office jobs where I felt like, you know, we can be working 60% of the time here if we just go home with it. And it’s not quite as easy as that in a production environment. But yeah, we felt like if we can prove it, that we can operate and stay afloat and everything, then we’ve contributed something to it. If you can improve people’s lives without any cost to your business, why the hell would you not do that? And that’s what we’ve done.
CHAKRABARTI: Now, this pilot project ended in December, but both companies Pressure Drop Brewery and Trio media say they are going to stick to the four-day workweek. And even more interesting, more than 90% of the companies in the study overall are sticking to that four-day workweek, too.
So today, we’re going to ask, obviously, there’s differences between the U.K. and the U.S., but could a four day or 32-hour workweek work here as well? Well, Juliet Schor is one of the lead researchers in the study. It was conducted by a group called 4 Day Week Global. She’s also a professor and economist at Boston College in the sociology department. So, Professor Schor, welcome to you.
JULIET SCHOR: Thanks. Happy to be here.
CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So first of all, how did you convince, what, 60 companies, 60 plus companies in the U.K. to even try this pilot?
SCHOR: There’s actually a lot of interest from employers right now. Pandemic really turbocharged it because they’re seeing burned out employees. They are seeing difficulty retaining employees, difficulty attracting employees. And the evidence base for the viability of the four-day week has really grown enormously. So we held info sessions and lots of companies came and signed up.
CHAKRABARTI: So it was a six-month period, as I said. And what were sort of the parameters around how you defined or how the pilot study defined what a four-day workweek was?
SCHOR: So the parameters were pretty simple. The companies were obligated to keep pay constant, so 100% of the pay, and they had to offer quote-unquote … meaningful reduction in work time. So a couple of them may have gone to like 35, 34. The vast majority went for the full day off, the 32-hour workweek. Very important for listeners. This is not a compressed workweek. It’s not four tens. It’s four eights. So 32 hours, that was pretty much it.
Now, we also offered two months of onboarding help. So workshops, webinars, coaching, peer support, mentoring, so the companies could figure out how to reorganize work so they could get as much done in four days as they did in five. It’s not just, okay, suddenly people don’t show up for a fifth day. It’s really an organizational reorg.
CHAKRABARTI: That’s quite important to note because I mean, you’re talking about a major change in not just the actual amount of work done, but the culture around that work as well on the systems that go around, go into organizing a workplace. We’re going to talk more about that in a minute.
But I’m really curious to hear you describe what kinds of companies participated, because, you know, my initial reaction in hearing a study like this is that … it works for sort of corporations or the kinds of jobs where there isn’t an expectation of a certain amount of things being produced every day. So what are the kinds of companies that participated here?
SCHOR: So one answer to that would be every kind. So we had fish and chip shop, you know, a brewery. We had manufacturing and construction. But most of them are in the white-collar world. So they’re professional services, nonprofits, banks, marketing and design, and of course, quite a few I.T. So it’s a big range, but it skews white collar.
CHAKRABARTI: Okay. Construction. That’s interesting. In a chip shop as well. That’s really interesting. Okay. We’ll come back to that. So give me your sort of top line takeaways we heard from employees that they loved it. To me, that’s not terribly surprising. I want to know more about what the employers said because it was very eye opening to see that 90% of the companies at the end of the pilot program decided to stick with this new schedule. So what were employers saying?
SCHOR: Yeah, there’s actually just a couple that are going off it. But we asked them to rate the trial on a 0 to 10 and they rated it an 8.5. And then we asked them to rate on productivity and performance, and that was about a 7.5 on both. … We have those metrics that the CEOs were talking about earlier. So we looked at revenue, we looked at absenteeism, we looked at people leaving. Attrition rates and so forth.
And those were all really positive. Not absolutely the same for every company, but overall extremely positive. So the lot of the employers said their productivity went up, not just remained the same. Which is interesting. It’s because they, number one, they change the way they work. They got rid of a lot of dysfunctional activity.
And also just that process of sort of stepping back and saying, okay, let’s just reevaluate what we’re doing, figuring out, you know, what low priority things are taking a lot of time or what do we need to devote more time to. So all that’s key.
And then on the other side of the ledger, we have phenomenal results for employee well-being across. You know, we can get into this, but across many metrics, employees are so much happier. They value their jobs more. They’re more engaged with them. They feel they are doing their work performance a lot better. So that also contributes to the bottom line.
CHAKRABARTI: Interesting. But again, the things that you highlighted earlier, revenue, I presume an increase in revenue is what the companies saw, reduction in absenteeism, reduction and resignation. … The reduction in absenteeism, resignation or having to train new hires, typically those are big drags on businesses, they don’t like all that turnover. And so this had a measurable effect in reducing all of that?
SCHOR: Yes. So that affects the bottom line, because losing employees is expensive and training and attracting new employees is expensive, particularly in the current environment, when a lot of companies are going with unfilled positions. So there are multiple ways in which a four-day week can actually affect the bottom line. So it can affect costs, it can affect productivity. Many people just think productivity, that’s the only thing.
But the costs are really key because there are growing costs associated with resignation and inability to attract employees. So those two things, we’ve been running trials for over a year now. And those two things I think are becoming more important in sort of driving companies to this innovation.
CHAKRABARTI: We’ve got 30 seconds before our first break here. You made an important point that this is not the first time that you and this group, the 4 Day Week Global have run these trials. But I understand this is the largest one to date.
SCHOR: This is the largest one to date.
CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So did it show you anything that the previous trials did not reveal or was it just on a larger scale?
SCHOR: Pretty much on a larger scale. And the cool thing about it is the first trials were largely U.S. companies.
CHAKRABARTI: Last week, we asked On Point listeners what you think about the idea of a four-day workweek, and you responded:
I currently work four days a week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I’m off on Thursday and I’m back to work on Friday.
I get to run errands, clean my house, walk my dogs. Sometimes get an extra day in for a trip.
The work life balance that it’s provided has been amazing. It’s made the last few years not only tolerable, but actually enjoyable.
So it’s been really wonderful.
I don’t think I could ever go back to working five days a week.
I recently looked at a job offer that was working five days a week, and that was actually the reason why I turned it down.
Just like as soon as you get off on Friday, you lay your head down and it’s back to work. Monday comes with the snap of a finger. At the end of the day, if you’re refreshed and ready to go, you have a better production out of anybody.
CHAKRABARTI: You just heard On Point listener Jason in Miami, Florida, Maya in Boston, Massachusetts, Lara in Greeley, Colorado, and Rachel in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
I’m joined today by Juliet Schor. … Professor Shaw, you said that you’ve done studies, similar studies here in the United States. Give me your honest assessment. This is verging into like too good to be true territory in terms of all the positive outcomes. Do you think that a four-day workweek is feasible here in the United States, or are there structural and even cultural differences that would make it more challenging here?
SCHOR: I do think a four-day week is feasible here. There are things that would have to be put in place for some companies and some kinds of industries. At the moment, there’s a wide range of industries primarily and white collar who can do it fairly easily, I think. Not necessarily every company within those industries. But it is viable. And we can talk about the more complicated industries. Health care being the one, the poster child for what would be difficult. Culturally I think that people overstate this idea that the U.S. is a workaholic nation.
We have to remember that we led the world in work time from the last quarter of the 19th century until work time reduction excuse me. We led the world in work time reduction, the first to get a 40-hour week, the first for a two-day weekend. So it’s not as if it’s something deep in our DNA. The one thing I would say also, and it’s part of why the U.K. trial has so been so large, is that the Labor government had come out in the shadow cabinet, had come out in favor of four-day week. There’d been a lot of campaigning and a lot of individual companies who’d done four-day weeks in the U.K. before this trial.
CHAKRABARTI: So there was sort of already a foundation of interest in the idea. So, Professor Schor, stand by for just a moment, because I want to introduce another voice into this conversation. Matthew Bidwell joins us. He’s a professor of management at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and he’s with us from Philadelphia. … Are you here to rain on our parade for Mr. Bidwell?
MATTHEW BIDWELL: Only a little. I mean, it’s definitely a fascinating study that’s been done. I think you’ve pointed out a lot of really, really positive implications of the four-day week. There are some things I’m a little bit skeptical about. I mean, I think my biggest concern is whether or not there’s a long run tradeoff between pay and hours worked. And so I think the study results really interesting that these companies managed to kind of maintain their revenues while cutting back on hours worked.
As Professor Schor said, you know, a lot of that seems to come from this idea that we can reevaluate work. In all of our organizations, lots of inefficiencies creep in. You know, we talk about meetings and all of these other things. And when you step back and say, okay, which of these things are wasting our time? Which of these things do we really need to be doing? You can drive out a lot of these inefficiencies, and it seems clear that this kind of move to a four-day week was really instrumental in enabling a lot of organizations to increase their productivity in that way. My concern is … so partly I think a lot of time inefficiencies start to creep back in. But more broadly, there’s a question of what organizations couldn’t do that anyway? And continue working five days and just be more productive and get more done. … And I also buy these arguments about burnout, but I think that at the end of the day, we do get more done in a five-day week … maybe not full 25% more, but a certain amount more in that five-day week.
And employers are generally willing to pay more for it. And so I think whereas in this in this pilot, there’s this kind of commitment, we’re going to continue to pay 100%. I’m not convinced that if we moved to kind of doing this across large numbers of organizations, that they would continue to do that.
CHAKRABARTI: Professor Bidwell, forgive me for interrupting there, but you’ve said two things that I want to just clarify and explore further and also get Professor Schor’s response on this. First of all, I heard you say pretty clearly that it was good that inefficiencies were driven out of work in this pilot study, like the getting rid of meetings about meetings, for example. Yeah, but why not do that anyway and make a five-day workweek just that much more productive? But then aren’t we measuring the outcome of work by the time spent at work versus the product or the service that those workers are supposed to be creating? I mean, it’s a different way of looking at what being at work means.
BIDWELL: I’m not sure that’s true. I mean, I think … if we drive out inefficiencies, we can get more done, so we can create more services, we can create more products in five days than we did before. And yeah, that’s the amount of time that we’re work goes up, gets done.
CHAKRABARTI: So basically you’re saying … work more efficiently across five days, so get more done. Well, I’ll let Professor Schor jump in on that, because it does seem I can understand the calculus of what Professor Bidwell is saying, but it also is a point of view that could potentially look at workers like an inexhaustible resource almost. Professor Schor, go ahead.
SCHOR: This is a common question from people either trained in economics, as I myself am, or, you know, sort of thinking of it from the employer side. And you know, the economist idea is that competition will force companies to get to that maximal efficiency. And Professor Bidwell very rightly notes that there are lots of inefficiencies. So then we ask why.
And I think what we have to understand here is that in part, employers don’t do this because those inefficiencies have a value to workers. By not being forced to work at maximal speed and maximal efficiency 40 hours a week. The economics term for it would be on the job leisure. So the simple I think response there is probably because they can’t. Because they’ll get pushback. But by giving employees something very valuable, they are willing to work in that new way. And that very valuable is the gift of that fifth day.
CHAKRABARTI: Professor Bidwell, I actually do wonder what you think about this, because again, I can see how the calculus of driving out in efficiency is the natural question as well. Why not do that across every available moment of a five-day workweek? But I think what Professor Schor is saying, we’re also dealing with human beings who can’t actually maintain that peak efficiency. It’s hard to do it across five full days. And the motivation is there because they know that they’re going to get that one day off.
BIDWELL: It is hard to do. I mean, I don’t think it’s just that the people want that on-the-job leisure. There’ve been lots of other attempts to do this, not around five-day work, not around the four-day workweek, but instead organizations just at various points realizing they need to get more efficient. We’ve seen it sometimes it’s Toyota production systems being one example of this workout system, even without this kind of big speed up. Often inefficiencies creep in. It’s kind of a matter often just of management focus. That actually taking the time … to step back and kind of think, what are we doing? That doesn’t make sense. Most of us just never get around to it.
And so I think you can see organizations do this even without that kind of added carrot. I think the question of kind of what the carrot is, it’s not just this is from the employee standpoint. There’s also this ultimate question of, you know, when employees get more done, they usually get paid more as well. And so is there going to be a tradeoff between working shorter hours and ultimately getting paid less?
SCHOR: So there may be in the long run, but notice also, I guess you’ve seen our study, but we asked what we call a willingness to pay question. So how much is this worth it to employees? And the answer is quite a lot. So if people would prefer to trade some income for time to get that four-day week schedule, even if there is slower wage growth going forward, because remember, there’s going to be productivity increase. There is going to be a wage, an upward wage profile for most of these workers. Isn’t that something we should welcome?
CHAKRABARTI: One more question for you, Professor Bidwell, and then I actually want to bring in someone who’s dealing with this question of the four-day workweek in their own business right now. But it suddenly occurs to me we are naturally gravitating towards this question of productivity. I’m looking at a ledger of cost and benefits of a four-day workweek, of course, we’re going to focus on why not make people more productive over five days.
But something that Professor Shaw had said earlier was basically they also found in their pilot study a reduction of certain costs that are a drag on businesses, you know, reduction in turnover, a reduction in burnout, reduction and having to train new workers. … I don’t know if the study was long enough, but potentially reduction in the number of sick days that workers take, things like that. Shouldn’t we be taking those factors into account when we look at the overall question of a business’s advantages when it comes to four versus, five-day workweeks?
BIDWELL: Definitely, definitely. And I think those issues about absenteeism and retention involve serious costs. I think the big question … I agree with Professor Schor. There’s this kind of potentially in the long run, some sort of tradeoff between wages and hours. And I think the risk is to the extent to which your wages do start to lag, because you’re working shorter hours, that also potentially leads to attrition.
And so I think this question of kind of are your employees actually going to want to work fewer hours and accept that in the long run there probably is some tradeoff with wages. You know, the data on that I think is less compelling that a lot of people actually would, I think, prefer to work more hours and get paid more.
SCHOR: Quick point. I lived in the Netherlands in the ’90s, and they went 15 years with pretty much stable wage, stable real wages and declining work hours. They had the highest productivity in Europe, and they also eventually got to about the lowest number of hours. That worked very, very well. But after about 15 years, there started to be some pressure because the wage gap between them and the Germans and the French started to grow. So, yes, in the long run, you know, maybe you can go too much in the direction of trading income for time. But, you know, you can always correct after a decade or so. I think we’re way too far in the other direction.
CHAKRABARTI: I do want to get a sense how it actually has worked or hasn’t worked on the ground. So Shawn Noratel joins us from Annapolis, Maryland. Shawn is the CEO of an advertising agency called Liquified Creative, and his company tried a four-day workweek for three summers beginning in 2020.
… So a four-day workweek for three summers for a couple for three years. Did it work? Did you see the same kind of benefits that Juliette Shaw found from her U.K. study?
NORAtEL: I know we initially hoped it would work. Like I said, we had done it for three years. We also took a lot of feedback from our employees with that whole entire process. But we did discover that there was increased burnout. Productivity actually went down based off of going through this procedure, this model for that three-year period. And we also gotten, like I said, a lot of feedback from our employees who did complain and said that they had difficulty in making this work for them specifically.
CHAKRABARTI: So what did they say led to the increased burnout?
NORATEL: It was the understanding of trying to be able to produce or do 40 hours within 32 hours, which, you know, is very difficult. And also we were working in a very collaborative environment. So you also have to … take those things into consideration. It may work for certain types of businesses, but specifically for small to midsize businesses. It’s very difficult to make this this type of amount of work.
CHAKRABARTI: Oh, I see. Okay. Because maybe there’s just already not as much or any slack in a in a small business, in terms of what employees are doing.
NORATEL: And we found other alternatives that we presented, and we still have for example, we have, you know, to work from home days still in place within the business. We also saw that there was impact with being able to do professional development, which we offer all of our employees for additional, you know, growth in the professional aspect of what they do.
CHAKRABARTI: Shawn, I’m wondering, you had said that you did this for three summers in a row. Is it possible that maybe it didn’t work because the experiment wasn’t allowed to go for long enough? That might take more than, I don’t know, three months to really settle into the new rhythm and practices of a four-day work week?
NORATEL: No, I think that the model that we did, the experiment that we did was actually very feasible. Like I said, you know, there was a lot of feedback from the from the individual employees, which was important. And like I said, it impacted their professional development, but also, you know, their productivity and also additional stress. And when we see that as an employer or a CEO, it’s important to really take that feedback from the employees and, you know, address that immediately and find other alternatives. You know, just like I think Professor Bidwell was saying, it’s like, you know, employers are more willing to pay more.
And also the retention of employees is really based off of not just the services and benefits that you’re able to offer an employee, but also that competitive pay and being a business that really bills based off of hours, the less hours you have to work with, the less money you can build out. And I would honestly rather, you know, give the money to the employees as opposed to, you know, lacking anywhere.
CHAKRABARTI: So that’s an important point that you just made … that your business is run via billable hours. So just the structure of how you make your revenue is quite different. But nevertheless, are you glad that you tried the experiment?
NORATEL: I am. Because, you know, like any businesses, you have to take some sort of risk and experiment to see what does work, what doesn’t work, especially when it comes to, you know, what’s important to the employees and really looking at what is best for their health, but also their professional growth.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, Shawn Noratel, CEO of Liquified Creative in Annapolis, Maryland, thank you so much for joining us. … Now, what’s interesting about Maryland, the reason why we reached out to a business owner there is because Maryland is a state that’s thinking about trying to get more companies to do a four-day workweek.
And so here is Maryland State delegate Vaughn Stewart, who introduced a bill earlier this year to incentivize companies to try out the 32 hour workweek. The idea is another pilot program where hours would be reduced for Maryland workers. But pay and benefits would remain the same and they would pull it off because companies that opt into the study in Maryland would get a tax credit from the state. So here is delegate Vaughn Stewart introducing the bill last month.
STEWART: People have said, well, why do we need a bill for this? Shouldn’t companies already be doing this, or shouldn’t we let the market work? A lot of companies are on the fence about that. So a lot of companies see what their peers are doing, and they see what the study suggests. But their inertia is a powerful force. They’re not sure they can make it work. They have questions. This bill is meant to be a gentle nudge in the direction doing this, because we think that doing this, according to all the research we do have available, presents a possible win-win-win for the state of Maryland.
It can benefit employees by giving them more time off. They can rest more. They can spend more time with their friends and family. It’s also a potential win for the employers in Maryland who can benefit from increased recruitment, retention and potentially productivity and profits. And finally, we think it’s going to be a win for Maryland as a whole, because workers that have shortened work weeks and have more time off are going to have more time to get back to their communities, get involved in their houses of worship, get involved with volunteerism, maybe even get politically involved as well.
CHAKRABARTI: So that is Maryland State Delegate Vaughn Stewart introducing a bill to try and get more companies to opt into a pilot study in Maryland about a 32 hour workweek. Professor Schor, how much interest is there or let me let me ask you this in a different way. How much has interest grown in the United States? And where about trying out a 32-hour workweek?
SCHOR: There’s been a tremendous increase in interest. There’s a bill that was just refiled in the U.S. Congress by Representative Mark Takano to lower the statutory workweek to 32. Their efforts in Massachusetts, there’s been a placeholder bill filed, I understand. Maryland, New York, where we are we’ve got a couple of legislators. And one thing I also want to say, it’s interesting, Shawn’s point. Most of the companies in our studies are small businesses. Actually, they are finding that this works.
CHAKRABARTI: So, Professor Bidwell … California as well, I think has also been trying to pass some legislation to encourage a 32-hour workweek. But, you know, I’m reading a white paper from the California Chamber of Commerce. And it’s really sort of the question is, how would the plans be enacted? Because the California chamber is saying, well, this is not a good idea for California businesses because the state, if it went through, would require replacement workers to cover the fifth day of work to maintain operations. Wondering what you think about that, Professor Bidwell.
BIDWELL: Yeah, I mean, I can understand why employers are not enthusiastic about it, because it’s I mean, it’s effectively in some sense a 20% wage rise. You can certainly call some of that back from efficiency improvements, but not a lot of it. I mean, this idea of pilots is a great idea. I’m all in favor of experimentation. But I think when you look at what you’ve done in U.K. and what’s happened with pilots and so on, these are companies that are volunteering. These are companies that say, We think this might work for us.
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