While the heated debate about working remotely rages on, a new workplace disruptor is slowly emerging – the 4-day week.
Thanks to several large trials in the US, UK and Canada, it's a movement that's picking up speed, and some US states have already committed to cutting a day out of the working week.
We take a look at which states are switching to a 4-day week, and what it could mean for you.
The Rise of the 4-Day Work Week
The 5-day work week is common place now, but it wasn't until Henry Ford implemented it in his factories in 1926 that it gained traction, being codified into law in 1940. Now, nearly 100 years since Ford decided to shorten the work week for his employees, we're on the cusp of moving to a 4-day work week.
While the concept isn't new, there's certainly never been more conversation about it, as well as detailed research into the benefits of working a four day week. The results have been overwhelming, to say the least.
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In a recent Canadian trial, researchers found that revenue increased by 15%, and all 41 companies involved decided to continue with the approach after the trial had ended.
In a separate global study, companies reported that employees were happier, less burned out, and it was easier to attract new talent.
This explains why many companies have already switched to the 4-day week, including Shopify, Kickstarter and Basecamp.
Even Amazon and Microsoft have been experimenting with the shorter work week.
US States With, or Proposing, a 4-Day Work Week
In July 2023, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) put forward legislation that argued for a 32 hour week for Californians.
“I am introducing this legislation to reduce the standard workweek to 32 hours because – now more than ever – people continue to work longer hours while their pay remains stagnant.” – Rep Takano
Under the legislation, companies would need to compensate employees who worked over the proposed 32 hour threshold, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The bill is being reintroduced by Takano after an earlier attempt in 2021.
In April 2023, Rep. Josh Cutler (D-Duxbury) and Rep. Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth) filed legislation for a 4-day week pilot across Massachusetts, that would last for two years.
The voluntary program is intended to allow companies to offer employees a 4-day week, with no reduction in pay, in exchange for tax credit.
“This bill creates new incentives for Massachusetts businesses to explore shifting to a four-day work week which can offer a myriad of benefits, including boosting worker satisfaction and productivity, and reducing absenteeism and commuting time.” – Rep. Cutler
Missourians have a good shot of getting a 4-day work week…but only if they're a teacher. In August, the state announced that it was switching to a 4-day week for a third of its schools, affecting around 98,000 students.
The move has been made primarily with staff in mind, with 62% of teachers in the state leaving by their fifth year. It is hoped that the move will increase teacher retention, and some schools in the area have already reported a rise in the number of applications, as a direct result of the 4-day week.
The move is one that is being mirrored across other states in the US, in an attempt to retain staff.
Democratic Rep. G. Roni Green stated in August that she is looking to introduce 4-day week legislation in Pennsylvania, to enable workers more downtime, and allow them to focus on mental and physical health.
Green's planned legislation would see businesses with more than 500 employees reduce work hours from 40 to 32, without a reduction in staff pay.
Small businesses would be unaffected.
Like Missouri, Texas has been adopting a 4-day week for its students, if not the general working populace. Currently around 60 school districts in Texas operate a 4-day week, with similar logic to Missouri in that it aids teacher retention.
However, not everyone is onboard. In April, Republican senator Donna Campbell put forward a bill to mandate a 5-day week for Texas schools, stating “students cannot afford to lose any more precious hours of instructional time”. The bill drew considerable criticism from teacher's groups.
Before any Vermonters get too excited, we should say that the state has not made an official move to a 4-day week yet, but it's hard to ignore Vermont senator's, Bernie Sanders, passion for the concept.
He recently penned an opinion piece for the Guardian, where he rallied against corporate greed, and pushed for a 32 hour week. In the article, Sanders states that since the introduction of the 40-hour work week under the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1940, US workers have become 480% more productive, and that a shorter working week is long overdue.
“It’s time that working families were able to take advantage of the increased productivity that new technologies provide so that they can enjoy more leisure time, family time, educational and cultural opportunities – and less stress.” – Senator Bernie Sanders
Given Sanders' passion for the 4-day week, it's not to hard to imagine Vermont taking steps toward the 4-day week at some point in the near future.
States That Have Failed to Introduce a 4-Day Work Week
In 2022, Hawaii explored the prospect of a 4-day work week for state employees.
In the bill put forward by lawmakers, references are made to not only the mental and physical health benefits, but also the environmental impact, citing a diminished number of Friday commuters.
The proposal was not approved.
In January 2023, senators in Maryland proposed the ‘Four Day Work Week Act of 2023‘, designed to incentivize private and public employers to trial a reduced day week, and provide up to $750,000 in tax credits.
In March the proposal was pulled after concerns that it would not pass due to the associated costs, and concerns about ‘institutionalizing' the 32-hour week.
However, the bills sponsor, Del. Vaughn Stewart, has stated that he intends to try again in 2024, after sourcing more research.
Way back in 2008, Utah conducted a 4-day week experiment, although the terms were slightly different to the bills we see proposed today.
Instead of cutting from a 40-hour week to a 32-hour one, the pilot saw employees squeeze the 40-hour week into four 10 hour days.
The pilot ran until 2011, when it was closed due to not saving as much money as originally hoped.
Back in 2020, senator Joe Nguyen proposed a 4-day week for Washington. Under bill 6516, employees would be entitled to work four days instead of five, and those that worked over their 32 hours would be entitled to overtime, at a rate of at least 1.5 times their hourly rate.
The bill was very similar to those being proposed in 2023 by the likes of Maryland and California, although unfortunately, in this case, it didn't go anywhere.
4-Day Work Week Benefits
The four-day work week is possibly the most exciting way companies are trying to boost productivity and attract top talent in 2023. With promising results in some trials this could mean a win not just for wellbeing, but also for workplace inclusivity and diversity. Four-day weeks could allow more parents and carers to secure full-time jobs that work for them, and input on business strategy.
Given that we know a more diverse workforce is a more successful workforce, we certainly hope to see more trials and success stories across the 50 states, very soon.