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Embracing the four-day workweek: A rising trend in American workplaces

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

According to a recent survey by ResumeBuilder.com, more than 50% of American employers either already offer or are planning to initiate a four-day workweek. The survey, involving 976 business leaders, revealed that 20% have already implemented this system while 41% have plans to introduce it, at least on an experimental basis.


Over the years, American businesses have tested the concept of a four-day workweek, typically in response to economic downturns. However, the idea has become more popular recently. If a four-day week becomes the norm, it would be the most significant change to the national work schedule since the five-day workweek was introduced by Henry Ford in 1926.

However, it's worth noting that the biggest transformation in the American workplace, particularly in the last three years, has been the shift to remote work, a trend that became prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Supporters of the four-day workweek argue that it's possible for companies to reduce the work week by one day without impacting productivity levels. For example, a trial in Iceland during the 2010s showed positive outcomes, including decreased stress, reduced work-family conflicts, and increased energy levels, without negatively affecting productivity.


Similarly, another trial in the United Kingdom revealed an improvement in job satisfaction, work-life balance, product quality, customer service, and a reduction in stress, sick days and absences.


However, history has shown that cramming five days of work into four might not be as straightforward. In 1993, Volkswagen initiated a four-day workweek, but with shorter hours and reduced pay. Many workers didn't perceive a significant reduction in work time.


Iwan Barankay, an associate professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, noted that workers were still under pressure to complete their tasks, often doing so in their own time. With half of America's office work now being done from home, Barankay believes a four-day week might increase this pressure.


A UK trial indicated that reducing the workweek forced companies to scrutinize how employees spent their time. Interestingly, the most significant drain on productivity wasn't leisure activities, but rather meetings. To improve productivity in a shortened workweek, experts suggest reducing the frequency and duration of meetings.


The concept of a four-day workweek is generally popular among workers. A Washington Post-Ipsos poll indicated that 75% of people would prefer to work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days. However, some argue for an eight-hour day over four days, asserting that productivity would remain the same despite the reduction in hours. The same group suggests workers should earn the same pay for a four-day week as they would in a five-day week.


Yet, while some companies in the US have warmed up to the idea of a four-day workweek, the five-day workweek remains the standard. The results from the ResumeBuilder survey suggest that about three in 10 US employers will offer a four-day workweek by the end of the year.


Firms that have adopted this model generally apply it to most, but not all, employees based on factors like location, responsibility, performance, among others. Moreover, while some businesses expect employees to work the same hours over four days as they would over five, this approach has met resistance from labor leaders concerned about extended working hours.


Legislators in several US states have proposed the introduction of four-day or 32-hour workweeks. However, significant changes to the American workweek are historically slow. The last major amendment was made in 1940, which reduced the standard workweek to 40 hours from the initial 44 hours introduced in 1938.

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