The four-day workweek is getting a try out in the UK. Dozens of British companies have volunteered to take part in a pilot program offering four-day work weeks for employees. The six-month trial will include 30 firms that have agreed to allow staff to work up to 32 hours per week without cutting their wages or benefits.
Some firms taking part in the pilot could ask employees to spread out the 32 hours over a period of five days, according to Bloomberg. “Moving to a four-day week would be a win-win for companies,” Joe Ryle, director of the Four Day Week Campaign in the UK, told Bloomberg.
“Studies have shown that productivity improves along with corresponding gains in workers’ well-being.” Similar trials have taken place in other countries, including Spain, New Zealand, and Iceland. More are scheduled to run in Canada and Australia. A four-year trial conducted by the Icelandic government and the city of Reykjavik found that four-day workweeks lead to maintained or increased productivity. Last summer, the Icelandic government said that an overwhelming majority of the country’s workforce — 86% — “are now working shorter hours or gaining the right to shorten their hours.” “Worker wellbeing dramatically increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout to health and work-life balance,” the summary continued, adding that revenue “remained neutral” throughout the trials.
Similar results in its own trials moved the Spanish government to offer grants in order to encourage companies to shorten working hours without a cut in pay.
The idea of a four-day work week appears to be gaining popularity in the United States. Last month, a group of Democratic lawmakers in Congress introduced a bill that would shorten the standard work week from 40 hours to 32 hours. If the bill becomes law, it would require employers to pay overtime to workers who exceed 32 hours per work week. “It is past time that we put people and communities over corporations and their profits — finally prioritizing the health, wellbeing, and basic human dignity of the working class rather than their employers’ bottom line,” co-sponsor House Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington State, said. “The 32-hour work week would go a long way toward finally righting that balance.”
Some US companies aren’t waiting for the go-ahead from Congress. Instead, they’ve adopted a permanent, four-day, 32-hour work week on their own. Bolt, the San Francisco-based e-commerce firm, instituted a permanent four-day work week for employees last fall.
Ryan Breslow, the firm’s CEO, told CNBC earlier this month that employees are happier, more efficient, and more productive. “I couldn’t imagine running a company any other way,” he said. Supporters of the four-day work week hope that more companies will adopt the model as a way to retain talent — particularly in the wake of “the Great Resignation,” during which millions of Americans have left their jobs.
But employers and economists aren’t so thrilled with the idea of a four-day work week, saying that it will only benefit white-collar workers. Dan Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, said that blue-collar workers, whose pay has been in decline, choose to work longer hours in order to make ends meet. “It’s very easy for folks sitting back in their chairs to say, ‘Yes, you need to be on a part-time schedule, or a four-day, 32-hour schedule,’ without thinking about the extent to which such folks want the income and are willing to put up with the hard hours,” Hamermesh told The Atlantic. “That’s what bothers me most about this discussion, frankly. It’s very much a bunch of well-to-do folks telling others how much they should work.”