Four-day workweek gains traction despite setback
The long Labor Day weekend could become standard if the four-day work week catches on.
Many American businesses are experimenting with a shorter workweek due to concerns related to the pandemic, and legislation requiring a 32-hour workweek has been introduced in Congress.
“As we consider what work should look like beyond this pandemic, we need to find new ways to achieve harmony between our professions, our passions and our personal lives,” wrote Aziz Hasan, CEO of crowdfunding firm Kickstarter, in a statement. blog post. in July.
Starting next year, Kickstarter’s 90 full-time employees will work four eight-hour days as part of a pilot program.
Meanwhile, software and data firm Elephant Ventures, which has staff in New York and San Francisco, switched to a four-day, 40-hour workweek in November after completing a 90-day pilot last year.
Jonathan Cook, sales director for Elephant Ventures, said that having Fridays off allows him to catch up on the personal commitments he struggled to fulfill in the new normal pandemic.
“Previously, [I] I felt like I was always working or babysitting, including weekends, and now Friday is a good break, ”Cook said. “I think that longer work hours, for many people, myself included, have improved productivity by improving the meeting culture.”
August job postings that mentioned four-day workweeks increased about 75% (1,162 per 1 million compared to 657 per 1 million) from the same month in 2016, according to data from the employment website Indeed. The number of four-day workweek jobs posted last month was 16% higher than 1,003 jobs per million the previous year.
In late July, Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, introduced legislation that would reduce the standard workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours and allow nonexempt employees to record overtime for hours they work beyond that limit.
Boston College sociology professor Juliet B. Schor told CNBC that she believes the four-day workweek will become more popular due to a cultural shift. The pandemic, he said, highlighted overwork and exhaustion as mental health challenges.
Middle-class workers, many of whom had to balance work with child or parenting, would be the first to benefit, Schor said.
Uncharted, a Denver company that helps social impact startups, reported no decline in performance and less stress among employees when it switched to a four-day, 32-hour workweek last September. The company experimented with the shortest schedule from June to August 2020.
A shorter workweek could result in higher productivity, an equitable workplace and increased engagement, according to SpriggHR, a performance management platform. Disadvantages can include poor management and lower market competitiveness in some industries.
Talking about condensed workweeks has raised some concerns.
Allard Dembe, who has served as a professor of public health at Ohio State University and studied the health effects of working long hours, said he’s not convinced the four-day workweek benefits workers or businesses.
“The main problem with the idea is that any work that needs to be done needs to be done in the same total amount of time,” Dembe wrote in a 2019 OSU blog post.
“The math is simple: working five eight-hour shifts is equivalent to working four 10-hour shifts. That’s true. But the implications of these schedules are different, ”he said. “The danger is in ignoring the health effects that can occur as a result of fatigue and stress that accumulate over a longer-than-normal workday.”
Marc Effron, president of The Talent Strategy Group, said shorter work weeks are not more productive.
“Companies praised all self-reported employees happier, less stressed, and the same amount of productivity for shorter weeks,” Effron wrote in a TalentQ blog post last year. “But that means that the employees did not achieve anything else; they just did the exact same thing in less time. His shorter work did not improve anything for his clients, suppliers or shareholders ”.
Employers in other countries are testing the four-day work week.
Spain agreed to fund companies that attempt a 32-hour workweek without reducing employee pay, The Guardian reported in March.
In New Zealand, Unilever said in November that it would test a four-day work week for its 81 employees through December. The pay remains equal to five days, Reuters reported.
Microsoft Japan made headlines in 2019 when it experimented with a four-day work week and reported a 40% increase in productivity.
The five-day, 40-hour workweek has been the standard for less than 100 years. At the end of the 19th century, unions and organized trades began to demand eight-hour working days as they mobilized for better working conditions.
The idea gained traction in 1926 when Ford Motor Co. adopted a five-day, 40-hour workweek. In 1938, the federal government passed the Fair Labor Standards Act.