US Businesses Still Unready To Adopt 4-Day Workweek

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The pandemic could lead to increased working hours
The pandemic could lead to increased working hours

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped people to reimagine the workplace. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that shortening the workweek helps with productivity, profitability, and employee mood. Still, the U.S. has yet to accept these benefits because of the “workaholic” culture that has defined its workforce for decades.

Research from 4-Day Week Global shows that some ‌benefits include more productive employees, deeper customer engagement, and improved employee health. The results also found that 78% of employees were happier and less stressed and 63% of the companies had higher talent attraction and retention when adopting a four-day workweek. Most workplaces also reported no change in or higher profits when comparing a full work week to a four-day week or shortened/more flexible hours.

Despite these reported benefits, Axios found that on Indeed.com in January there were just 1,700 job listings per one million advertising a four-day workweek. While the U.S. is hesitant to accept the shortened workweek as the norm, a bill sponsored by California Congressperson Mark Takano (D-Calif.) could change that. The bill looks to alter the number of working week hours from 40 to 32 and it is growing in popularity among progressive Democrats.

4-Day Week Global, a business-to-business service based in New Zealand, has helped companies transition to the shorter workdays or the hours per week model and found that “the four-day workweek has proven to deliver as much, if not more, productivity [compared to a five-day work week] while improving lives: individuals, families, and entire communities.”

A U.K. survey ‌by VoucherCloud also found that “the average U.K. office worker is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes out of the working day,” attributing the results to distractions like social media. Another explanation could be that the longer the work hours and the more workdays there are, the more downtime people need in their day-to-day lives to avoid burnout.

Working longer hours over more days is an outdated model, and there is no real recent evidence to suggest that a five-day workweek improves a company’s profits or results. Around the world, companies have been implementing a shorter workweek with some impressive results.

MRL Consulting Group, based in England, found that with a four-day workweek not only did productivity increase by 25%, but over 87% of its employees also “reported a marked improvement in their mental health and reduction in workplace stress, with a further 95% saying they feel more rested after the three-day weekend. Short-term absence has also reduced by almost 40%.”

After trialing a four-day workweek or reduced/flexible working hours in Iceland, and seeing the success, “86% of Iceland’s entire working population has now either moved to work shorter hours or has gained the right to shorten their working hours," per Axios

YLAW, P.C., a law firm based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, found that after one month of working with four-day weeks, profits increased by 10%. After three months, its profits increased by over 30%. That is not just because they reduced their number of working days, it is also because the four-day workweek choice incentivized many applicants to apply.

The model may not be a fix-all solution for all though, as not every person or position could benefit from working fewer hours or days per week. It depends on the person, the company, and how these measures are implemented and are not defined in terms of complete success or absolute failure. There are also multiple other factors that need to be considered, like time of year, the amount of pay and paid time off or vacation policies, services offered, the number of employees, and the structure of a company. 

However, the sheer number of articles and think pieces about transitioning to a shorter workweek have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic.

A survey from Cisco found that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people think about work and what they want. The preference is largely transitioning to work-from-home or hybrid models, with only 19% of people expressing a desire to return to the office three or more days a week compared to 63% before the pandemic.

"After a nearly two-year-long pandemic that forced millions of people to explore remote work options, it’s safe to say that we can’t – and shouldn’t – simply go back to normal, because normal wasn’t working," Rep. Takano said about the Congressional Progressive Caucus' (CPC) endorsement of his bill in December, which would change the length of the current U.S. workweek.

Takano continued, "People were spending more time at work, less time with loved ones, their health and well-being was worsening, and all the while, their pay has remained stagnant. This is a serious problem. It’s time for progress..."

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