In an age of constantly evolving technology and culture, some argue it’s time to retire from the five day, 40 hour workweek. In recent years, the four day workweek has been trialed across the globe, producing largely positive results.
The concept of a reduced workweek is not a new phenomenon. In the 18th and 19th centuries, after the Industrial Revolution had, well, revolutionized our ability to work and produce goods, it was common for workers to clock 60 to 70 hours a week. Our current five day, 40 hour model was first introduced in the early 1900s and codified into law with the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. The act was introduced in response to the Great Depression, formalizing the 44 hour workweek — later amended to 40 hour — requiring overtime pay for employees working over 40 hours per week.
Proponents of the four day workweek suggest it’s long past time for a change in how we live and work. The four day workweek is being trialed by companies across the world, and while initial reception from the public is positive, it’s important to delve into these pilot programs and explore what the data is telling us.
One of the difficulties in four day workweek trials is the lack of set definition for what a four day workweek looks like. Generally, four day workweek trials explore one of two options: the compressed workweek and the fixed workweek.
In the compressed workweek model, employees will typically work a four-40 system — working a full 40 hours during a four day period. The compressed workweek has been utilized in a variety of private sector jobs, including some UW-Madison positions. Meta-analyses have shown compressed workweeks allow for an improved work-life balance. While this may be true, some compressed schedules, such as the three day weeks with 12 hour days often found in nursing, have been shown to increase fatigue among shift workers.
In fixed workweek schedules, employees work four days per week, eight hours a day without a reduction in pay. This system is currently being tested by the 4 Day Week Global Foundation (4DGW), a not-for-profit dedicated to the study of four day workweek programs. 4DGW launched a study with 33 participating companies and a total of 969 employees in 2021.
So, what does the research say about the four day workweek?
For employees, these trials were an overwhelming success. Employees reported decreased feelings of stress, anxiety and burnout following the trial, the study reports. Employees also saw decreased levels of fatigue as well as a noticeable decrease in insomnia.
Additionally, this change caused significant positive effects on employees' work-life balance, helping them balance family and household responsibilities with work. Most participants used their extra day off to engage in their hobbies, spend time with friends and family or perform routine housework, according to the study.
This study also highlighted that employers benefit from a four day workweek as well. Initial findings suggest implementation of the four day workweek reduced employee turnover and may have kept employees from leaving their companies. Employers saw a 22% increase in productivity from their employees as well.
Employers ultimately reported that the four day workweek had a positive impact on productivity and performance, and over 90% of participants plan to continue using the four day workweek in place of the previous model.
While these initial findings are positive, research is still underway.
In Wisconsin, employers such as Capri Communities, a senior living facility in Waukesha, are testing the four day workweek with help from government grants.