What It’s Really Like to Have a 4-Day Workweek

What It’s Really Like to Have a 4-Day Workweek

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Publish Date:
13 April, 2024
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To many people in corporate America, working five days a week—Monday to Friday, 9 to 5—feels as habitual as brushing their teeth. But it wasn’t always that way. In the late 1800s, a full-time manufacturing worker could easily spend 100 hours per week on the job. It wasn’t until around 1940, after a concerted push from labor unions, that the 40-hour workweek became standard in the U.S.

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Now, almost a century later, there’s growing momentum for an even more condensed schedule, with major companies—including Panasonic, Kickstarter, and the online thrift store ThredUp—trying out four-day workweeks. “We’ve all been working far too hard, and we’re missing out on life,” says Charlotte Lockhart, co-founder of 4 Day Week Global, a group pushing for shorter workweeks worldwide. “It’s affecting our health and our planet and our communities.”

Lockhart’s group advocates for what she calls the “100-80-100 rule”: workers hit 100% of their productivity targets in 80% as many hours, while earning 100% of their regular pay. For some companies, getting there is as simple as canceling some meetings and making better use of technology to free up time, while others need to completely overhaul their workflows and scheduling systems. But, Lockhart says, employers in fields ranging from hospitality to law enforcement have seen success with shortened schedules.

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Pilot studies in countries including the U.K., Spain, Portugal, and South Africa suggest that shorter workweeks can help employees reduce burnout, manage stress, get more sleep and exercise, spend additional quality time with loved ones, and feel all-around happier and healthier. Employers see perks, too, including lower rates of turnover and absenteeism. The study in Spain even tracked a drop in fuel emissions due to fewer commuting trips.

Additional trials are underway in countries including Germany, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. Much of the research on shorter workweeks, however, has been done by advocacy groups like Lockhart’s. Independent surveys, like one conducted by Gallup in 2022, sometimes show a more complex picture.

In the Gallup survey, people who worked four days a week were slightly more likely to report feeling burned out, compared to those with traditional schedules—potentially because they had to cram the same amount of work into less time. That result is in direct conflict with the results of pilot studies run by groups like 4 Day Week Global; in fact, Lockhart identified burnout reduction as one of the largest benefits of a condensed schedule.

Lawmakers in states including Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and California seem to be focusing on the positive, introducing bills that would encourage four-day workweeks or at least enable further research on them. Bernie Sanders, chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, has pushed for four-day weeks as well.

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It’s hardly a new phenomenon for people to want to work less, says Juliet Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College who studies working hours. But with growing support from employers and lawmakers, she believes a sea change is coming. “Pre-pandemic, it felt like something that would be great but was unrealistic,” Schor says. “Once the pandemic came, the thinking switched because people felt so beleaguered and stressed and burned out. It became common sense that we should do this.”

Companies that have already gotten on board have taken different approaches to implementing a shorter workweek. Some achieve the full 100-80-100 system, while others take more modest steps, such as asking employees to clock in for four 10-hour shifts per week or giving half days off. TIME spoke with employees at four companies trying out these schedules to learn more about the real-world effects of a shorter workweek—and if they’re as life-changing as the hype suggests.

Name: Ashya Majied Age: 37 Location: Cleveland, Ohio Job: Brand and marketing lead at Be Equitable, a company that partners with organizations to advance equity and inclusion in workplaces. Schedule: Monday to Thursday, with Fridays off for the entire company.

That very first Friday that we had off, I woke up and moseyed downstairs to make myself some tea. It happened to be a sunny day. I looked out the window, smiled, and thought, ‘I’m so happy. This is what the research was talking about. I get why this works.’ It makes me want to go harder the other days of the week to have this feeling on Friday.

Do I have to be really intentional about my time during the week? Yes. But everything can get done in four days. It always could.

Having a weekday to handle your business—to call the doctor’s office, to call the mortgage company, to clean the house—has been huge. This Friday, I’m going to get my nails done in the morning. Before, I would try to squeeze it in at lunch, because my nail tech only works during the week. Now, I don’t have to have that guilty feeling or work late to make up the time; I just schedule my appointments on Fridays. That peace of mind is priceless. I’m also Muslim, and the day we go to the mosque is Friday. The other major religions in our country are off on their important days, and now I am, too. Fridays off means I can better support my spiritual well-being, and I love that for me.

I really feel like I needed an extra day to rest. The state of the world, to me, feels like the weight of the world, and it takes a toll on me. The four-day workweek takes just a little of that weight off. It gives me a little bit of energy, a nice little boost in a world that is suffering.

I wouldn’t want to go back to working five days a week, but I would if I had to. To any role that you have, there are pros and cons. This is a really big pro.

Names: Greg and Kelsey Brown Ages: 36 and 33, respectively Location: Missoula, Mont. Jobs: Greg is the vice president of operations at Linehaul Logistics, a freight brokerage. Kelsey is a counselor at a public school. Schedules: The Browns, a married couple, both have four-day workweeks. At Greg’s company, employees have different days off (Greg’s is Friday) and work 10-hour shifts on the days they are scheduled. Kelsey’s school has a Monday to Thursday schedule for students, faculty, and staff. She works nine-hour shifts.

Kelsey: As mundane as it sounds, it’s nice that we get chores done on a Friday so we can enjoy the weekend fully. I also really look forward to working out for an hour on Fridays. I go to classes at Orangetheory Fitness. That small piece alone has helped my overall health and well-being. I also use my three-day weekends to catch up on sleep, because I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. to get to school on time when I’m working. Sometimes I think, ‘Man, it would be nice if I didn’t have to be at work until 8 or 8:30 a.m. like other schools,’ but I don’t think that in any way outweighs the other benefits of my schedule.

I do so much more with my personal time, compared to when I worked five days a week in previous jobs. By the end of the three days that I have off, instead of having the Sunday Scaries, I’m ready to go back because I feel refreshed and recovered. I believe it makes me better at my job, because I feel ready to go on Mondays. Before, it was like, ‘Holy smokes, where does the weekend go?’

It’s awesome that Greg and I are both on a four-day schedule, too. We spend that extra time together, or we will be spontaneous and go out of town.

Greg: It definitely helps with traveling with our daughter, too. We love to go camping, and it extends the camping weekends.

I don’t always take Fridays off because I’m a manager, and because I have to leave work early some weeks to meet my daughter at the bus stop after school. I feel bad taking the four days when I have to leave early, because I’m not doing my full 10-hour shifts.

When it’s someone’s day to be off, someone else has to cover for them. That’s hard, because you’re doing two jobs. It can be kind of stressful to be out, too, handing that baton off and making sure that when you get back it’s not all dented or destroyed. But when I can do it, taking Friday off gives me that extra time to decompress. It’s very common to work long hours and weekends in this industry, so having that extra time to myself 100% helps me manage stress.

As a manager, I’ve seen how this schedule helps my employees, too. I know that we’ve seen less turnover because of it. It’s easier to hire as well. We do have one person that does the five-day workweek voluntarily because she didn’t like a four-day schedule, but that is an outlier. Every single other person would not want to go back to five days. It can be hard to implement a four-day workweek and hard to keep it going, but it is definitely worth it.

Name: Siobhan Stewart Age: 36 Location: Richmond, Va. Job: Marketing communications manager at Pixite, a company that makes creative apps. Schedule: Monday to Friday afternoon, for a 4.5-day week.

A five-day schedule honestly feels arbitrary to me. It didn’t, and doesn’t, seem balanced. You’re supposed to be on top of your steps and drinking enough water and your social life and your mental health and self-care. How do you fit that into a five-day workweek? In previous jobs, I couldn’t in a way that felt restful. I’m also a writer, and that wasn’t something I had energy for when I worked five days a week.

Now that I’m on a 4.5-days-per-week schedule, I feel lighter. I feel happier. I don’t have the Sunday Scaries anymore, and I attribute that, in part, to feeling like I’ve had enough time to rest and recharge over the weekend. On a Friday afternoon I might read, work on my novel, journal, catch up on some chores, go on a walk with my husband, or just relax. We will do long weekends, take off and go somewhere. Even having an extra handful of hours, you feel like you have a little extra space. During the winter, getting outside for that extra daylight is also a big thing.

In general, if you are less stressed and overwhelmed and feeling better, I think you’re a better, more productive worker. That’s been the case for me. It’s hard to imagine leaving this job. Being a middle-class American means you have to trade your time for money, and when a company gives you time it’s almost like an existential gift—like you’re getting a chunk of your life back.