In 1940, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to limit the standard workweek to 40 hours, with all overtime hours eligible for overtime. Despite more than threefold increase in productivity since then, the 40-hour week has remained unchanged for 83 years.
But that may finally change. 2023 could well be the year of the four-day, 32-hour week.
During the first months of the year, Google searches for information on the four-day week increased fivefold. The media produced hundreds of articles on companies that offer 32-hour shifts. California and other states considered legislation to enact or consider a four-day week, and Riverside Rep. Mark Takano introduced a bill on the subject in Congress.
In Europe, national and regional governments have implemented four-day week pilot schemes, and the United Arab Emirates has shifted public sector employees to a four-and-a-half-day schedule. In February, we published the conclusions of the world’s largest four-day week trial without a pay cut, involving some 60 organizations in Britain across a range of sectors from public relations to healthcare to manufacturing. The results have been striking: employees and businesses using the new schedule are booming.
Why is working time reduction suddenly on the agenda after years of not being taken seriously? The most important reason is the pandemic.
Leaders of the first organization to be part of our research attributed their decision to the COVID-induced shift to remote working. Dr Adam Husney, chief executive of health information company Healthwise, explained: “Once we realized we could trust our employees with Or they work, we also realized we could trust them on how much time they work.”
Before the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about paying people for their output rather than their hours, but organizations honored the principle mostly in the breach. Once people are offsite, however, paying for productivity rather than time makes more sense, at least for employees who aren’t subject to draconian surveillance measures.
The pandemic has also accelerated the four-day week, creating much more difficulty for workers. While the work-life interface was difficult to navigate before COVID, the contagion itself and the complications of merging work and family life have resulted in record levels of stress. The latest study published by Future Forum, based on a 2022 survey, found that 42% of employees surveyed in the United States and five other countries said they were burnedan increase of 4 percentage points from just a year earlier.
Workers react with their feet. For Healthwise’s Husney, an exodus of staff in June 2021 provided the impetus for closing on Fridays. The labor market is not only experiencing the so-called Great Quit – a record number of people quitting their jobs – but also an extremely high number of vacancies. Organizations are struggling to retain workers and are scrambling to fill vacancies.
Raising salaries is not always enough, and not all organizations can afford it. Turnover is also extremely expensive. This is one of the reasons that much of the interest in the four-day work week has come from healthcare organizations, where burnout and quits among nurses have become rampant.
We also believe that a calmer evolution away from the five-day schedule is underway. Many organizations have already reduced summer hours by shortening or eliminating Friday hours. Meeting-free Fridays allowed more remote workers to take part of the day to themselves under the radar. We found that Friday morning classes at an exercise studio in our area have become very popular, thanks in part to people reporting being “at work”.
Our research suggests that the 4-day, 32-hour week isn’t just doable; It is better for workers and employers.
Working with non-profit organization 4 Day Week Global, we tracked what happens when companies go to reduced hours without a pay cut after a two-month process to determine how to maintain productivity and performance. . We have found that employee well-being has improved significantly. Of more than 100 companies with thousands of workers globally, nearly 70% have experienced reduced burnout rates.
The stress has dropped. Reported physical and mental health has improved. People felt less anxious and tired, exercised more and slept better. Their satisfaction with life increased and conflict between work, family and life dropped.
But it’s not just the workers who have benefited. On a 10-point scale, companies rated trial success at 8.5 or higher. Perhaps the most compelling metric is that most choose to continue with the shorter schedule. Only a handful of organizations that participated in the trials have returned to the five-day week.
Many will continue to oppose a shortened work schedule because it seems un-American or unprofitable. But we are discovering that modern challenges make the four-day workweek not only possible but better for workers, employers and society.
Juliet Schor is a professor of sociology and Wen Fan is an associate professor of sociology at Boston College.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.