Apr 11, 2022 - Economy

California could blaze a path with a 4-day workweek

Illustration of four to-go coffees that read Mon, Tues, Wed, and Thurs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The California Legislature is considering a bill that would reduce the workweek to four days for companies with more than 500 employees.

Why it matters: Though the legislation is a long shot, calls to shorten the workweek — a perennial fantasy for cube dwellers, factory workers and others — have grown louder and more prevalent since the pandemic showed us what's possible in terms of alternative job arrangements.

  • On the federal level, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) introduced the 32-Hour Workweek Act last July, joined by other House progressives.
  • In the private sector, companies from Toshiba to Shake Shack, Kickstarter and Shopify have been giving the four-day workweek a go. (Here's a list of companies trying it.)
  • A nonprofit called 4 Day Week Global is trying to propagate the practice. "This year, 38 companies in the U.S. and Canada are taking part in the program, with most running from April 1 through September," per CNBC.

Driving the news: California's AB2932 "would change the definition of a workweek from the current 40 hours to 32 hours for companies with more than 500 employees, and require overtime pay for making employees work longer than four full days a week," the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

  • Proponents say it will boost worker productivity, work/life balance and mental and physical health.
  • Detractors say it'll be a financial disaster, with companies having to fork up for more overtime and hire more people.
  • Technically, companies could still make people report to work five days a week, but they would have to pay them extra after 32 hours on the clock.

The big picture: The four-day workweek has been catching on, although there are clearly places and settings where it will never fly.

  • Belgium just started a trial of a four-day workweek — with employees being given "the right to disconnect" by ignoring emails from their bosses, etc.
  • Other nations with shorter-workweek policies include Iceland, Japan, Scotland, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.

Private companies that have given it a whirl are finding it popular, perhaps not surprisingly.

  • Bolt, a fintech startup, just adopted a four-day week permanently after a three-month trial and says job applications have shot up 30%.
  • According to research by 4 Day Week Global: "63% of businesses found it easier to attract and retain talent with a 4 day work week."
Tweet from the CEO of Bolt about the 4-day workweek
Ryan Breslow is the CEO of Bolt. Screenshot: @theryanking/Twitter

What they're saying: "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," said Rep. Takano.

  • California Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, who co-introduced the California bill, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the legislation would make it easier for women to rejoin the workforce after taking a hiatus to raise children.

The other side: The California Chamber of Commerce calls the bill a "job killer," and economists and others have lined up to call it a bad idea — one that would shift jobs to neighboring states like Nevada and Oregon.

  • “This is terrifying,” Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University professor who studies work trends, told the Chronicle.
  • “If they introduce this, businesses will reduce employment through hiring freezes and layoffs and slash pay by canceling the next [five] years of pay increases."

The bottom line: While major legislation will be hard to pass, the practice is making selective inroads.

Go deeper