Oct 3, 2022 - Economy

Pandemic puts new momentum behind 4-day workweek

Illustration of a lawnmower cutting grass as the day turns to night and back.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

More companies are testing shorter workweeks, as employers grapple with widespread worker burnout amid the tight labor market.

Why it matters: While four-day workweeks are nowhere close to becoming the norm, the pandemic has put new momentum behind the idea.

Driving the news: Starting today, 28 more companies in the U.S. and Canada will begin a six-month pilot of shortened workweeks in partnership with nonprofit group 4 Day Week Global.

  • The companies, which include Search Engine Journal and Sensei Labs Inc., collectively employ over 4,000 people. There are currently about 150 other firms in the U.K., Australasia region and Ireland also testing the shortened workweek.

Where it stands: Not all companies are putting in place a 32-hour week. While most people in the pilot are working 80% of their previous hours for the same pay, some companies are reducing hours less aggressively with half-day Fridays or four slightly longer days, according to 4 Day Week Global.

  • Early results from trials in Britain show that some of the companies giving employees one day off are likely to consider continuing the policy.

What they're saying: A four-day workweek has emerged as a new way to attract talent during the pandemic as people started to place greater value on their personal time, Hazel Gavigan, global campaigns and activation officer at 4 Day Week Global, tells Axios.

  • Gavigan notes that two months after Atom bank in the U.K. moved to a four-day week model where salaries remain unchanged, there was a 500% uptick in job applications for open roles. Atom bank says "staff surveys are also showing employees feel less stress and look forward to work each day with the change in working practice."
  • Four-day workweeks will eventually become the norm "one way or the other," she says.

Yes, but: Some industries will not be able to implement four-day work weeks as easily as others.

  • Companies with high operating costs, like manufacturing and services, would have to hire more people to make up for open shifts, which would increase costs if salaries remain unchanged.

The big picture: The pandemic pushed burnout beyond crisis levels for health care workers, led essential workers to be more likely to be diagnosed with mental health disorders, created the Great Resignation and new conversations about saying no to excess work in the form of "quiet quitting."

  • At the same time, employers have had to contend with the realization that workers can produce the same amount of work (if not more) in a remote world and that workers will band together to protest pre-pandemic expectations such as daily office commutes.

What to watch: After a widely covered experiment in Iceland ended, workers ended up with only a few minutes shaved off of their weekly shifts.

  • The Japanese government last year proposed new recommendations for companies to offer workers a four-day week and many large firms are starting to sign on.
  • In Spain, Telefónica employees have been given an option to work 14.7% fewer hours a week with 12% reduced salaries in a pilot.

Our thought bubble: Ultimately, the question is an even larger one — Do we as a society still want to center our lives around work, or do we want to have ambitions that are greater than just productivity?

(Editor's note: This article was corrected to show most (not all) people in the pilot are working 80% of their previous hours, after 4 Day Week Global revised their statement.)

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