The 4-Day Workweek: Its Implications and Possibilities

The typical work week consists of five days or more and a minimum of 40 hours per week. People are used to the standard workweek, but is it the best approach to a happy and successful life.

From grade school all the way through retirement, people are groomed to believe that work is the primary purpose of life. Whether pursuing education or professional development, work and labor are engrained in the psyche as expected and normal behavior.

No one is arguing the necessity of work when they discuss a four-day workweek. Instead, proponents are arguing for a greater work-life balance. 

The Advantages of a Shorter Workweek

What do proponents of a shorter workweek mean when they suggest a four-day week. Ideally, the shorter week would consist of a 32-hour week and no loss in productivity. The extra day off would provide employees with time to pursue other interests, manage their lives, or simply spend more time with loved ones.

In recent years, dissatisfaction with the work-life balance has become clear. The rise in digital communication means that even when employees are off the clock, employers can still reach them, especially those who do not understand boundaries. The increase in contact and the evolving demands of everyday life lead to increased burnout, lack of focus, and less productivity.

The Evolution of Working Less

There is a prevalent assumption and stigma that people who argue for a four-day workweek are somehow less committed to productivity, lazy, and just looking for some extra time to waste. However, arguing for a shorter week has occurred in the past.

Believe it or not, a six-day workweek used to be the norm until the industrial revolution and a push from industry leaders like the Ford Motor Co. The company began experimenting with the five-day workweek in 1926, making it a policy the same year.

In 1938, the federal government enacted the Federal Labor Standards Act that mandated a 44-hour week with minimum wage standards and overtime pay. The law evolved over several years until settling on the 40-week in 1940.

The Four-Day Workweek Experiment

It took another 50 years before anyone started arguing for hourly changes. In the 90s, some companies experimented with the four-day week. In the early aughts, Spanish Fork City, Utah, implemented a 4/10 schedule for city employees, which lasted until 2011. 

While the four-day workweek is not standard practice, it is not a new idea, and it is not based on laziness. Several studies suggest that employees can become less productive and experience burnout when working over a specific number of weekly hours.

Four-Day Workweek as National Policy

The pandemic has forced many countries and industries to reconsider the happiness and well-being of their employees. While there is not enough support for a 32-hour week in the U.S. to make it law, other countries are closer to its adoption — Japan recently recommended the change as a national policy.

Adopting such a shift in labor laws is not without its complications, but it is not the first time companies and the federal government have come together to change labor standards. If companies can get on board with emphasizing results over hours worked, a shorter workweek might be possible and actionable.

The past few years have shown a need to focus on mental and physical well-being, finding a healthy work-life balance needs to be part of current national discussions. Who knows for sure how labor laws will evolve in the next few years? Perhaps a standardized four-day workweek is somewhere on the horizon. What do you think?