For Darcy Peters, Fridays are a day to run errands, have an impromptu adventure with her family or binge-watch her favorite shows. “I am extremely grateful for the time and mental space that day off gives me,” she says.
Peters enjoys this extra day off because her employer, the social media management platform Buffer, permanently adopted a four-day workweek after two successful trials in 2020. “Initially, I thought of that Friday as a workday I was taking off and felt like I had to get work done regardless,” Peters adds. “But now it’s a normal part of my three-day weekend routine—a built-in pause that gives me space to reflect and think beyond a to-do list.”
If Peters’ experience sounds too good to be true, it’s not. More and more businesses are starting to experiment with a four-day workweek model.
The Power of Four
The idea of having a four-day workweek isn’t new. In fact, experiments with flexible, reduced hours have been taking place since at least the 1990s. But since COVID-19 has revealed that a different way of working is possible—and with employees not eager to return to rigid pre-pandemic work schedules—the four-day model has been gaining momentum.
“Many employees have appreciated the flexibility they’ve experienced because of the pandemic,” says career coach Gala Jackson.“It’s something they don’t want to give up, nor should they have to.”
As of February 2022, it is estimated that more than 100 companies have permanently adopted this structure or are trying it out—including Berlin-based Awin, fintech company Bolt, startup Bit.io and the U.K.’s Encore.
To test the viability of a shorter workweek, 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the future of work and workplace well-being, recently launched a pilot program in which 37 North American companies and more than 20 companies around the world are participating.
Scotland, Spain and Iceland are also at the forefront of this movement. Scotland has started a four-day workweek trial in which employee hours have been reduced by 20% but their compensation remains the same. The Spanish government is testing a 32-hour workweek over a three-year period. And Iceland tried 35- to 36-hour workweeks between 2015 and 2019 and, due to stellar results, now allows nearly 90% of its working population to have reduced hours.
How It Works
This model isn’t just a reshuffling of 40 hours a week into four days (though some companies have tried that, including Elephant Ventures, a New York-based software company, which allowed employees to work four, 10-hour days). It’s typically a reduction in the number of hours worked for the same amount of pay.
Many companies getting involved are trying 32 hours, with everyone working Monday through Thursday and then taking Fridays off. Others are letting employees choose their extra day off, like Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
“This is not a one-size-fits-all model,” says Joe O’Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global. “Each company designs the structure to fit its employee needs and business needs.”
Why It Matters
Put simply, a two-day weekend is not enough. We need more time to recharge, which is especially hard to do when we’re also trying to squeeze in grocery shopping, running errands, caring for children, doing laundry and attending to other tasks we didn’t have time to do during the long, tiring workweek.
It’s no wonder that, according to a survey by Indeed, employee burnout is on the rise, with more than half of employees saying they experienced burnout in 2021, compared to 43% pre-COVID. A four-day workweek is a chance to improve productivity, reduce stress and increase overall job satisfaction—all while giving employees a chance to achieve a better work-life balance.
Research by 4 Day Week Global has revealed that 78% of employees with four-day workweeks are happier and less stressed. A 2019 summer program conducted by Microsoft Japan, which gave 2,300 employees the opportunity to work flexible hours, found that there was a 40% gain in productivity. And the four-day workweek trials at Buffer, where Peters works, resulted in a better sense of work-life balance with 91% of the team agreeing or strongly agreeing they are happier and more productive.
“The four-day workweek is a reduced-hour productivity model,” O’Connor says. “Companies must measure their outputs in more sophisticated ways, and the four-day model is a great way to do that.”
Furthermore, offering a four-day workweek has become a critical strategy in the battle to attract and retain talent at a time when other flexible options have become the norm.
Is It the Future of Work?
While the four-day workweek is becoming more popular, it’s easy to be skeptical of its widespread adoption. But the tide is turning. Rep. Mark Takano of California recently introduced legislation that would reduce the workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours, citing the benefits for both businesses and employees.
And with the rise of the gig economy, pandemic-related soul searching and the breakneck digital advancements of the past two decades, the way we work is due for an upgrade.
Millie content is licensed from Dotdash Meredith, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle, Investopedia, The Balance and more.
Deidre Huntington is a writer and digital nomad who also runs her own strategic communications business. She is currently based in the Washington, D.C., area and is passionate about helping women find their own path to joy and success.