Will UK Trial’s Positive Results Usher in Four-Day Workweek?
Workspan Daily
March 08, 2023
Key Takeaways

  • Optimism amid positive results of study. Companies participating in the UK four-day, 32-hour workweek trial were optimistic about the experience as 56 of the 61 companies were willing to continue testing it, and 18 businesses were ready to adopt it full-time.  
  • California is proposing a four-day workweek bill in 2023. The bill proposes shortening the workweek from 40 to 32 hours without reducing pay. 
  • Business owners in the United States have varying viewpoints on the topic. Some want employees back in the office 5 days per week, while others are comfortable adopting flexible work schedules.  

One of the most extensive trials of a four-day workweek received overwhelmingly positive feedback.  

The study, which concluded in the United Kingdom in February, had 61 companies switch almost 3,000 employees to a four-day, 32-hour workweek without reducing pay. After the study, 56 of the 61 companies wanted to continue testing the four-day week, while 18 companies were ready to make it a permanent change. Further, 15% of employees who participated said no amount of money would convince them to go back to working five days per week.  

But will it be embraced in other countries such as the United States? 

The four-day workweek has been a topic of discussion for years, and now companies are experimenting to see if it’s a realistic option. France has had a four-day, 35-hour workweek since 2000. 

The U.S. Landscape  

In the U.S., the five, eight-hour day workweek has been the standard for 85 years. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which was passed in 1938, mandated overtime pay for most workers putting in more than 40 hours per week. Before the FLSA, most employees worked a six-day week with few receiving overtime pay for more than 40 hours. 

The U.S. has joined the current conversation with legislation being proposed in two states. California is again proposing a four-day workweek bill, AB 2932. This bill didn’t pass in 2022 for various reasons. However, the Democratic-controlled California legislature is trying again.  

AB 2932 would shorten the workweek to 32 hours for full-time employees at private-sector companies with 500-plus employees. Some other details include employees taking Friday off, receiving 1.5 times their regular pay for working more than 32 hours per week, and two times their income for working more than 12 hours per day. 

Maryland lawmakers also proposed a bill providing tax-break incentives for employers that switch to a 32-hour workweek for up to two years.  

Whether the bills pass in California or Maryland, some organizations are already on board, as more than 90 businesses throughout the U.S. have a four-day, 32-hour workweek. Thousands of U.S. organizations have a compressed workweek, where some or all employees work four 10-hour days.  

Does this mean sentiments are changing in the U.S., and we can expect more companies to implement a shorter work schedule? Experts have varying views. 

Maria Amato, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry, said organizations have other priorities.  

“I don’t think [the UK’s four-day workweek trial] is making a big impact,” she said. “Our clients are concerned with determining how employees should return to the office after COVID and virtual or hybrid working environments. They’re considering that rather than other flexible work schedules.” 

While Izzy Galicia, president and CEO of Incito Consulting Group, said, “A four-day workweek will certainly be an additional benefit and an excellent option... remote work, hybrid work, right to disconnect, unlimited paid time off and now, modified four-day workweeks are here to stay.” 

Employee Sentiment  

While most employees are understandably interested in a shorter workweek, others are nervous about potential drawbacks. This is especially true if it means less pay or more pressure around getting the same work done in less time.  

After completing limited job features testing about employees’ thoughts regarding company benefits, Amato found, “Employees don’t love it. They prefer the flexibility of picking their schedules. A four-day workweek with reduced pay isn’t a good option for them, making them feel nervous. [They wonder] am I losing job security? Is this an alternative to a reduction in work?” 

Galicia said that for it to work, employers must remember the purpose is to invest in employees’ well-being.  

“Many employees feel a limited workweek adds higher stress levels,” Galicia said. “This dilemma is because there are so many managerial pressures around metrics, productivity and finances that the four-day workweek may lose its desired impact on employee well-being.” 

For companies that want to test out a shorter workweek, Julia Voges, regional managing director of HR at OneDigital has several tips.  

“One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to such a fundamental workplace change,” she said. “However, there are a few models to consider.”  

Voges recommends thinking beyond the most common options — the four, 10-hour days and four eight-hour day schedules with three-day weekends. 

“Offering a flexible option allows departments to schedule their specific needs with the requirement that they ensure coverage and encourage departments to staff accordingly for days off,” she said.  

Editor’s Note: Additional Content 

For more information and resources related to this article see the pages below, which offer quick access to all WorldatWork content on these topics: 

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