The four-day workweek became a reality in Belgium when the country’s governing coalition passed workplace reforms Feb. 15 that included the option for employees to work longer hours in exchange for a three-day weekend. Employees need permission to work a shorter week, and they must work the same number of hours as those working a five-day week.
The idea of a shorter work time frame pops up periodically. In 2020, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggested employers consider flexible work options, including a four-day week, to help employees amid the coronavirus outbreak, SHRM Online reported in May 2021. Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin also raised the four-day workweek concept.
There are different approaches to a four-day workweek. While one has employees putting in longer hours over four days, another involves working 32 hours over four days, such as that proposed in recent U.S. legislation.
A bill Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., introduced in July would not mandate a 32-hour week, but employers would be required to offer nonexempt employees overtime pay after 32 hours under the Fair Labor Standards Act. H.R. 4728, the Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act, awaits a potential vote in the House Education and Labor Committee.
The last time the workweek was changed by Congress was 1940, when the 40-hour week became U.S. law. Two years earlier, the Fair Labor Standards Act set it at 44 hours.
Some companies have started testing the waters, prompted at times by pandemic-induced employee burnout.
SHRM Online collected the following news stories on this topic.
Belgium Becomes Latest Country to Let Workers Try Four-Day Workweek
Workers in Belgium will be able to request a four-day week without losing salary, as the government overhauled labor practices Feb. 15 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, becoming the latest country to offer a shortened week to decrease stress and burnout.
Lawmakers Lining Up Behind Bill to Bring Four-Day Workweek to America
The Congressional Progressive Caucus is putting its weight behind a measure that could fundamentally alter Americans’ traditional workweek. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said in a Dec. 7 statement the nearly 100-member group formally endorsed the Thirty-Two-Hour Workweek Act.
“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,” Takano said.
He introduced the measure in July, and it has garnered endorsements from others in Congress and several labor unions.
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Flexible Work Arrangements]
Viewpoint: Why More Companies Are Embracing a Four-Day Workweek
In May 2020, as the pandemic sent stress levels through the roof, an online children’s clothes retailer called Primary started an experiment that it hoped would prevent staff from burning out: It gave everyone Fridays off. By December, the new schedule was working so well that Primary decided to extend it indefinitely.
The company is part of the latest wave of organizations experimenting with a work schedule that has been proposed for decades but has never quite caught on. Driven by the flexible work arrangements and bonus days off that were introduced during the pandemic, concern for burnout, and empowerment of employees in a tight labor market, companies are embracing a shorter workweek.
The Four-Day Week Is Flawed. Workers Still Want It
Workers say the shortened workweek is a success, but the reality is more complicated.
When you squeeze the same amount of work (or more) into less time, work intensifies. When the University of Auckland’s Helen Delaney and Loughborough University’s Catherine Casey studied a New Zealand firm that piloted the four-day week in 2018, they found that employees took shorter breaks and spent less time lingering for “chit chat” after tea, instead scurrying back to their desks to resume work.
A four-day workweek also poses challenges for companies that must deal with clients working five-day weeks.
The Needle Isn’t Moving on Four-Day Workweeks
This spring, 35 companies in the U.S. and Canada, including Kickstarter, a few nonprofits and even an RV manufacturer, will test shorter weeks with help from 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit founded in New Zealand in 2018.
Some companies are piloting a similar program in the U.K.
Each time a company does this, it gets a lot of attention—but overall, the needle isn’t moving. In January, there were just 1,700 job postings advertising four-day workweeks for every million listed on Indeed.com.
We Moved to a Four-Day Workweek Last Year. Here’s How It’s Going
The founder and CEO of InDebted said that since implementing a 32-hour week, employees are learning new ways to work smarter to deliver the same or better outcomes.
A CEO’s Advice on Adopting an Alternating Four-Day Workweek
A four-day workweek can be a popular employee benefit. Brian Abernethy, co-founder and CEO of Service Direct, an online advertising and technology company for service-based businesses, told SHRM Online why his firm adopted an alternating four-day week and how doing so can foster greater employee engagement and productivity.