If conventional two-day weekends seem to be flying by too quickly for your tastes, you may want to keep a close eye on the UK. A massive experiment—likely the largest of its kind—is underway to see if employees can maintain their productivity working just four days a week.
The six-month pilot study is being run by 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit organization, as well as major institutions including Oxford and Cambridge universities. The program involves roughly 3300 employees spread across 70 companies, including office workers, customer service representatives, restaurant workers, and more to assess worker productivity in fewer hours without cutting compensation. It will join a 2015 study in Iceland that examined the work-life balance of 2500 public sector workers. That program found no significant drop in productivity with a shorter work week.
The notion of a five-on, two-off week is rooted in religious observation, where people took one day off—usually Sunday—for worship. Others, however, got a bit more rambunctious, and their revelry sometimes resulted in a halfhearted effort on Monday. To accommodate the need to decompress, employers began scratching Saturday off the work week. A five-day, 40-hour standard was eventually signed into law in 1938.
But proponents of the downsized work week say that schedule is outdated and has led to burnout, especially in a post-pandemic workforce. Others point to bloated schedules full of meetings and other filler as barriers to more efficient work schedules: Cut the distractions and we may already be working four-day weeks.
“For many organizations, what you lose in labor time, you gain in greater productivity on the job,” Will Stronge, one of the research directors behind the UK study, told NPR. “We can't concentrate all the time, particularly if you're overworked and you have burnout. And so reducing the working week has reaped dividends in terms of productivity and worker well-being, which means they come to work refreshed. They come to work liking their job a bit more and wanting to kind of get the work done so that they can have a nice weekend and so on.”
Other trials are set for later this year in Scotland, Spain, the United States, and Canada. But some corporations aren’t waiting for hard data: Denver-based Uncharted has switched to a four-day model; so has outdoor tech company Wanderlust. For smaller companies, boasting of a three-day weekend can keep them competitive in a job market currently geared toward employees.
“We are a small business,” Uncharted CEO Banks Benitez told CNBC. “We aren’t going to be in the top 1 percent of compensation, but we will be in the top 1 percent of workweeks.”