How a Four-Day Workweek Actually Works, From the Companies Pulling It Off


Working less takes a lot of work. Just ask the companies trying four-day schedules.

At ThredUp, an Oakland, Calif.-based online clothing reseller, moving its nearly 300 salaried employees to a Monday-to-Thursday week meant culling meetings, focusing on the most important work, and curtailing lengthy email exchanges. The shorter week can get hectic, and work sometimes spills into Fridays, but employees say having more time to recharge is worth it. 

“It’s not for everybody,” said ThredUp’s chief people officer, Natalie Breece, who helped lead the transition. “It requires a constant evaluation of your own behaviors and your organization’s behaviors to move faster.”

Once a workers’ pipe dream, the four-day, 32-hour workweek is gaining ground as hundreds of employers try the schedules and businesses rethink the conventional ways of work. The United Auto Workers made the shorter week a demand in its contract talks with Detroit automakers. Lawmakers in California, Massachusetts, and other states have introduced bills aimed at pushing more businesses to adopt a four-day schedule. Most proposals are long shots but signify the appeal in policy circles.

Organizations that have dipped a toe into shortened workweeks say it has resulted in happier, healthier staff, less turnover, and a wave of interest from job applicants—usually with little to no loss in productivity. 

Yet working smarter, not harder, isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Managers at ThredUp in Oakland, Calif., cut back on meetings so staff could focus on work. PHOTO: RUSSELL ABRAHAM

First, Kill the Meetings

Meeting bloat was one of ThredUp’s biggest targets as it gave the four-day week a test run before making it official early last year. Department heads cut meetings by roughly 20% after reviewing which were really necessary and which served mostly as progress reports. 

Managers and workers were trained to run more efficient huddles and voicing fewer emails. (One tip: Pick up the phone after three rounds of replies without a resolution.) Tuesdays were deemed “maker days,” devoted mostly to uninterrupted focus work. 

Learning to say no was an adjustment, Breece said. Some employees fretted about whether they could get ruthless with their time. But with the whole staff tasked to be more disciplined, “it gives everybody space to say, ‘I am not going to join that,’” she said. Or, they can ask to trade updates or ideas as they happen, via Slack, email, or other tools.

Anton Naumenko of ThredUp says he couldn’t imagine returning to a five-day workweek. PHOTO: NICK WADLER

Not everyone at ThredUp gets a four-day workweek. The nearly 1,500 hourly wage workers in its distribution centers have the option to work flexible shifts across three to five days. Last year, the company laid off 15% of its corporate, salaried workforce to help rein in costs. 

Still, voluntary turnover among corporate employees fell to 4% last year, less than half of what it was in 2020. More than half of new hires who were surveyed said the shorter workweek tipped the scale in their decision to join. And over 90% of employees, who the company says are meeting the same goals as before, said the four-day workweek has boosted their productivity. 

After the trial run, “at least two engineers said to me, ‘I’ll take a pay reduction to keep Fridays off,’” said Anton Naumenko, senior director of software engineering.

Many four-day-week employers don’t appear to be operating more efficiently, though, according to data from ActivTrak, a maker of workforce analytics software. Gabriela Mauch, vice president of ActivTrak’s productivity lab, suspects that is because management hasn’t revamped the way teams work. 

Examining the activity of 158,000 employees at 1,900 companies, her team found those at companies with four-day schedules worked slightly fewer hours a day than those working five days. And the four-day workers spent less time on focus work or other productive activities. 

Scott Hendler tried a four-day workweek at his 16-person law firm in Austin, Texas, for a year and a half before returning to five days this year. Little changed about the way people worked, he said—the idea was simply to squeeze the five-day workload into four to have longer weekends. 

Courts were still open five days a week, and at least one or two people would be pulled in to work when something got scheduled on a Friday. Cramming a week’s work into four days was stressful for some staff.

Hendler says he would like to make the schedule work. “I just don’t know how to put the theory into practice in a way that is productive,” he said.

Productive or Procrastinating?

Henry Ford cut the standard workweek to five days from six in the 1920s on the premise that a more compressed schedule, along with assembly-line innovations, would make work more efficient. Since then, predictions that technological and economic advances would result in our working less haven’t been borne out. As far back as 1956, then-Vice President Richard Nixon declared a four-day workweek would be a reality for most Americans in the “not-too-distant future.” 

“It requires a constant evaluation of your own behaviors and your organization’s behaviors to move faster.”

— Natalie Breece, chief people officer, ThredUp

One reason shorter weeks remain out of reach, skeptics say, is that it is tough for large companies with customers and staff across time zones and countries to find a shortened schedule that works for all. A handful of big brand names such as Unilever and Samsung have experimented with a shorter week on a limited basis, but most adoptees are much smaller firms. 

Nicholas Bloom, an economist at Stanford University, says it is doubtful most businesses can shed a fifth of the workweek and maintain productivity. “Whenever I talk to managers, they find the topic pretty insulting—they argue it implies they are completely wasting a day a week,” he said. 

A more viable approach for giving people more leisure time, he says, is to offer the option of four-day schedules, at four days’ pay.  

“But that’s not a new idea,” he added. “It’s called part-time work.”

A four-day week holds less potential for businesses that already run a tight ship, according to Steve Glaveski, chief executive of Collective Campus, a corporate innovation and startup accelerator in Australia. 

Collective Campus briefly tested a four-day week a couple of years ago, after another experiment with a six-hour workday. With shorter days, staff had gotten more efficient by setting priorities, automating or outsourcing basic tasks, and reserving large chunks of time for focused work. Glaveski wanted to see what would happen if they dropped Fridays, too.

In a survey, the team scored their emotional well-being slightly higher than before. But productivity, measured by revenue, marketing leads and other metrics, dropped 20%.

Four-day weeks—especially when workers are logging 8-hour-plus days—aren’t optimal, he said, citing research suggesting four hours is the maximum most people can spend in a deep-work, flow state. Focus tapers off fast after that.

“With four eight-hour days, you’re still going to be spending a lot of that time on shallow work,” said Glaveski, who has written a book on working more productively. 

Counterintuitive Approach

Retta Kekic of Qwick, in Phoenix, says the company shifted to a four-day workweek to tackle employee burnout. PHOTO: JAMES LEE

At first, condensing the workweek sounded illogical to some leaders at Qwick, an online staffing platform for the hospitality industry. 

It was late 2021 and the company—after laying off two-thirds of its employees in the initial Covid-19 lockdowns—was facing three times the business it normally had finding workers to staff now-bustling restaurants, stadiums, and event spaces. Qwick’s staff was already overwhelmed working a five-day week, said Retta Kekic, the Phoenix-based company’s chief marketing officer.

“The initial response was, whoa, this doesn’t feel natural,” Kekic said of the idea. “How are we going to keep growing and scaling if we’re working less?” Yet employees were burning out.

Qwick spent 3½ months laying the groundwork, implementing a rolling, seven-day customer-support schedule, and automating more processes. It canceled many meetings and streamlined others. 

More than a year into the experiment, Kekic said teams such as engineering and customer support continue to meet their internal metrics each week. Applications to fill jobs at Qwick have more than doubled. 

To keep Monday through Thursday from feeling too intense, Qwick bosses break for lunch or organize occasional happy hours. After a decade-long career in technology, during which she would work from a coffee shop some Saturdays, Kekic said she occasionally has to remind herself not to message a colleague or her team on Fridays. 

For ThredUp’s Naumenko, working eight hours, four days a week doesn’t always go exactly as planned, either. Days sometimes start with a 7 a.m. call to his European teams so they don’t have to work late. Up against a project deadline or an outage, engineers may work into the three-day weekend, then take some of their unlimited vacation time to compensate, he said.

He can’t imagine returning to a traditional five-day schedule. Having the extra time helped in setting up a new life in the U.S. after moving from Ukraine in January 2022, he said. His Fridays are now devoted to household chores, grocery runs and other errands. Or while the children are in school, he and his wife will go hiking or cycling. 

“It’s a different life also for our families,” he said.

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