The 4-day workweek could be here sooner than you think

The discussion around transitioning to a four-day workweek has once again surged into the limelight this month, following Senator Bernie Sanders' introduction of new legislation and holding a congressional hearing to advocate for a reduced 32-hour workweek nationally. The idea has steadily gained traction over recent years, particularly in a society reevaluating its work-life balance post-pandemic. While the notion of a shorter workweek isn't a novel concept—having been supported in the past by figures such as former President Richard Nixon—previous efforts to implement such changes have not been successful.

However, the current climate might be more conducive to making this a reality. Experts and researchers focusing on the benefits of a four-day workweek suggest that we could see flexible working schedules becoming more commonplace within the next decade. The initial resistance from business leaders and work enthusiasts has notably mellowed, shifting from outright rejection to a more open-minded exploration of how a reduced workweek could practically be implemented.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, the author of "Work Less Do More: Designing the Four Day Week" and a director of research at 4-Day Week Global—a nonprofit organization championing shorter workweeks—observed that the conversation has moved from philosophical objections to logistical considerations. This shift indicates a significant step towards taking the idea of a four-day workweek seriously.

### A Snapshot of the Four-Day Workweek Evolution

The concept initially emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, primarily within the manufacturing sector as a strategy to lower costs by reducing factory operating hours. However, these early trials were abandoned due to the oil crisis, economic challenges, and opposition from labor unions worried about extended daily work hours, according to Pang.

Interest in shorter workweeks lay dormant until it was rekindled between 2016 and 2017, driven by younger workforce generations seeking change. "Millennials entering their thirties at this time were looking for ways to rectify the unsustainable work practices of previous generations," Pang noted.

The COVID-19 pandemic played a pivotal role in accelerating this trend, as the move to remote work led many to envision a different future for work norms. This reimagining of work sparked the creation of by Phil McParlane in Scotland in 2020. His website serves as a platform for job listings that offer flexible schedules globally, highlighting the numerous benefits proven by research, including enhanced productivity, cost savings, better employee retention, and narrowing the gender pay gap.

McParlane remarked, "The acceptance of remote work prompted a reevaluation of the entire 9-to-5 work structure." In many discussions, the term "four-day workweek" has come to represent a broader movement towards varied and flexible working schedules.  

work from home
Remote work policies have prompted people to reconsider their relationship with the traditional nine-to-five schedule. Getty

The four-day week is already underway

The number of companies experimenting with variations of a flexible workweek has been on the rise in recent years, Pang said. Some employers nix Fridays, others work five six-hour days, and others still enjoy a four-and-a-half-day week.

Pang has worked with more than 300 companies in his time at 4-day Week Global and interviewed another hundred for his book, he said. Meanwhile, McParlane's job board has exploded in popularity since he started it in 2020. Three hundred companies currently have profiles on the site, which garners up to 200,000 job seekers each month, he told BI.

Some of the biggest companies that have piloted shorter workweeks include Kickstarter, Panasonic, and Awin.

Flexible workweeks are increasingly a signifier to prospective employees that a company is a desirable place to work, McParlane said.

Attracting top-tier employees is just one reason Dimitri Cavathas, CEO of Lower Shore Clinic, started considering a four-day workweek for his company. The Maryland healthcare organization serves about 2,000 people throughout rural counties in the state, providing services ranging from primary care to outpatient mental health services.

Cavathas, whose family is from Greece, said he was inspired by the European approach to work and had been dreaming of a shorter week for years when he decided to start researching what it might look like for his company.

"The rule here is if I want something, everyone gets it," Cavathas said. "And since I wanted a four-day workweek, we all got it."

He first introduced the idea to his 170 employees about two years ago and was surprised when many initially reacted with doubt and cynicism. People were concerned about not having enough time to get their work done, as well as switching from eight to nine-hour days, Cavathas said.

Pushback is to be expected, especially in America's work-devoted culture, according to Pang. But there is a recent demand for a healthier work-life balance.

Cavathas' employees warmed to the idea after having time to ask questions and learn more about the implementation, he said. The clinic launched its new schedule in January of this year and Cavathas said the results have been overwhelmingly positive.

The company met its quarter-one budget, and only one department saw a revenue drop, which Cavathas said they had anticipated. But more importantly, staff engagement is up, and people are celebrating having more freedom in their personal lives, he said.

"Some people feel like it's a vacation almost every weekend," Cavathas said.

The Maryland clinic operates with two staff cohorts: one group works four nine-hour days Monday through Thursday, while a second cohort works three ten-hour days Friday through Sunday. Everyone makes a full salary, regardless of their schedule.

Cavathas said he hopes other business leaders will follow his lead. And Pang thinks they would be wise to do so.

"It's a matter of having a visionary CEO who wants their legacy to be not a slightly better stock price for the fourth quarter of 2025, but actually solving some of the enduring structural challenges around inequality, gender disparities, and problems with career advancement that have plagued companies for decades," Pang said.

UAW strike
The United Auto Workers pushed for a shorter workweek in recent negotiations. AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File

The future of the four-day workweek is bright

The United Auto Workers — the largest labor union in the country — pushed for a shorter week in recent negotiations. The union acknowledged the request was a long shot but isn't giving up and expects to raise the issue again in the future.

Meanwhile, arguments for why a four-day week doesn't work are weakening significantly as more and more studies come back singing its praises. Lawmakers in several states have introduced legislation posing four-day workweek trials or research programs, including California, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Hawaii, though none have passed yet.

Cavathas said he recently spoke with Maryland legislators as part of his work with Work Four, a US-based nonprofit advocating for the shorter week.

Within the next five years, Pang predicts at least one Fortune 500 company in every sector will be experimenting with a shorter workweek. By 2029, several states will likely also be in the process of trialing flexible workweeks, he said.

"It's definitely going to become the standard," McParlane said. "I am absolutely certain we will see it in this current generation."

People who work four days a week ultimately get one year of their life back over five years, Pang said. His ultimate goal is to win back a million years of people's free time.

"Whether that's in one company with a million people or 100,000 companies with 10 people, if I can get to a million years of free time, I will consider that a huge win," he said.

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