Are Four-Day Work Weeks Coming to the US?

By Alice Kantor

The four-day work week is having a moment. 

With thousands of workers in the UK trying it — part of a recently launched six-month trial that is the largest of its kind in the world — there’s a sense that it might finally gain wider traction. At least if employees have any say.

At the London-based gaming company Hutch, one of roughly 70 companies that is part of the UK experiment, employees say the busier days are an easy trade for more time away from the job — whether that means going to the gym, getting extra sleep, running errands or caring for a child.

For Charmaine St John, a 46-year-old HR manager at the company, it’s also nice to be back on equal footing with her colleagues. She started working four days in 2018 to make time for her two children, who are now 10 and 16. But she took a pay cut to make that happen.  

“It’s mostly working moms coming back from maternity leave who move to four days and take a pay cut,” she said. “With this trial, men can spend more time with their kids and in general everyone is freed up for long weekends.”

The pandemic has fueled a shift in attitudes about work. People have quit their jobs in record numbers, while employees still working have pushed back on demands to return to the office. More broadly, many workers are  seeking to maintain some of the flexibility they’ve enjoyed to work from home the last two years. And with labor markets tight, companies are looking for ways to attract and keep talent. Read more: This CEO Is Putting in Overtime to Shorten Your Workweek

Kirsty Wainwright, general manager of Platten’s, a fish and chips shop in eastern England, shifted to a four-day schedule recently, with workers doing two days on and days off, on a rolling basis. The restaurant industry has struggled with staffing shortages, and she hopes the new schedule will help keep employees happy.

“It’s about working smarter,” she said.

It’s worth noting that companies in the UK trial have opted to participate, meaning leaders at the firms support the idea and have sold employees on it. But beyond the trial, companies are increasingly using flexible work arrangements. A recent study in the UK  found advertisements for four-day week positions jumped by 90% in June from the previous year. 

Anna Yukhtenko, a 30-year-old senior games analyst at Hutch, said she’s getting the same amount of work done and the four-day schedule is a big part of why she’s sticking around at a time when her skills are in demand and she could switch jobs. Her colleague Chris Hohbein, 39, has a 90-minute commute from Cambridge. The new schedule means more time with his son and he said he feels more refreshed after the three-day weekends.

In general, people work less these days than they did in past decades. But perceptions around hard work and dedication to the job are hard to shake, particularly in the US. For many, being at your desk for long hours is a sign of productivity. And with the US economy in turmoil, some companies may seize on that to take a harder line on bringing employees back to the office. Elon Musk recently said remote work was “no longer acceptable” and that employees should be in the office at least 40 hours a week.

The push back to the office is bumping up against pressure from employees who want flexible schedules. In Silicon Valley, the ride-sharing app Bolt made the move to a four-day schedule, while crowdfunding platform Kickstarter launched a trial in recent months.  In Japan, industrial conglomerate Panasonic introduced an optional four-day schedule this January, while UK consumer goods company Unilever did a year-long trial in New Zealand.  Read more: Musk’s Office Mandate, Recession Fears Complicate New Work Era

Minneapolis-based Sarah Goff-Dupont, 43, got approval to experiment with a four-day schedule last summer, along with several of her colleagues at Atlassian, a software company. Packing all of her work between Monday and Thursday was initially hard, but eventually paid off, with more time for her two kids, who are now 8 and 11. She’s doing it again this summer, but is using her unlimited vacation days to make it happen. Her colleagues are not joining her, she suspects because they’re concerned about the signal it might send to managers.

“If the UK experiment can take some of the stigma off parents or anybody, that would be great,” she said.

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