Commentary: Don’t Smirk at the Four-Day Work Week

By Stacia Erdos Littleton

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – 2026 will be the centennial of the five-day workweek

One-hundred years ago, when Henry Ford’s assembly line ushered in the work model we would be following for the next century, there were no electric pencil sharpeners, cellphones, sticky notes, coffee makers, permanent markers, whiteboards, emails, Zoom calls, copy machines. Oh, or computers.

Today’s technology allows us to get more done in a day than could have ever been imagined. I’m thinking it might be past time to reimagine and re-envision our work “week” to fit our 21st century lifestyle as well.

The U.S. Labor Department estimates 47 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021. There is an ongoing labor shortage. If this doesn’t point to the need for a new model as we move forward, I don’t know what does.

Why now? COVID has been a catalyst for transition and has left us emotionally drained. We’ve been wrapped in a cocoon (mask symbolism here) for two years. Perhaps the silver lining will be a metamorphosis that includes awakening from a pandemic fog to an emerging clarity of what’s important and how we can achieve it with optimal ROI.

COVID forced companies to send their employees home to work. And in many cases they discovered that their employees could efficiently get their work done in their new home environment while saving the company operating expenses in the long run.

With most people back to work and apparently many unhappy there, how about a new alternative – a four-day workweek? After all, good morale is good for the bottom line.

Twenty-somethings entering the workforce put a much higher premium on flexibility and life-work balance. The competition to fill job openings could be incentive for companies to give it a try. I know a lot of people who would like the opportunity to work more efficiently in a shorter amount of time to achieve MORE time for what’s really important in their lives.

The backdrop recently was Aqua Pazzo’s enchanting patio when I mentioned this to four female friends – all business owners. For the most part, all were open-minded to the idea.

One said her business partner (her husband) would “never go for that. He’s old-school.” Another said, “I think if a business wants to try it, fine. But don’t mandate businesses to do it.”

CBS recently ran a story about the growing movement to shift to a 4-day workweek. According to the report, 92% of employees are in favor of it.

American companies, and countries that have been experimenting with this, have noticed reduced stress and less burnout in their employees. And here’s the icing on the cake, NO reduction in productivity. In fact, in many cases, GREATER productivity.

An organization called Four-Day Week Global reports 63% of businesses found shortened weeks made it easier to attract and retain talent with 78% of employees happier and less stressed. While some are using a 10-hour day model, others are looking at a 32- to 36-hour workweek with eight to nine hours a day and no loss in pay.

Advanced RV, based in Willoughby, employs 50 and is one of 32 businesses worldwide taking part in a six-month, four-day workweek pilot program sponsored by the University of Dublin in Ireland and Boston College. The program launched April 1.

Employee Mitchell Dunbar told WKEF it’s already been a game changer for him, with positive mental health benefits. Owner Mike Neundorfer said he’ll be better able to quantify results after the experiment finishes in September.

A four-year study in Iceland led to such “stellar results” that 90% of the population is now working reduced hours and reporting less stress and burnout. In fact, Icelandic trade unions negotiated for the change.

Spain is running a trial during which the government is making up the difference in salary for employers. Japan, whose culture is to work incredibly long hours with little or no vacation time, is also following Spain’s lead. In fact, Microsoft Japan tried a model that gave its 2,300 employees the opportunity to choose a variety of flexible work styles, hoping for an increase in productivity and morale.

According to Forbes, the results indicated, “workers were both happier and 40% more productive.”  Belgium is looking at a 9.5 hours/day workweek of four days. And the United Arab Emirates is trying a slightly different model with half days on Fridays.

 “This is a time to lead, to innovate and to listen to our employees who are sending a clear message,” Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of California said in a recent interview.

Garcia is a co-sponsor of legislation that would change the definition of a workweek from 40 to 32 hours for nonunion hourly workers. A full day would remain eight hours. Salaries would remain the same. And employees would receive time-and-a-half pay for over 32 hours a week.
It would apply to employers with 500 or more employees, affecting about 2,600 companies and 3.6 million employees.

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., has introduced similar legislation in Congress. Takano says pilot programs have shown reducing work hours leads to fewer sick days, higher morale, lower child care expenses for employees and lower health care premiums for employers.

Of course this wouldn’t work for all occupations, or businesses, especially those that are open more than five days a week and have only a few employees. And there will always be those who are resistant to change.

Forcing employers to a four-day workweek model would be met with resistance. But perhaps companies will move toward this on their own because of necessity. For many, their bottom line is already being affected by worker shortages.

And if employees want change and companies don’t adapt, they’re going to have a hard time attracting the talent they need to be successful as they move forward. In this time of transition, the culture of a company, and each employee’s mental health, are now priorities.