Can the Four-Day Work Week Work in the U.S.?

Maya KosoffFeatures

New years tend to bring new changes in workplaces, and for fintech startup Bolt, ringing in 2022 was no exception. Last week, Bolt announced it would make its four-day work week permanent moving forward after experimenting with a three-month pilot last year. “It was overwhelmingly well-received,” one Bolt employee told The Org. “Suddenly I had time to do all the things I never could do during the week. It forced me to be more productive during the four days we worked, too.”

And for what it’s worth, Bolt’s own assessment concurs: Bolt’s chief people officer Jennifer Christie told Protocol last week that 94% of Bolt’s employees who answered a survey after the pilot wanted to keep the four-day work week (as did 91% of managers), and 86% of employees said they were more efficient with their time. CEO Ryan Breslow told Fast Company that he hopes that Bolt making the change inspires other companies to do the same, using the example of Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile record in 1954 and leading the way for other runners doing the same. “I think everyone thinks, ‘Oh, there’s no way you can grow fast and execute while working a four-day week,'” he told Fast Company. “We’re showing just the opposite.”

The incipient U.S. four-day work week

Bolt is one of a handful of major U.S. companies that have embraced a four-day work week recently, and the first tech unicorn to do so. Shake Shack and Kickstarter have both toyed with the idea of a four-day work week, and online children’s clothes retailer Primary has been using a four-day work week model since May 2020. Chelsea Fagan, the CEO of the media company The Financial Diet, has spoken several times about her company's move to embrace a four-day work week last year. Her conclusion? "The idea of a five-day work week now seems insane looking back."

Other companies, driven by concern for burnout and wanting to empower workers in a tight labor market in the pandemic, have embraced a shorter work week for myriad reasons, offering meeting-free Fridays or half-day Fridays to employees. A worldwide effort, known as 4 Day Week Global, has more than a dozen companies piloting a reduced work week. The organization's six-month pilot program, which begins this year.

The numbers don’t lie

Still, according to CNBC, the idea of four-day work weeks is gaining traction among U.S. workers. Citing a November 2021 poll from Eagle Hill Consulting, CNBC states that 53% of U.S. employees polled said they are experiencing burnout, and women and younger workers are being hit the hardest at 56% and 62%.

Amid the ongoing Great Resignation, a four-day work week could give an employer a leg up when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent. A 2019 report by Henley Business School in the U.K found that 63% of businesses say it is easier to attract and retain talent with a four-day week. It also found that 78% of employees with four-day schedules are happier and less stressed.

Putting a four-day work week into practice

In the U.S., some politicians are listening: In July, California Democratic Rep. Mark Takano introduced a bill that would reduce the standard work week from 40 hours to 32. The idea gained traction last month, as the Congressional Progressive Caucus endorsed Takano's bill, which is now co-sponsored by 13 Democrats.

Other countries have piloted four-day work weeks with success. In Iceland, large-scale pilots of a four-day work week were declared "a major success," with workers reporting being less stressed and having more time for relaxing, hobbies, or running errands. In these pilot programs, productivity stayed the same or in some cases increased. According to a report issued by think tank Alda and Autonomy last summer, 8 in 10 Icelandic workers have moved to shorter working schedules in the wake of the four-day work week trials. "Working time reduction should be considered a powerful, desirable and viable policy across contemporary advanced economies," the report said.

Other companies in countries such as Japan and New Zealand have tried out a four-day work week too, and have found similarly positive results. Spain began a three-year trial of the four-day work week in 2021, with the government paying up to $56 million to cover the costs of companies that participated.

There are tangible benefits to cutting work hours for some workers. Some studies have found that long working hours can make workers less productive, showing that employees produce less after about 50 hours a week. A study of 2,000 office workers found that, despite working eight hours a day, many workers were only productive for just three of them.

However, what’s not clear is how the U.S. could sustain a four-day work week among all kinds of workers — sure, it could work for white-collar workers, but what about lower-income or blue-collar workers, or workers in sectors not subject to wage and hour laws? Proponents of a four-day work week sound much like "well-to-do folks telling others how much they should work," Dan Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Atlantic in 2015.

But even if it can’t impact all U.S. workers at once, Takano says his four-day work week bill can still have impacts that shape society. “My statute doesn't really address this situation but my aim is to spark a concurrent conversation about this transformational idea,” Takano told US News in October. “If the four-day work week becomes normalized in some of the most highly compensated areas of our labor market – the finance industry, for example – it's going to have a cultural impact on the rest of the American and global labor markets.”

By clicking "Continue" or continuing to use our site, you acknowledge that you accept our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. We also use cookies to provide you with the best possible experience on our website.