A four-day workweek is less stressful — and just as productive

There’s some good news for fans of a four-day workweek.

People who worked eight fewer hours per week were just as productive as those clocking in for a standard 40-hour week, according to a newly released real-world study. And feedback on the four-day workweek was “overwhelmingly positive.”

The study was conducted by 4 Day Week Global in order to collect data on the viability of a shorter workweek. The study included a six-month trial in which employees at 33 companies lowered the number of hours worked from 40 to 32 per week, with most working four days a week instead of five. (At four of the 33 companies that participated in the trial, workers cut their total weekly hours from 40 to 32 but maintained a five-day workweek.)

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The salaried employees in the companies that participated in 4 Day Week Global’s trial worked received 100% of their usual pay while working the reduced hours.

The result? Overall, workers’ well-being drastically improved when working four days a week compared with five, with employees saying they experienced less work-related stress. Over 67% of employees reported lower levels of burnout, which was defined for the purposes of the trial as tiredness, exhaustion and frustration.

Additionally, overall employee job satisfaction jumped 45%.

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The four-day workweek was not a panacea, however. The rate of employee resignations during the trial did not change by a statistically significant amount from the rate during a control period of five-day workweeks.

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The study of 903 employees in the U.S., Ireland and some other unspecified countries was split into two trials, with one starting in February 2022 and the second in April 2022.

The study collected data from the participating companies prior to as well as during the trial, to provide a statistical baseline. Company revenue grew 8.14% during the six-month trial and rose over 37% over the previous year, weighted by company size.

One caveat: The trial was conducted during a period in which many companies posted significant profits.

The 40-page study also listed other ways in which the overall well-being of workers was improved when they worked fewer hours. Fewer hours working meant more time to spend with family, working on hobbies or volunteering. In addition, less time spent commuting resulted in a smaller carbon footprint.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognizing that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working is the vehicle to give them a competitive edge,” Joe O’Connor, chief executive of 4 Day Week Global, said in a statement about the trial.

All this came with no real loss of productivity.

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Many of the companies that took part in the trial seem to be convinced.

Of the 33 participating companies, 27 filled out a final survey regarding their overall experience. Among those 27 companies, 18 said they were “definitely” instituting a four-day workweek, seven were planning to switch to a shorter week but hadn’t made a final decision, one was leaning toward continuing and one was not yet sure. None of the participating companies said they were leaning against or definitely not planning to continue the shorter week.

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“The four-day week has been transformative for our business and our people,” said Jon Leland, chief strategy officer at the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, which participated in the program. “Staff are more focused, more engaged and more dedicated, helping us hit our goals better than before. … We’re achieving more as an organization, while giving people time to start new creative projects, rest, and be with their families. It’s a true win-win.”

Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College who serves on the board of 4 Day Week Global, said the researchers “were encouraged that participants did not experience an increase in the intensity of work. This suggests that the work reorganization strategy succeeded and performance was not achieved via speedup, which is neither sustainable nor desirable.”

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A four-day workweek was once a fringe idea, but it is gaining traction in the business environment. During the 2022 World Economic Forum, there was a panel discussion about the shorter workweek, along a supplementary post about how a four-day workweek did not reduce productivity but may even increase it.

In the past, U.S.-based companies including Microsoft
 and Shake Shack
have experimented with a four-day workweek for salaried employees with some success. Microsoft said productivity jumped 40% while employees worked four days a week. That test was conducted in 2019, but Microsoft did not subsequently implement a permanent four-day workweek.

In a May episode of its Best New Ideas in Money podcast, MarketWatch examined whether the U.S. might ever really get a four-day workweek.

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