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  • Writer's pictureAdeleine Whitten

Will a 4-day work week ever become the standard?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been hearing the term four-day work week thrown around since I began studying business in college. Even now, it still sounds like some crazy idea that hip startups or small tech firms might implement to attract talent – something larger corporations would never even consider.


But on April 1st, 2022, thousands of employees across the US enjoyed their first Friday off as part of a pilot to see if four-day work weeks could become a reality long-term.


So the big question is… will they?


From the first day of grade school, we are conditioned to believe that a work week is Monday to Friday. Even upon graduation, many people continue in jobs that stick to that same schedule. It’s something people in the business world – like me – don’t even question. Monday through Friday is for work; Saturday and Sunday are for rest. Rinse and repeat every week until retirement.


And while the idea of a four-day work week sounds great in theory, many people don’t see how that could really work. And outside of having an extra day off, what are the real benefits?


My first thought when I hear four-day work week is a perk my previous employer offered to team members – “flex” days. As an hourly employee, I had the option to work my forty hours in four days instead of five, allowing me to take off a day of my choice. This was great for when you needed a day off but were running low on PTO, and many took advantage of it.


However, there were a few things I learned from this perk. First, ten-hour work days are long. And by the fourth ten-hour day in a row, they felt even longer. The other thing I learned is that I rarely needed the ten hours to get all of my work done. This was pre-pandemic, so I was full-time in the office, and by the ninth hour at my desk I was usually organizing and re-organizing my emails to stay busy.


When we first got sent home due to the pandemic, I remember hearing from friends and colleagues with kids that they were forced to become as productive as possible in whatever little time they could find to work. Their children were also sent home from school or from daycare, so between caring for them and just trying to find a moment alone, the time they could spend doing their jobs was cut significantly.


In that situation, people no longer had forty hours a week to spend on work. And I’m not suggesting that this was somehow sustainable long-term (because it definitely wasn’t), but when schools and daycares finally did start opening back up, I did hear a general consensus that the tasks that used to fill their days in the office no longer took as long as they used to. In short, productivity increased.


The next thought I had when I heard of this four-day week pilot was my own experience taking PTO. When I take the occasional Friday off, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to brief one of my coworkers on my projects and ask them to cover for me when I can just get my work for the week done by Thursday. In fact, it’s never the work part that makes it difficult to take PTO – my workload is totally manageable, even in eight fewer hours – but giving everyone a heads up that I’ll be out that day is typically the bulk of my preparation.


If I have something due on a Friday I plan to be out, asking everyone else on the project to get their portions done a day early so I can get everything submitted on Thursday feels a lot like herding cats. My four-day week disrupts everyone else’s plans for a five-day week. And I can’t help but think that a company-wide initiative for an extra day off would help alleviate some of that stress.


One of the most common trends reported by companies who have already taken part in the pilot is overall increased employee satisfaction. Flexibility in the workplace is considered by many to be the most important aspect of an employment offer, and a four-day work week will both attract and retain talent. Employees will spend less time working and commuting, contributing to a better work/life balance. And with working mothers having to spend less time at the office and less money on childcare, this format can even help close the gender pay gap.


So what now? Well, I’m not saying that people will start saying TGIThursday overnight. These companies will continue their pilots over the next six months, and it’s likely others will begin their own trials as well. And as more data becomes available and awareness is raised, I think four-day work weeks will start to become something we are no longer shocked to hear about.


With the dramatic shift of in-person to remote work over the past two years, I think it’s safe to say that nothing is out of the question. But hopefully it won’t take another pandemic to accept that some working practices are outdated, and there is always a possibility for the standard to change.



 
Adeleine Whitten | Professional, kind of

is a marketer by day and writer by night, weekend, and sometimes lunch break. You can often find her with a good book or in the Taco Bell drive-thru.

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