The future workplace: four-day workweeks

The future workplace: four-day workweeks

Grace Robertson, Staff Writer

The pandemic made several changes within the framework of our daily lives: relationships, politics, health, economies and jobs.

Now, three years after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many jobs are changing with the growth of the four-day workweek.

The five-day workweek was first implemented after advocacy in the early 1900s that resulted in the creation of the weekend and the eradication of the six-day workweek.

As time continues, more people have fought for less days and less hours, a sentiment confidently forecast by individuals like German philosopher Karl Marx and English economist John Maynard Keynes.

Keynes may have predicted the 15-hour workweek in his 1930 essay “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.”

“For three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us,” Keynes said.

Although many jump to despising or praising the four-day workweek, there are two concepts commonly implemented using the term. 

When enacted, some workers may continue working a typical 40-hour workweek and work 10 hours a day, while others may work their traditional hours — eight hours a day — while only working for four days.

In 2022, 61 businesses in Britain offered their employees four-day workweeks as part of a pilot program, and 56 of the companies said they would continue with the four-day workweek.

Those companies explained their interest in continuing due to factors like consistent revenue over the trial period, no or minimum loss of productivity and employee retention. 

Dr. Chris Clark, an economics professor at GC, explained how the four-day workweek enactment may only influence the lives of some employees.

“If it only applies to salaried workers, I don’t know that it changes anything in a meaningful way,” Clark said. “If it applies to hourly workers, it has meaningful impacts in terms of productivity, but if you maintain the amount of hours worked, the output stays roughly the same.”

Supporters of the movement have argued that the implementation would result in increased productivity, more commitment from employees, employee satisfaction, mental health benefits and positive environmental impacts.

However, others argue that the enactment of these arrangements would not benefit companies or the average employee.

Criticism of the four-day workweek also describes the possibilities of short-lived morale boosts, burnout and fleeting optimism, all of which could lead to a decrease in productivity.

“As a society, we kind of have to ask, ‘Are we willing to give up some income?’” Clark said. “Essentially, that’s what it boils down to.”

Freshman Em Jones, an English major, explained how the change may affect the future.

“I want to be an editor for a publishing house, so I imagine I will have a standard workweek, and when it comes to choosing where I want to work, if one place has a four-day workweek, I’d rather go with that than a five-day workweek,” Jones said.

Researchers wonder how the changes will affect the state of employment and how the enactments will affect workers.

“Rather than the whole country switching tomorrow to a four-day workweek, what would probably happen is people who prefer a four-day workweek would pick a job that aligns with that,” Clark said, “The economy just evolves based on that.”

The pandemic illustrated other possibilities for the workplace, which may have caused workers to seek interest in the concept of the four-day workweek.

“I think the pandemic definitely contributes,” Clark said. “Some people got used to working from home, and they understood that they could do their work with different modalities to get the work done.”

Rep. Mark Takano of California recently introduced a bill to reduce the standard workweek to 32 hours.

The bill includes workers who are typically paid hourly and would mean employers would need to hire more workers and employees would arrange higher wages and alter labor conditions.

“The Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act would improve the quality of life of workers, meeting the demand for a more truncated workweek that allows room to live, play, and enjoy life more fully outside of work,” Takano said.

The future of the four-day workweek is fairly unknown, as it has not been implemented enough to know how society would react. 

“I could see this generation being one of the generations that pushes it.” Clark said. “Generation Z can change and decide.”