Calls grow for a four-day workweek: Revolution or impractical?
Debates over the length of the workweek are nothing new, but recent calls for a new model in the U.S. are making headlines. Pennsylvania Representative Chris Rabb from Philadelphia is appealing for a four-day, 32-hour workweek, and is set to propose a bill that would conduct a cost-benefit study of the shorter schedule. Across the country, California Congressman Mark Takano is echoing the position, saying a four-day workweek should be enshrined in legislation.
Some history: In the United States, Henry Ford is largely credited for standardizing the five-day, 40-hour workweek. In 1926, he shortened the then-prevalent six-day work routine - without reducing employee pay - saying we "can get at least as great production and probably greater." Later in the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which was subsequently amended to make the 40-hour workweek a standard (after which overtime pay applies).
Belgium just gave employees the option to choose a four-day week (with 10-hour days) under a series of labor market reforms, while Ireland and Scotland launched four-day pilot programs (same pay, less hours) in January. Last year, Spain similarly offered companies the chance to apply for subsidies to introduce a four-day workweek without salary reductions, and Iceland ran the world's largest trial of a shorter working week from 2015 to 2019 with measurable success. The UAE separately cut its official working week to four-and-a-half days in December 2021 (with a Saturday-Sunday weekend) to better align its economy with the global market.
Business-wise: Some individual corporations have been experimenting with shorter workweeks to boost employee efficiency and well-being. E-commerce software provider Bolt famously decided to offer its employees a 32-hour week this year, and back in 2019, Microsoft Japan revealed that a closely-watched trial of its four-day workweek boosted productivity by 40%. Flexible workweeks can also be a powerful recruiting tool, especially at a time when the U.S. is struggling to source and retain workers across the economy.