Thousands of employees are testing a 4-day workweek starting today: 'It's inevitable we'll see bigger companies doing this'

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Thousands of workers across the U.S. are enjoying their first Friday off for the next six months in an experiment to test a four-day workweek.

It's part of a worldwide effort launched by 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit associated with the University of Oxford that helps companies execute and measure the impact of a four-day workweek. This year, 38 companies in the U.S. and Canada are taking part in the program, with most running from April 1 through September.

Participants and observers around the world hope that if this six-month experiment works out, a four-day workweek could become a reality for a lot more people.

How it works

Through the 4 Day Week Global program, businesses go through workshops to figure out more efficient ways of working, get matched with a mentor company that's done it before, and in the U.S. will work with researchers at Boston College to measure changes in productivity and employee well-being over time.

Most companies reduce the workweek to 32 hours over four days, rather than maintaining 40 hours within four days. The nonprofit calls this a 100-80-100 model: Workers receive 100% of their pay for 80% of the time and maintain 100% productivity.

One company taking part is Kickstarter, where chief strategy officer Jon Leland says piloting a shorter workweek is a next logical move after it became a fully remote company last year.

Leland says a lot of companies will think moving to a shorter workweek requires a top-down approach, when really he believes getting it right requires a grassroots effort. Managers have to be clear what their priorities and expectations are, but then workers and teams should feel empowered to figure out how to work more efficiently, like by reducing meetings and figuring out what tasks can be automated or eliminated.

"A lot of it is better management and being focused on the priorities and expectations of work so teams don't spend as much time navigating ambiguity," Leland says. That way, "when they do show up, they know exactly what they can do, they can do it, and then they can leave and go back to their families."

Leaders also have to model good boundaries, he adds — as a manager, you might want to rethink sending Slack messages and emails on a Friday if it can wait.

Kickstarter, which has just under 100 employees, doesn't anticipate having to hire more people in order to meet their same deadlines while working fewer hours. The four-day perk is already coming up in hiring interviews as a competitive advantage, Leland says, and he expects it to decrease the company's time to hire.

The 4-day workweek is 'inevitable'

Unsurprisingly, the majority of workers want a four-day workweek: 92% of people support it and say it would improve their mental health and productivity, according to a January Qualtrics survey of 1,021 people.

Joe O'Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, says demand for the program grew "exponentially in last 12 months" as businesses reimagined how work can be done after the rise of remote and hybrid work during the pandemic. Similarly, the Great Resignation and war for talent has business leaders scrambling to figure out how to hire and retain stressed-out employees.

U.S. businesses taking part in the six-month pilot range from startups with 25 people to large organizations with several hundred.

"It's inevitable we'll see bigger companies doing this," O'Connor says. "This is my message to CEOs of big companies, where there's a huge amount of competition: The biggest risk isn't trying this out and it not working. Your biggest risk is your competitor doing it first."

The majority of companies who work with 4 Day Week Global are in traditional white-collar sectors like tech, finance and professional services. But O'Connor adds that this year's U.S. pilot program includes a manufacturing company, a restaurant group, a nonprofit association and political organization.

Thousands will test 4-day workweeks this year

O'Connor says some 10,000 employees around the world will have been through a shortened workweek trial with 4 Day Week Global by the end of the year. He estimates roughly 5% of companies drop out during the trial period, which tends to happen if there's a change in leadership (like a CEO steps down) or other organizational disruptions (like a downsizing) that makes it difficult to continue.

Leland says Kickstarter has been clear with employees that the experiment, though an exciting one, won't automatically translate to a permanent change: "If we see it really didn't work, we could end it or say, we could say we have to go back. Or we might say, 'it's kind of working and here's how we want to tweak it.' Or it could be wildly successful. All of those are on the table."

Check out:

Why pay raises alone won't help fill America's 11 million open jobs

This company pays new hires to take a vacation before they even start

This company switched to a 4-day workweek—and 91% of its workers say they're happier

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This 27-year-old former NYSE trader went from making $12,000 to $650,000 in 4 years
27-year-old former NYSE trader went from making $12,000 to $650,000 in 4 years