Seventy-seven percent of U.S. workers surveyed say a four-day, 40-hour workweek would have an extremely or somewhat positive effect on their well-being. Employees also said they wanted their companies to offer mental health days (74%) and limit the work they’re expected to perform outside of work hours (73%).
Some companies, including Amazon, Basecamp, Microsoft, and Panasonic, offer four-day workweek options, but most businesses are sticking with the tried-and-true five-day model. Why? Experts say it’s a combination of lower productivity (although studies show this not to be the case), staffing issues, increased costs, and complex changes to operations.
Plus, there’s just an overall resistance to change.
“It’s been almost 100 years we’ve operated with the current workweek,” Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College who has researched the four-day workweek, told The Washington Post. “I don’t think we can expect it [to change] overnight.”
A brief history of the five-day workweek
Responding to pressure from labor unions, Henry Ford was one of the first employers to standardize a five-day, 40-hour workweek in 1926. Ford also saw that minimizing hours would lead to a prosperous middle class, the backbone of his factory workers. In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, Americans worked like dogs, averaging 100 hours per week, six-days a week—something needed to change. In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which made the 40-hour workweek the law of the land.
How a 4-day workweek works
But in recent years, many companies have adopted a four-day workweek in which employees are allowed to work 10-hour workdays, four days a week, instead of eight-hour workdays, five days a week. The pay remains the same, but the schedule changes, allowing workers to enjoy an extra free day each week.
Four-day workweeks are popular among millennials and Gen Z, who put a strong value on work-life balance. In fact, 92% of young people say that they would work longer hours in exchange for a four-day workweek, according to a Bankrate survey.
Last year, more than 33 companies in the UK did a four-day workweek trial run for six months. Afterward, most of the companies said they would not go back to the five-day workweek, reporting that productivity and employee happiness were up.
Slow to adopt
Despite the enthusiasm many employees have for a four-day workweek, their employers are not as jazzed. Only 15% of U.S. workers say their companies offer four-day weekweeks, according to a 2023 survey by ADP.
Change is hard, especially in a volatile economy where businesses don’t want to take chances. But industry analysts say that ultimately, the more workers demand four-day workweeks the more their bosses will bend to their will. It’s all a matter of supply and demand, something companies know all about.
“Once some companies start offering [four-day workweeks] and once many workers start to apply for those positions … it might actually end up putting more pressure on companies to introduce this non-traditional perk,” Sarah Foster, a Bankrate analyst, told CNBC.