Employee Burnout: 38 Companies Testing 4-Day Workweeks — Could It Lead To Broader Adoption?

Shot of a tired young businessman working late in an office with adhesive notes covering his eyes.
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The five-day, 40-hour workweek has been the standard for as long as just about every American can remember, having been adopted on a broad scale in 1940 when Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act. Some companies believe the standard is outdated, though, and to prove it, dozens of them are taking part in a pilot program for a four-day workweek.

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The program began last week and is being led by 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit community. A total of 38 North American companies are taking part, including crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and numerous tech firms, CNBC reported. The UK plans to launch its own trial on June 1 that will involve 50 companies with about 3,000 employees.

The idea behind the initiative is to test whether employees can work 80% of the current five-day schedule while maintaining 100% of the productivity and earning 100% of the pay.

“More and more companies are recognizing that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, productivity-focused working is the vehicle to give them that competitive edge,” Joe O’Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, told CNBC.

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The vast majority of employees seem to be on board with the idea. More than nine in 10 U.S. workers (92%) are in favor of the shortened workweek, according to a survey from cloud-software vendor Qualtrics.

The wild card is whether employers will adopt a four-day workweek on a broad scale. For now, there’s no groundswell of support for it from the corporate community. However, it could gain more traction if certain employers move to a shortened workweek to attract workers during the current labor shortage.

Nearly 48 million American workers left their jobs in 2021 as part of the Great Resignation, many of whom reassessed their lives and jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 4.4 million quit in February, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

A large number of workers have become disillusioned with the amount of time they are expected to devote to a job vs. the pay and benefits they receive in return. A survey from Morning Consult found that 44% of those considering leaving their employers this year cite better pay as a top reason. A similar percentage cited a better work-life balance. Other top reasons included feeling burned out and wanting flexibility about where and when they work.

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Companies that have already adopted a four-day workweek report positive results in both the morale and productivity of their employees. One of those companies is Primary, an online children’s apparel retailer. It started giving workers Fridays off during the early days of the pandemic.

“It does feel life-changing, knowing that you have that day to catch up on everything, whether it’s thinking about a hard work problem or grabbing a doctor’s appointment that you haven’t gotten around to,” Galyn Bernard, Primary’s co-founder and co-CEO, told CNBC.

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Some employers that have adopted four-day workweeks have also seen a steep rise in job applications. At one of them, outdoor tech company The Wanderlust Group, applications in 2022 are up 800% from last year, CEO Mike Melillo told CNBC. The company boasts an employee retention rate of close to 100% and posted a 61% year-over-year revenue gain in 2021.

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“The numbers do not lie,” Melillo said. “We’re producing better results than we have in any year prior.”

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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