Most nations of the world operate on a five-day workweek. However, the idea of a four-day workweek is gaining traction in many countries and/or industries. As of late 2022, more than two-dozen countries are running test cases and pilot programs exploring the possibilities of a four-day workweek, and a handful of countries have officially introduced permanent four-day workweek options. Early data on four-day workweeks are proving promising in many cases, as reducing the length of the average workweek helps the citizens of both hard-working countries and especially overworked countries improve their work/life balance, stress level, and overall happiness.
Many pilot programs of the four-day workweek use as a goal the 100-80-100 model: 100% salary, 80% hour worked, and 100% productivity. While the predominant form of four-day workweek is a 32-hour, four-day week, there also exist multiple variations. Some versions follow the 4/10 rule, which still requires 40 hours of work per week, but splits it into four ten-hour workdays instead of five eight-hour workdays (this variation is less likely than other formats to reduce worker stress). Other variants require 38 or 36 hours per week rather than 32. Also, while most four-day weeks add Friday to the weekend, some variations make Monday the extra day off instead. Some few even utilize a split schedule that gives half the workers Friday off and the other half Monday off.
|Denmark||Lithuania||United Arab Emirates|
|Germany||New Zealand||United States|
In addition to government-sponsored tests of four-day workweeks, many individual companies or municipalities have conducted tests of their own. Many of these have ended with a permanent implementation of a four-day workweek. Arguably the most well-known of these tests was conducted by Microsoft Japan, which tested a four-day workweek in 2019 and experienced a 39.9% boost in productivity. In another highly publicized case, Perpetual Guardian, an estate planner based in New Zealand, switched to a permanent four-day workweek after a 2018 test resulted in a 20% productivity boost.
Pilot programs and tests have showcased a wide range of possible benefits for both employee and employer. For employees, a four-day workweek lessens stress and stress-related afflictions, improves work/life balance and overall quality of life, and leads to greater satisfaction. According to the non-profit organization 4-Day Week, 78% of employees with a four-day workweek report being happier and less stressed.
Employers, in turn, have often recorded reduced absenteeism, productivity equal to—or sometimes exceeding—the productivity of a five-day workweek, and decreases in expenses such as electricity and office supplies. Additionally, 4-Day Week has determined that 63% of employers also find it easier to attract and retain talent when offering a four-day workweek.
Critics of the four-day workweek point out that it can put an untenable strain on the finances of the employer. For example, in a trial run of six-hour days (a related concept to four-day weeks) at a Swedish health care facility, the 68 existing nurses felt less stressed and enjoyed improved quality of life, but the facility had to hire 17 new employees to make up for the lost productivity.
This result illustrates what is arguably the greatest weakness of a four-day workweek: Certain industries or businesses have trouble absorbing the loss of hours even if productivity does not drop. For example, a factory that can meet its goals in four days rather than five is well-served by four-day weeks. But a healthcare facility able to treat every single patient it sees in four days must still have employees present on the fifth day. Similarly, a hotel able to clean all its rooms in four days must nonetheless have housekeepers present to clean rooms on the fifth day.
Australia conducted a pilot four-day-week project from August 2022 to January 2023. The project included 20 companies across Australia and New Zealand, covering industries ranging from marketing and finance to technology and mental health, and used the 100-80-100 model with the additional hope of improving climate impact via reduced consumption of energy and resources.
Belgium joined the growing list of nations to offer a four-day workweek option beginning in February 2022. Unlike most four-day weeks, which reduce required work hours to 32 per week (eight hours per day for four days), Belgium's program follows the 4/10 plan, which retains the 40 hours per week requirement, switching from eight-hour shifts five days a week to ten-hour shifts four days a week. As the total hours worked remain the same, full-time employees do not experience a deduction in pay. Employees are also legally allowed to turn off work-related devices and ignore phone calls, texts, and emails sent outside of working hours.
Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, Nova Scotia implemented a nine-month pilot program which resulted in gains in both productivity and employee satisfaction. Individual companies like Alida Inc. and Juno college have already adopted a four-day workweek. Another six-month trial featuring 38 companies from the US and Canada kicked off in April 2022.
While Denmark's official work week is 37 hours long, the Odsherred Municipality implemented a four-day, 35-hour workweek in 2019.
Finland's Prime Minister called for the implementation of either four-day workweeks or six-hour workdays in August of 2019. However, despite wishful internet rumors that claim otherwise, it was a call to action, not an official degree, and actual adoption of a four-day workweek in the country has been slow.
More than 150 companies in Germany have switched to a four-day week, and a recent survey indicated that 71% of German companies favored it. So does the country's largest trade union, IG Metall.
Iceland tested four-day, 35-36-hour weeks from 2015-2019 with more than 2,500 employees, or roughly 1% of the country's total workforce. Participating employers included police departments, schools, and the Reykjavik mayor's office, and employees kept their same salary. The test was considered a huge success. Productivity stayed the same or improved, work-life balance improved, burnout and stress fell, and office expenses such as electricity dropped as well. Now, roughly 86% of Icelanders work four-day weeks.
While four-day weeks have yet to be officially implemented by Ireland's government, they are the subject of much discussion. In a March 2022 survey of 1500 Irish professionals, 54% of respondents believed a four-day workweek will be normal within five years. A six-month trial in 2022 used the 100-80-100 model and included at least 20 companies. Roughly 6% of Ireland's companies have already adopted a four-day week either permanently (4%) or on a trial basis (2%).
Microsoft Japan tested a four-day week in 2019, keeping employees at the same salary, but with 3-day weekends. Productivity spiked by 39.9%. Although Japan's culture is traditionally very work-minded, the Japanese government seeks to foster a better culture and social balance and reduce the tendency for employees to overwork themselves to death. As such, Japan's government has encouraged four-day weeks since June 2021. As of late 2022, roughly 8.5% of companies had adopted the concept, but some are also reducing salaries by 20%.
Starting in 2023, Lithuanians who have children at age 3 or lower will be eligible to work four-day weeks.
Netherlands has had a short average work week (29 hours) since the early 1990s, and has many part-time workers. Companies like Dell and Canon have implemented 32-hour options for workers (though Dell also reduced salaries by 20%), and more official trials are likely.
A pilot program that ran in New Zealand from Aug 2022-Jan 2023 involved 20 companies in the software, digital marketing, health, finance, and construction industries. Also, Unilever conducted a 1-year trial here in 2021.
Scotland devoted 10 million pounds to a trial experiment for a four-day workweek, which ran from January to June 2022 and used the 100-80-100 model. The trial succeeded and the abbreviated workweek was then upheld by several businesses in Scotland. The idea of four-day weeks has very broad (80%) support among Scots. More tests seem likely.
Spain kicked off a government-funded three-year trial in Sept 2021 that includes 200 to 400 companies operating on the 100-80-100 model. DESOL, a tech company that participated, has noted a 20% increase in sales and 20% decrease in absenteeism. Meanwhile, Spanish telecom giant Telefónica introduced a four-day week option for its employees in June 2022, but with a corresponding 20% salary reduction.
Sweden tested six-hour work days in 2015, with mixed results. Existing employees felt less stress and better work/life balance, but the employer had to hire several more workers to make up for the lost hours.
On January 01, 2022, the UAE began a short work week that is 4.5 days (36 hours) long, with flexible hours and work-from-home options on Fridays. The shorter workweek will keep salaries the same for employees. A typical workweek in the UAE will run from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm Monday through Thursday, with a shortened Friday from 7:30 am to noon. While private companies in the UAE have yet to adopt this schedule, all federal entities are working under the shortened workweek schedule.
A six-month trial including 70 companies and 3300 workers using the 100-80-100 model began in June 2022. At the halfway mark in September, 88% of respondents claimed the four-day week was working well. 46% of respondents said productivity had stayed roughly even, 34% reported a slight improvement, and 15% claimed a significant improvement. 86% of respondents said they would likely consider sticking with four-day weeks after the trial.
Various state and local governments have conducted test programs, and dozens of individual companies have adopted a 4-day workweek, including Basecamp, Kickstarter, and Boulder, CO. A six-month trial featuring 38 companies from the US and Canada kicked off in April 2022.
There are approximately 17 countries that have either implemented a four-day work week or that are testing out the concept.