Should We Be For or Against 4-Day Work Weeks?

14 July 2023
Should We Be For or Against 4-Day Work Weeks?

Written by Caroline Stringfellow, Edited by Chris Cable, Researched by Cole Pawlaczyk

Amidst the pandemic, the world was forced to change the way that employees work as offices shut down, and remote work became the new normal. Despite the challenges, we learned that we are capable of adapting, restructuring and learning to operate across different communication forums. With newfound evidence that traditional business models don’t need to be the standard, many voiced interest in a shortened workweek—and leadership across the world took notice.

In a time of increasing focus on work-life balance, mental health and sustainability, 2022 became the “Year of the 4 Day Work Week.” We will explore the goals, results and implications of a few recent studies, in hopes of challenging traditional structures and better understanding how different industries, organizations and employees can benefit from a business model refresh.

Part 1: The Basis

Researchers have long been interested in the effect of working hours on well-being and performance. With growing evidence that work time reduction impacts health positively and is an economically viable option for employers, the following companies agreed to try the condensed model and contribute their findings. 900 employees from 33 businesses, including Kickstarter, Advanced RV and Public Policy Lab, participated in the pilot trial in the U.S. and Ireland, which ran from April to October. Organized by 4 Day Week Global and researchers from Cambridge University, Boston College and University College Dublin, the study followed a 100-80-100 model in which employees are paid 100% of their normal salary to work 80% of their standard hours and achieve 100% productivity.

While people struggled to recover from the pandemic, long hours, workplace stress and the pressures of daily life, this experiment presented an opportunity to help find a solution. The goal was to test the shortened work week’s potential social, economic and climate impact. Researchers hypothesized that less work time would lead to decreased stress and burnout and increased free time to spend with family, community or oneself. They speculated that it may also help increase hiring, reduce unemployment and costs in tight labor markets or places of high stress and burnout, and productivity could be maintained. The potential climate benefits ranged from workers increasing low carbon household practices to reducing energy expenditure and carbon emissions due to the decreased commuting time.

Info about study participants

The sample yielded 495 individual reports from the participants who completed both the initial and endpoint surveys, garnering substantial data from a diverse population sample.

“If you trust people, they’ll prove themselves to be trustworthy.”

Shanti Mathew, Managing Director at Public Policy Lab

Needing to trust employees and empower them to control their workflows and manage their schedules was the biggest challenge for employers. Some managers were hesitant to participate because they would be responsible for measuring outcomes and making the adjustments to their business structure. The trials were simultaneously a test of self-discipline and one of existing leaders’ ability to support their teams through changes. Employees’ biggest concern was whether or not they’d be able to get the same amount of work done in a six hour shorter work week.

Part 2: The Findings

The U.S. and Ireland study found overwhelmingly positive results in terms of the trial’s impact on employee health, company productivity and the environment. Staff rated the experiment 9.1 out of 10 on a positivity scale and 97% of the participating companies reported the desire to continue. Here are a few areas in which reducing the work week from 40.83 hours to 34.83 hours on average, or from five days to 4.36 days paid off.

Performance & Productivity

Who wouldn’t love to increase business revenue by nearly four times while granting staff control over their schedules and more free time to take care of things in their home lives? The survey results make a strong case for four-day work weeks being the solution to all of the above.

Participating businesses saw revenue increase.

Employee performance levels, productivity, amount of time spent in the office and attendance all increased from the beginning to end of the trial. And, executives weren’t the only ones to notice positive changes. Individual staff improvements resulted in better attitudes overall, increased satisfaction with their achievements and motivation to continue to excel. Workers were more pleased with their performance, productivity and overall experience, inspiring them to set new, attainable goals for themselves and commit to accomplishing them. They saved time on commutes, had the ability to manage their schedules and experienced significant mental health improvements, creating more pleasant work environments.

Staff rated their quality of work higher at the end of the study.

Participating businesses saw the morale shift’s ripple effects in the form of decreased resignations and easier hiring, despite the trial taking place amidst the pandemic and during the Great Resignation. Imagine the possibilities that a 4-day work week would open up today.

Companies were able to increase their total number of employees by 12%.

Health & Happiness

Employees and managers enjoyed professional successes during the condensed work weeks, but how did it impact other aspects of their lives? Participating in more activities that satisfy the human need for fulfillment, sense of self-worth and well-roundedness increased their overall life satisfaction across many domains, from finances to relationships to mental and physical health. Many achieved work-life balance, and became well-rested and physically fit. Those who regularly juggle care responsibilities with work were able to spend more time with elderly family members and children, decreasing childcare and aid costs. They used their additional free time to tackle household chores, volunteer, sleep more, exercise and pursue hobbies. The majority of respondents became more focused and engaged in both their personal and professional lives, reporting reduced burnout, anxiety, fatigue and other negative effects.

Employees increased work-life balance rating from 2.98 to 3.76 out of 5.

Breaking Down the British Health & Productivity Results

Similarly, the British study by 4 Day Week Global produced promising findings. Companies’ revenue and productivity stayed the same on average throughout the course of the trial period as they were when the study began. 24 companies even saw revenue increase by more than 34% from the same timeframe, six months prior. Participating British organizations experienced accelerated effectiveness and reduced employee attrition during the flexible, hybrid schedules.

Overall, they found that the new model accelerated the effectiveness of flexible and hybrid work and, as a result, employee attrition dropped significantly.

70% of employees reported reduced levels of burnout.

Environmental Effects

If your brand and you believe in combating climate change, consider restructuring with four-day work weeks. Making that small change in your everyday life will help reduce your carbon footprint. Researchers anticipated that shortened work weeks would support the environment and the results confirmed this, but not for the reason they expected. They predicted that decreased commute times would be the largest factor, but during the study remote work fell and in-person work surprisingly increased. Despite these factors, workers shaved off an average of almost an hour commuting each week.

The carbon-related metrics at the end of the other large studies were encouraging in additional ways. Microsoft Japan reduced electricity and printer use, benefitting both the environment and the company’s supply budget. In the U.S. and Ireland, participants changed their personal sustainability actions, increasing household recycling habits, purchasing more eco-friendly products and electing to walk or bike to work instead of drive. Researchers haven’t yet pin-pointed whether these behaviors were motivated by employees’ improved mental health and happiness inspiring a sense of environmental responsibility or if the increased free time allowed them to take up green habits they’d been eager to achieve prior to the study. Either way, the results are promising for the planet.

Companies saw significant reductions of power usage.

Success Rate & Desirability

The positive impact the shortened structure had on revenue, productivity, business costs and staffing indicated continued benefits for the organizations that continue to follow it.

Stats from the study, repeated from earlier in the article.

Leaders were willing to continue because their businesses didn’t suffer by any account, and instead, they reported positive experiences reducing work weeks from 40.83 hours to 34.83 hours. None of the participating companies plan to return to the previous model, which is wise considering that 26-50% of their employees said they’d need a pay bump to return to the 5-day work week, and 13% said you couldn’t pay them to.

Industries & Implications

Although many participating companies worked in finance, marketing, administration and IT, the studies also involved a variety of other industries that strayed from corporate desk jobs. Skeptics questioned whether or not this structure could be feasible in service, emergency response and other less traditional industries. 

Real World Examples of Success

At the height of the pandemic, public benefit firm Kickstarter was suffering from staffing issues. Participating in the four-day work week experiment resolved its understaffing problems, reduced employee turnover and increased desirability of the workplace. The alternative work structure appealed to prospective applicants, effectively attracting a broader pool of new hires and creating a faster hiring process. Hourly employees felt the impact, receiving a pay raise which further boosted job satisfaction and company loyalty.

At the height of its busy season in June, Platten’s Fish & Chips joined the experiment. The risky move, in an industry where people typically work seven days a week, paid off. The restaurant reported that the most difficult challenge was finding a model that worked for everyone. After deciding to ramp up staff communication, splitting the team into two separate groups and scheduling one group to have two days on while the other had two days off, they launched the experiment.

Employees gained personal time to complete household chores, see friends and family, and take care of themselves. They came into work focused, refreshed and confident in their ability to complete their job responsibilities. Having enjoyed the benefits of better work-life balance, they came into work with a more positive mindset which translated to improved service, a more engaged team and an elevated customer experience. Revenue wasn’t affected but staff did appear more knowledgeable about their roles and productivity went through the roof. Sick callouts decreased by 65% and employees were 57% less likely to quit.

EMS, Manufacturers & Government

Another around-the-clock industry is emergency medical service. Nurses and first responders are in high-demand around the world, and have seen increasing walk offs in the U.K, recently. The situation presents a paradoxical problem: four-day work weeks should be the perfect solution to workers demanding better working conditions and pay, yet their companies can’t institute it currently, because they need personnel available 24/7.

Although risky, it may be beneficial for medical and emergency care providers to follow the approach Platten’s Fish & Chips took, splitting existing staff into two groups with rotating on and off days so someone is always available to offer service. If successful, the approach could produce similar results to the restaurant’s and Kickstarter’s, in which it actually helped solve staffing issues and improved desirability.

Less successful, Advanced RV employees were unable to meet the goals they had set for themselves in the spring to improve the quality of their work, be as productive in four days as five and maintain customer service satisfaction. Despite this, president of the motorhome manufacturer Mike Nendorfer said they were trending in the right direction and that six months was not a long enough period to give the experiment a fair chance at success. The company reflected on its results, progress and culture and decided to de-prioritize creating return for shareholders and shift their focus to employee well-being. After announcing plans to extend the trial by three more months to gain more results that they could use to reassess, employees erupted into spontaneous applause.

The debate for whether or not it’s beneficial to advertise your business’s modern, reduced work week has yet to be solved. Public Policy Lab in New York City recently allowed a dozen workers to shorten their schedules with up to eight hours of flex time each week. They don’t advertise this benefit, perhaps to prevent their applicant pool from skewing towards audiences who are less dedicated to their jobs, although they do reveal the benefit during interviews. The director publicly shared that he has no intention of going back to former structures.


As different as the experiments looked in each industry, the results of the condensed work week trials presented clear patterns demonstrating the following findings:

  1. Clear Health Benefits: decreased sleeping issues, stress, burnout and healthcare costs; increased exercise, happiness, life-satisfaction and ability to achieve work-life-balance
  2. Increased Productivity: employees’ improved mental and physical health led to more motivated and efficient staff, and heightened focus and dedication; same for employers
  3. Success Rates: Abundant satisfaction from organizations, executives and employees; maintained productivity and decrease of healthcare and other operational costs

Even if your brand or company isn’t ready to completely restructure, give eight hours of productivity up and give staff control over their schedules, there are minor changes you can make to achieve greater efficiency and elevate morale. Auditing your meetings and eliminating sessions that could have been an email, setting agendas and time limits on mandatory meetings to focus the discussions and streamlining communication are all great first steps. Offering your employees the option to work from home is another simple way to afford them the flexibility to take care of their other responsibilities and passions so they can achieve work-life balance.

How We Can Apply This

If employers learn one thing from these studies, we hope that it’s the value and importance of enabling their staff to achieve work-life balance. Human beings have basic needs to survive, some have more responsibilities on their plates than others, but every individual needs and deserves time to themselves to decompress, get personal things done and spend time with people in their lives. When leadership affords them that right, they are more satisfied with their everyday lives, better equipped to handle the challenges their job may throw at them and more likely to enjoy their positions, staying with your brand for the long-haul and dedicating extra time and effort to the work they do for you.

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