The Future of Work: The 4-Day Work Week

“The five-day week is not the ultimate, and neither is the eight-hour day.”  – Henry Ford, 1926

Did you know? The common 5-day work week was introduced in the U.S by the Ford Motor Company in 1926 and later made into law by Congress in 1940. 

It’s now mid-year 2023 and the definition of work and the work week have evolved in many ways. Amongst its numerous impacts, the pandemic served to accelerate new ways of working and collaborating. Workers continue to seek increased flexibility, better work-life balance, and more choice in deciding when, where and how to best do their jobs. One such solution is the 4-day work week. This topic has generated on-going debate and has been the subject of numerous studies and polls. According to a UK study from June to December 2022, a 4-day work week was implemented using a 100-80-100 model, where workers received 100% pay for working 80% of their previous hours while maintaining 100% productivity. Over 90% of the 60 participating businesses continued with the 4-day work week, and 18 adopted it permanently.

A recent poll in March of this year by Redfield & Wilton Strategies on behalf of Newsweek among a sample of 1,500 adults reported that:

  • 71 percent of Americans support the concept of a four-day workweek 
  • 4 percent of respondents oppose it 
  • 22 percent neither support it nor oppose it. 
  • Three percent say they don’t know how they feel about it

As part of our Future of Work discussion series, The HR Source conducted an informal weekly poll during April 2023 regarding the 4-Day work week. We received the responses shown below from LinkedIn followers. There is favorability in the concept and an understanding of the benefits of the 4-day work week but among managers and employers who responded, implementation seems impractical.

Although some experts believe that the American work culture’s emphasis on hard work, competition, and accomplishments could pose a challenge to implementing a four-day workweek nationwide, there is increasing interest among state legislatures and Congress to offer employers the opportunity to experiment with this schedule. Maryland lawmakers introduced a bill proposing a pilot program that would encourage and support the use of a four-day workweek by private and public employers and provide a tax credit to some participating employers.

It is important to note workers in industries such as hospitality, retail, manufacturing, and healthcare may face challenges in requesting reduced work schedules due to the need for physical presence and essential coverage. Management and employees at John Middleton, however, demonstrated that with proper planning and buy in, a manufacturing application is not impossible. The members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCT) initiated a conversation with their production management team. After many weeks of discussions, planning and check-ins with procurement, payroll, HR and all other impacted functions, the decision was made to transition from five, 8-hour workdays to four, 10-hour workdays. 

“The workdays are a little longer, but the operators are excited about gaining additional time off. They’re also excited that their voices were heard and that we partnered with them to create a new opportunity for workplace flexibility.”  Charles Epps, Senior Director of Manufacturing for John Middleton.

The 4-day work week is a global conversation as employers are grappling with its practicality and feasibility. While some see it as a valuable benefit for talent retention, others fear it may negatively impact productivity and profitability. It has been shown that flexibility can be applied to any industry, but discussions among employees, employers, and government officials will continue. Only time will reveal the ultimate outcome.

If you’re considering transitioning to a shortened week it’s important to develop a strategy that suits your organization’s and employees’ needs. The HR Source can help you establish the scope, develop timelines and define your HR deliverables. Contact us for a free consultation at (301)-459-3134.

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