The Momentum Towards a Four-Day Workweek Gains Traction

Both in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento, legislators are proposing changes to the traditional workweek, reducing it from 40 hours to 32 hours. With an increased focus on alternative work arrangements, lawmakers are hopeful that this time, the proposed changes will gain traction, despite past failures at both the national and state levels.

Legislative Proposals:

California Assembly Bill (AB) 2932, introduced previously by Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and Evan Low (D-Campbell), was quickly dubbed “job killer” legislation by the California Chamber of Commerce. The bill proposes to modify California’s labor code section 510, redefining a workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours and implementing overtime premium pay after 32 hours. The bill explicitly disallows employers from decreasing the regular pay rate, maintaining the cost of a 40-hour workweek. Additionally, the bill exempts employers with fewer than 500 employees.

Similar legislation has been introduced in several other states, such as Washington, New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts, with the latter incorporating a two-year tax credit program for businesses adopting the new workweek structure. To date, none of these proposals have passed.

Recently, California Congressman Mark Takano reintroduced the federal version of the legislation, named the “Thirty-two-hour Work Week Act.” This legislation proposes amending the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to implement a 32-hour national workweek, replacing the 40-hour standard in place since 1940, which itself replaced the previous 44-hour standard. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont voiced his support for the change, tweeting, “With exploding technology and increased worker productivity, it’s time to move toward a four-day work week with no loss of pay.”

Study Outcomes:

Changes in the workforce brought about by the pandemic have led lawmakers, employers, and employees to reevaluate the concept of work. A pivotal study and four-day workweek pilot program, conducted in collaboration between the University of Cambridge and Boston College, found overwhelming support for the change. Over 90% of the businesses involved in the study planned to continue the four-day workweek after the experiment and pilot program concluded.

Juliet Schor, a Boston College sociologist and economist who led the research trial, anticipates a growing number of U.S. firms will adopt shorter workweek policies, especially in light of ongoing worker shortages and high employee turnover. A recent survey corroborates this perspective, indicating that more than 60% of workers prefer a four-day workweek, with one-third willing to leave their current five-day-a-week job for a four-day alternative.

Sloan Management Review reported similar findings: “The research conducted before and after the trial revealed that 39% of employees experienced lower stress levels and 71% noticed less burnout while working shorter weeks. Anxiety, fatigue, and sleep issues all decreased while physical and mental health significantly improved.” The study also observed enhancements in work-life balance, as 54% of the employees involved found it easier to balance their job and personal responsibilities. The review concluded, “there’s momentum around the globe to keep the experiment going. Small and midsize businesses are leading the charge, and large companies are beginning to take notice.”

A recent Los Angeles Times article proposes that the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence in the workplace could result in shorter working hours. Christopher Pissarides, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, posits that AI and automation may pave the way for a four-day workweek.

Supporting the growing trend, a rising number of emails out-of-office replies indicate that the sender works a four-day week and is unavailable on certain days. If such notifications become commonplace and accepted, they will serve as a strong indication that the four-day workweek has taken root and become an integral part of the contemporary work environment.

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