The three-day weekend in the United States, such as Memorial Day Weekend or Labor Day Weekend, is rare and, therefore, celebrated. There are sales, parties, and meticulous planning, so not a single moment of this uncommon long break is wasted.
But what if the three-day weekend was the norm? What if a four-day workweek is something we could all come to expect? Experts and business owners/CEOs alike have debated the concept, sometimes heatedly, over the years. However, those businesses that have put the four-day workweek into practice overwhelmingly praise the idea.
With the pandemic, work started to get more flexible. Companies realized the benefits of not having office space overhead, allowing for more freedom for their workers, and the job satisfaction reported with new flexibility. According to studies done via pilot programs in other countries such as Japan and Iceland, productivity rose as much as 40% with the institution of a four-day workweek.
Recently, Congressman Mark Takano from California’s 41st District introduced legislation to lower the overtime threshold from 40 hours per week to 32 hours, effectively creating a four-day workweek.
As he told The Guardian, “Our country – and our world – has experienced tremendous change in less than two years. People are overworked, burned out, worn out, and tired. It’s time that we, as a nation, put people first, and that begins with reforming our outdated, inefficient and ineffective business model and transitioning to a 32-hour workweek”.
The Four-Day Workweek In Practice
Organizational Performance Group (OPG), an organizational development consulting firm based in Connecticut, strongly believes in the benefits of the four-day workweek. They began a pilot program for the four-day workweek in March of 2020, right at the onset of the pandemic shutdown that changed our working environment worldwide.
“We see ourselves as a laboratory to test new ideas in leadership and management,” says OPG Lead Associate Leah Hancock, “While we had been planning the experiment for some time, the onset of the pandemic enabled us to accelerate our timeline as so many of our ways of working shifted.”
There were several vital components to the OPG four-day workweek model. The first was the decision to close the office on Fridays instead of opting for a rotating “day off” schedule. This allows all employees to take the same time off without worrying that they are setting other employees behind or work is not covered in their absence. OPG also sets forth some minimum expectations within their four-day workweek model. These include being easily locatable, giving and receiving adequate facetime, setting the expectation that high-quality work is completed on time, and “you do you”, taking care of yourself and doing what you need to do to get the job done.
OPG also leans on the strength of cross-training employees and keeping a hierarchy of communication. The results have been overwhelmingly positive for the organization, something Hancock chalks up to trusting her employees and having systems in place for accountability. OPG also encourages other leaders to get curious about the resistance that may arise from the idea of a four-day workweek and not just take it at face value.
“Many leaders were taught that facetime with employees is the only way to ensure accountability, productivity, and teamwork,” says Hancock, “Less facetime, which is inherent to the four-day workweek model, can feel to some like a loss of control.”
Rather than tightening control measures, OPG opened the lines of communication and embraced new ideas of productivity and successful leadership.
Success Across the Globe
According to a study conducted by the University of Reading, nearly two-thirds of companies that adopted a four-day workweek reported increased productivity. Globally, more and more organizations are moving to try out the concept and finding positive results across the board.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern endorsed the idea to employers in 2020 to help stimulate domestic tourism in response to an industry depression brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similarly, the Spanish government agreed to test a 32-hour workweek pilot without cutting employee pay in direct response to the pandemic’s economic downturn.
Learning to Embrace Change
With all economic pivots, detractors are bound to crop up. Radical-move leaders, which is a term coined by OPG, lean into their discomfort with this change. It is these radical-move leaders that ultimately define history. Looking to the past, Henry Ford shutting down his factory on Saturdays and Sundays was a radical move. In 1929, union negotiations began seeing the advent of a regular five-day workweek. In 1940, the Fair Labor Standards Act made a 40-hour workweek the law. With each shift, there were arguments for and against. Eventually, what was seen as radical became the expected standard.
The more businesses like OPG decide to step out and try “radical” ideas on for size, the more we will learn about the benefits of shifts such as the four-day workweek.
Perhaps someday soon, we will all be able to enjoy the perks of a regular three-day weekend without having to covet the time as a rare occurrence.