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We're talking about the 4-day workweek — again. Is it a mirage or reality?

Go home, buddy.
Christopher Furlong
Getty Images
Go home, buddy.

Welcome to a new NPR series where we spotlight the people and things making headlines — and the stories behind them.

It just keeps coming up, doesn't it? The concept of a perma-long weekend with no reduction in pay. It's so attractive in theory that we as a society refuse to let it go.

But it's starting to feel like that mirage of an oasis in the desert. We're desperate for some relief, but it always seems just out of reach...

What is it? The four-day workweek. There have been any number of studies in recent years looking into this, but will we see it en masse?

  • For some, it is now here. A pilot program in the U.K.tried it out at dozens of companies. And the results were so good, most of the participating firms say they're going to stick with it.
  • The concept is based on the idea that most jobs with a 40-hour week can get the same amount of work done in 32 (or at least four 10-hour days).
  • As work itself evolves at a rapid pace (our colleagues are literal robots these days) the Monday-Friday model is looking pretty outdated to many.
  • The U.K. study found a hefty list of benefits associated with cutting back, too: 46% of employees said they were less fatigued; three out of five said it was easier to balance work-home life. Sounds pretty good, right?
  • What's the big deal? Well, the idea appears to be gaining momentum — at least in some circles.

  • A 2022 Ernst & Young study into the "future of work" surveyed more than 500 U.S. C-suite and business leaders across a range of industries, and found 40% have either started using a four-day workweek or are in the process of implementing one.
  • Buuuut it's not that simple.
  • A 2021 study out of New Zealand found that after moving to a four-day workweek, work intensified — as did pressure around performance management.
  • And some experts have noted that employees already can have a hard time disconnecting, so they question whether a four-day week will help.
  • Then there are questions of equality. Some have noted the idea is most dominant in tech and white collar work. And the idea of a set 40-hour workweek might even seem like a luxury for those with longer hours, late nights or unpredictable schedules.

  • Want more journalism to get you thinking about work and money? Listen to the Consider This episode on developing a personal recession toolkit

    Work. Work. Work.
    Olivier Douliery / AFP via Getty Images
    AFP via Getty Images
    Work. Work. Work.

    What are people saying?

    David Frayne, a research associate at University of Cambridge who worked on the recent U.K. trial, said the signs were positive:

    "We feel really encouraged by the results, which showed the many ways companies were turning the four-day week from a dream into a realistic policy, with multiple benefits ... We think there is a lot here that ought to motivate other companies and industries to give it a try."

    Simon Ursell, the managing director of an environment consultancy that took part in the trial, told NPR the company was making the four-day workweek permanent. But he says reimagining the traditional work structure shouldn't stop with this one idea:

    "What I think the trial has proved is that working in a way that is most applicable to your organization to achieve the sweet spot of the best productivity for the time, that's what you've gotta be aiming at. It's not necessarily just four days. I think the real question for me is what is the best thing for your organization? What are you going to get the best outcomes for?"

    Lindsay Tjepkema, the CEO of a marketing technology company called Casted, last year told NPR she wasn't convinced an extra day off is the relief people crave.

    "Real flexibility is being able to say, 'Hey I want to start my workday late' or 'I want to cut out early on Wednesdays for kid reasons, for friend reasons, for personal reasons, for pet reasons. So if I mandate that flexibility at our company means you get Fridays off, that's not flexibility. That's mandating a day off."

    Is the four-day week an option in every industry?
    - / AFP via Getty Images
    AFP via Getty Images
    Is the four-day week an option in every industry?

    So, what now? The idea just won't go away.

  • In Maryland, a group of lawmakers have just introduced proposed legislation for a four-day workweek. If passed, participating businesses could be eligible for tax credits.
  • Throwing a little credit to the pandemic disruption here, but the timing on this conversation might finally be right. Forced to let staff work remotely, many managers saw that they could trust employees to manage their own time, meeting deadlines and expectations, adapting quickly to a nontraditional office structure.
  • Also sparing a thought for the planet here: fewer workdays means less cars on the road for commutes and lower utility bills. Anything that gets the carbon footprint down amid the climate chaos of 2023 will work for me.
  • Learn more:

  • Dig deeper on the recent U.K. trial and what the research found
  • You know the 40-hour workweek was a new thing at one point, right? Learn how we got there
  • Understand why the concept might not be for everyone
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Lauren Hodges
    Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.