Overview:

The concept of the 4-day work week has broad support among Americans. But can it go mainstream?

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California is considering legislation that would radically change the lives of employees in the Golden State.

A bill introduced in the state legislature would drop the standard workweek from 40 hours to 32, effectively reducing the week from five days to four. The proposal would only apply to companies with more than 500 employees, and would ensure that workers under the new standards would not face a drop in pay. Employees who work over 32 hours would receive 1.5 times their regular hourly rate of pay.

If passed, the legislation would impact 50.4% of the state’s businesses, according to the US Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. Cristina Garcia, a Democratic member of the state legislature who co-sponsored the bill, said that work schedules needed to evolve. “It doesn’t make sense that we are still holding onto a work schedule that served the Industrial Revolution,” she said. “There has been no correlation between working more hours and better productivity.”

Although some Democrats have stood behind the idea of a four-day workweek, some opponents of the proposed work reduction believe it will harm jobs. “This significant rise in labor costs will not be sustainable for many businesses. Labor costs are often one of the highest costs a business faces. Such a large increase in labor costs will reduce businesses’ ability to hire or create new positions and will therefore limit job growth in California,” said Ashley Hoffman, a policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce. 

In Japan, Microsoft found that giving employees Fridays off actually increased productivity by as much as 40%.

The four-day workweek has broad support among Americans. A 2021 Ipsos poll found roughly two-thirds of Americans supporting the shorter week, with half of workers believing they would be more productive with the reduced hours. Other polls find that Americans favor condensing the standard 40-hour week into four days.

Some corporations have begun beta-testing the idea. In Japan, Microsoft found that giving employees Fridays off actually increased productivity by as much as 40%. A study based on a four-day workweek trial in New Zealand found that workers were happier and less stressed. Similar trials in Iceland found productivity increased or stayed the same after the switch.

4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit based in the United Kingdom, is currently running a four-day work week study with participants from around the world. As part of that study, thousands of American workers will get Fridays off for the next six months. 

The state of California is set to review legislation on the four-day workweek in the coming weeks and months. Even if the state legislature declines to pass the legislation, public pressure is likely to continue to increase on employers to reduce work hours. Joe O’Connor, 4 Day Week Global’s CEO, believes that the shorter workweek is going to become a norm. “It’s inevitable we’ll see bigger companies doing this,” he said.

“This is my message to CEOs of big companies, where there’s a huge amount of competition: The biggest risk isn’t trying this out and it not working. Your biggest risk is your competitor doing it first.”

Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.