Will the 4-day work week hit the U.S.?

As UK companies shorten the work week, U.S. companies are giving it some thought — and in some cases, action.

In the UK, there’s a big workplace shift afoot: In November, 100 UK companies decided to switch permanently to a four-day work week following a pilot program in which more than 70 companies participated.

Midway through the trial, 95% of firms said productivity either stayed the same or improved since moving to four days a week, according to a survey from 4 Day Week Global, which ran the experiment. And 86% of companies said that they’d be “likely” or “extremely likely” to consider keeping the four-day work week permanently.

A four-day work week has benefits: It’s a great tool for attracting and keeping talent, gives workers more time to tend to their personal lives, and can boost productivity overall. But it works better in some industries than others, and work culture in the U.S. isn’t quite the same as it is in the UK.

Here’s where U.S. companies stand on a four-day work week.

Some U.S. companies are already doing it

Some U.S. firms have already adopted the four-day model, including Kickstarter, thredUP and the city of Morgantown, West Virginia, among others. In fact, 40% of companies have started using a four-day work week or are implementing one, according to a recent EY Future Workplace Index.

Arrow, a PR firm in Austin, Texas, implemented a 32-hour four-day work week in 2020, partially in response to employees’ overall burnout. “We were all deep into Zoom and people were really fatigued from being on Zoom calls and going through difficulties of what COVID presented for everyone,” says Dave Shaw, Arrow’s founder and CEO. “We decided, ‘Why don’t we just take all of Friday off for the summer?’ And it worked so well — people came back completely refreshed and energized and ready to go.”

At the end of the summer, Arrow’s leadership team voted to keep the four-day work week. “We realized it didn’t hamper our productivity at all,” Shaw says. “We informed our clients, and with almost no exception the reaction we got was, ‘That’s amazing, I wish my workplace would do it, too.’”

There are also hybrid four-day models

Other companies have adopted a four-day work week — but only part of the time. Teambuilding.com, a corporate events firm, runs four-day work weeks in January and July, which are the company’s slow months, and they’re considering expanding into other months.

“October, November and December are, by far, the busiest for us,” says Michael Alexis, CEO of the company. “Our team works hard, and they work long hours. Coming into January, it’s convenient for us to be able to provide that time off. It’s also very much earned.”

At public relations firm FischTank PR, employees have been split into two groups, and the groups alternate having every other Friday off. This ensures that there’s always someone available to service client needs, since half the team is present every Friday.

“It works out to be an extra 20 to 23 days off during the year,” says Matthew Bretzius, president and partner of the firm. “Feedback we’ve gotten has just been about how helpful it is for them to have that extra day every couple of weeks to recharge.”

There are questions to consider

Instituting a four-day work week at a U.S. company requires some thought. “How will overtime pay be calculated?” says Linda Shaffer, chief people and operations officer for Checkr, a human resources background check company. “Will the way that holidays and vacations days are handled need to change?”

Additionally, how will the four-day week work? Is it every Friday off, or is it any four days a worker chooses? Will workers put in the same hours over four days, or will they work fewer hours overall?

“In the UK, they’re looking at having four days in the work week and still paying their full salary,” says Robert Bird, professor of business law and the Eversource Energy Chair in Business Ethics at the University of Connecticut. “This can obviously happen when the labor market is tight. Prospective employees can be more aggressive.”

Flexibility may be key in the U.S. 

While some forms of work slide easily into a four-day model, it’s harder to visualize how it would work in industries like healthcare or manufacturing, or anything requiring shift work. “Hospitals need 24/7, 365-day coverage, and that means a significant number of their employees work schedules that are less than ideal,” Bird says.

As companies contemplate this model, some HR experts feel that U.S. workers may value flexibility above a set four-day schedule.

“U.S. companies, in contrast to those in the UK, may opt to focus more on flexibility and work-from-home policies rather than making a permanent shift to a four-day week,” Shaffer says. “This would provide employees with the same benefits of a shorter week while allowing employers to remain agile in their staffing needs.”

One thing is certain in a market where attracting talent is crucial: if it can be done, a shorter work week is a selling point. Says Arrow’s Dave Shaw, “We have a job posted right now, and one of the top bullets is ‘four-day work week.’”