Home / Opinion / Columns /  When company revenues shot up with 4-day work week

The first large-scale study of a four-day workweek has come to a startling close: Not one of the 33 participating companies is returning to a standard five-day schedule. Data released this week shows the organizations involved registered gains in revenue and employee productivity, as well as drops in absenteeism and turnover. Workers on a four-day schedule also were more inclined to work from the office than home. “This is important because the two-day weekend is not working for people," said lead researcher Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College who partnered with counterparts at University College Dublin and Cambridge University. “In many countries, we have a workweek that was enshrined in 1938, and it doesn’t mesh with contemporary life. For the well being of people who have jobs, it’s critical that we address the structure of the work week."

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The study is the first from a series of pilots coordinated by the New Zealand-based non-profit advocacy group 4 Day Week Global and involving dozens of companies in ongoing six-month pilots. A US and Canadian trial began last month, and a pilot of mostly European and South African organizations begins in February. The initial data were collected from businesses and organizations in the US, Ireland and Australia, tracking 969 employees over a 10-month period as they reduced their workweeks by an average of six hours with no change in pay. They varied from a restaurant chain in the southwest US to an Ohio-based custom RV builder to a climate non-profit in Dublin.

Dozens of indicators, ranging from productivity to well being to fatigue, all improved as the companies transitioned. The findings come at a time when businesses and their employees are struggling to recover from the pandemic, with ongoing high rates of burnout, stress and fatigue.

Organizational performance measures were strong. Revenue rose about 8% during the trial and was up 38% from a year earlier, indicating healthy growth through the transition. Though multi-company measures of productivity are difficult, the organizations rated the impact of four-day schedules as positive, averaging 7.7 on a 10-point scale. Employee absenteeism dropped from 0.6 days a month to 0.4, while resignations marginally dropped and new hires increased slightly. Companies rated the overall experience a 9 out of 10.

“We definitely saw much higher engagement levels among staff—higher than we’ve ever recorded," said Jon Leland, chief strategy officer at the crowd-funding company Kickstarter, which finished its pilot in September and permanently adopted a four-day schedule for its 100 or so employees. “We’ve also had much higher retention, as well as faster and easier hiring, which are probably the three most impactful factors on our overall productivity." Leland said Kickstarter employees are more committed to staying long term with the new schedule, and that as an executive who needs to work more than four days, he has found it much easier to squeeze in some office-related tasks over the three-day break.

Not everyone believes a four-day workweek is desirable or feasible. “If companies are really committed to this, they would demonstrate it by turning off network access on the days that they’re not scheduled to work, and asking people to leave their laptops in office," said David Lewis, chief of the HR consulting firm Operations Inc. “But I don’t see companies doing that."

One weakness of the study is that all the participating organizations opted in, so their leadership was already biased toward four-day weeks. But employees were won over: about 97% wanted to continue with four-day schedules, with workers reporting less work stress, burnout, anxiety and fatigue, along with fewer sleep problems. They also reported fewer conflicts between work and family, and less instances of coming home from work too tired for necessary home tasks. Notably, the study found that extra time off wasn’t used for secondary employment, but instead for hobbies, housework and self care.

The companies in the study also skewed toward smaller businesses with fairly young workers. But the researchers say they are in talks with larger companies for 2023 pilots. Critically, employees didn’t report an increase in the intensity of their work.

One low note came around gender: The study found no change in the balance of household tasks, meaning that when men had a free day off, they didn’t do more housework, though they helped a little more on child care.

“We’re looking forward to seeing what the companies have learned in a year," said Charlotte Lockhart, co-founder and managing director of 4 Day Week Global. “As wonderful as these results are, it’s just a pilot, and what we’re looking for is the long-term sustainable model."

Arianne Cohen is an author and Bloomberg columnist.

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