A four-day work week might be exactly what the U.S. — and its economy — needs right now

“The pandemic has created a moment for businesses to take stock and consider more radical reconstructions of the workplace," experts say.


Surveys indicate that people who work four days instead of five are less susceptible to stress and burnout — which is on the rise more broadly due to the coronavirus.Demetrius Freeman / Bloomberg via Getty Images

By Martha C. WhiteWorkers who clock in just four days a week report being happier and more productive, and small businesses say it gives them an edge in attracting and motivating workers. Now, the prospect of having long weekends every week is gaining traction across corporate America.

The four-day workweek got a boost when former Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang touted the concept on his social media channels recently, in response to a proposal from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that post-coronavirus economic recovery would benefit from three-day weekends. The widespread COVID-19 lockdowns upended regular schedules, with many Americans finding themselves clocking in from home or working different hours as they juggled childcare or home-schooling with their professional obligations — which led employees and bosses alike to rethink the traditional Monday-to-Friday workweek.

Companies including travel website TripAdvisor and publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt switched temporarily to four-day workweeks — coupled with pay cuts — in response to the pandemic’s economic fallout. Advocates say that while it might be a useful tool to cut costs without resorting to layoffs, keeping workers at full pay with an extra day off each week yields other types of dividends.

“The pandemic has created a moment for businesses to take stock and consider more radical reconstructions of the workplace. It is a time for experimentation and a reevaluation of what it means to be productive,” said Andrew Barnes, author of "The 4 Day Week" and co-founder of the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global. Barnes has emerged as a global ambassador of sorts for a four-day workweek, since switching his own New Zealand-based firm onto that schedule back in 2018 and finding it improved productivity and morale. “By focusing on productivity and output rather than time spent in a workplace, the four-day week allows for better work-life balance, improved employee satisfaction, retention and mental health,” he said. This was what Gary Gibson discovered. The 39-year-old, a property manager at a senior living community near Allentown, Penn., said working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown and having greater autonomy with his time management gave him new insight into his productivity.

“What this has really helped me with is realizing that time shouldn't be so rigid in terms of how many hours you’re putting in during the day, as long as you’re getting your work done,” he said.

Gibson said he plans to ask if his employer would accommodate a more flexible schedule. “The four-day workweek would be able to free me up to do more things for my health. I’d be able to work out more, relax more,” he said.

A trial undertaken by Microsoft’s Japanese subsidiary last summer found that a four-day week improved worker productivity, and four-day workweeks seem to have gotten the most traction so far in the tech sector, where corporate culture is more open to unorthodox ideas.

“I think this model can be transferred to other industries outside of tech,” said Robert Yuen, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco software firm Monograph, who transitioned his company to a four-day workweek back in 2016. “Generally speaking, if you're in a white-collar profession, there’s a lot of opportunity to rethink what that workweek looks like.”

Giving people an extra day off can help companies accommodate new social-distancing guidelines in workplaces, along with childcare schedules that are likely to be chaotic for months to come.

About one-third of employers already offer “compressed workweeks,” according to a Society for Human Resource Management survey. Liz Supinski, the organization’s director of data science and research, predicted this number will grow.

“I think it was already out there in the zeitgeist, and I just think now more businesses are trying to be creative. The dislocation of COVID-19 has made a lot of organizations maybe more open to things they'd dismissed out of hand earlier,” she said. “We’re better positioned to return to a workplace where not everybody is in the office every day.” Giving people an extra day off also can help companies accommodate new social-distancing guidelines in workplaces along with childcare schedules that are likely to be chaotic for months to come.

Surveys indicate that people who work four days instead of five are less susceptible to stress and burnout — which is on the rise more broadly as COVID-19 continues to be a public health and economic threat in parts of the U.S.