Four-Day Work Weeks Are Here: The Life-Work Revolution Is Real

Concept of four-day work week, modern approach to doing business. Effectiveness of employees.

Forget about WFH, flexible hours, remote work, hybrid offices. At this point, these are hardly leadership decisions. They are givens.

What’s next?

Four-day work weeks — coming sooner than you think to a company near you.

We are experiencing a colossal change in the future of work, a rejection of the weary existence we called “work-life balance.” Our collective psyche has re-ordered its priorities to value human connection, meaning and purpose, and even rest, more than generating more wealth, status, and fame.

We have dubbed this era The Great Resignation, The Great Reshuffle and The Big Quit. It’s more than that. The norms that weighted work over life have turned upside down. It is a life-work revolution.

The proliferation of corporate experiments, including the previously marginal policy of a four-day work week, underscores just how profound this rebellion is.

Britain’s Atom Bank on Nov. 1 adopted a four-day week for most of its 430 employees, reducing working hours to 34 hours per week from 37.5 hours without reducing pay. Kickstarter in June announced it would test a four-day week in 2022. Portugal passed a law earlier this month that bans employers from contacting employees by phone, text or email outside their regular work hours. There’s even talk at the congressional level: U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from California, introduced a bill in July to reduce the standard work week from 40 hours to 32. The bill has 13 co-sponsors.

President Nixon points to a reporter during his televised news conference in the East Room of the White House.

We have heard this talk before —75 years ago. In a 1956 speech, then-Vice President Richard Nixon predicted a four-day work week in the “not too distant future.”

This time, though, it’s different. The four-day work week will take hold because it embodies the spirit of our times, because workers demand it, and because businesses that implement it will thrive.


The New Equation: Time Does Not Equal Productivity

Working four days instead of five without a decrease in full-time pay or benefits increases wellbeing without reducing productivity, studies show.

Iceland from 2015 to 2019 conducted two large-scale trials of 2,500 employees working a 35- to 36-hours week with no reduction in pay. The study, a joint project by Autonomy, a research organization that focuses on the future of work, and Iceland’s Association for Sustainability and Democracy, found productivity and service provision remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces. At the same time, worker wellbeing increased dramatically across a range of indicators, including perceived stress and burnout, health and work-life balance.

It sounds illogical, but when you pause to add up the variables, the equation makes sense.

With a shorter work week and time at a premium, workers will be forced to ruthlessly prioritize. That means they can:

  • eliminate superfluous meetings;
  • concentrate on the most important projects and drop low impact tasks, and
  • automate tasks that don’t require the human capability.

With an extra day off, people can:

  • tend to personal life needs, such as doctor appointments, without interrupting the flow of a work day;
  • focus on caregiving for elderly parents or young children, reducing the distraction brought on by guilt or worry about the people who depend on them, and increasing their mental and emotional concentration when they are working, and
  • catch their breath on a day off, increasing their energy and motivation when they launch the new work week.

This may feel unrealistic for company leaders given top-level responsibilities and pre-pandemic work expectations that normalized weekend and evening work and 24/7 connectivity. Can we truly break our habit of reading emails before we get out of bed in the morning and scrolling through messages at the dinner table?

Given where we started before the pandemic, a realistic vision for a permanent re-allocation of time may mean leaders cut back at first from seven days to six, then stop working after dinnertime and eventually take weekends off. As the broader workforce starts working four days a week, executives could commit to at least one full day of rest or social time per week.

These changes won’t work in all settings. But the same professional population that moved easily from office culture into working from home can just as seamlessly put this into practice.

Years from now we will look back on our pre-pandemic work habits and lifestyles and wonder why we worked the way we did. We will cringe to recall how we sacrificed evenings and weekends and friendships and family to work all the time. We will ponder how we allowed ourselves to sink beneath relentless professional demands and digital distractions without even noticing we were drowning.

The four-day work week is just one of the corporate experiments that will define the life-work revolution and ultimately the future of work.


Published on December 1, 2021 on

This entry was posted in Blog, Press on .