Could a 4-Day Workweek Really Work?
Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Could a 4-Day Workweek Really Work?

A shortened workweek sounds great on paper, but is it a realistic work model?

Let’s face it, who wouldn’t love to do a 4-day workweek? An extra day to spend with the family, a 3-day weekend every week to head off for mini-breaks, a day to dedicate to household chores, or free time to take up a new hobby. Sounds idyllic, right? But, could it really work?

A 4-day week means you’re losing a day of work, and how would you fit everything you need to do in five days into just four? You could put in more hours each day, or do a regular eight-hour shift but work extra hard. Would the improved work/life balance be worth the extra push to still be as productive?

Luckily, we’ve looked into the research for you. Here we discuss the concept behind the 4-day workweek, the pros and cons, and whether it’s possible to be as productive when losing a day of work.

History of the 4-Day Workweek

The concept of shortening the workweek isn’t new. In the early 1800s, workers typically did 70 hours per week, working six days with one day off. Although few records exist, the working week appears to have been reduced to around 65 hours by the latter stages of the 19th century and to 60 hours by the 1920s, especially in the manufacturing industry.

19th century factory workers

Shortening the Working Week

Things remained that way until 1926 when Henry Ford introduced the 40-hour, five-day week for his factory employees — the working week we all know today. Ford extended his groundbreaking policy to his office staff, and it quickly became the norm as other companies adopted it during the Great Depression.

This reduction in working hours could be put down to technological advancements. Improvements in machines automated many tasks and made working practices more efficient. In fact, in 1930, British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2030 people would struggle to find enough work to fill more than three hours a day.

Trialing a 4-Day Workweek

1970s office workers

U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon floated the idea of a 4-day workweek, pledging that every citizen would have a fuller family life because of it in the "not too distant future." While we may not be at that point yet, it’s a concept that’s been tried over the years.

The 1970s saw a boom as small companies turned to 4-day weeks to boost employee morale, but the practice didn’t catch on nationally or globally.

And so, we come to the present. Although most workers still follow the five-day workweek, a push for change is underway. A global pandemic taught us all that working practices were outdated as people began working from home and enjoying the benefits of a better work/life balance.

Today’s technology may make us more efficient, but it also increases the chance of burnout as employees are always available to work from wherever and whenever necessary. This shift towards remote working offers the possibility of altering work schedules that better suits people’s lifestyles. As such, more and more companies are exploring the concept and experimenting with a 4-day week.

How the 4-Day Week Works

Even if an organization wanted to adopt the 4-day workweek, it still needs to consider how it would work. How would it implement a shorter week while still getting the same output from employees?

When you consider that the majority of workers only accomplish up to three hours of focused work each day, just because people are at work doesn’t mean they’re actually getting anything done. That’s why the 4-day week often makes sense.

There are two main ways that companies can implement a 4-day week:

Compressed Schedule

The work schedule of 40 hours a week gets squeezed into four days making each working day 10 hours long. Working longer hours allows employees to complete the same amount of work, but it could lead to fatigue, especially during the latter part of each day.

Reduced Schedule

Individuals do four days for the usual 8-hours per day while receiving the same pay. Keeping to 8-hour days could help with staff morale and motivation, but there’s the chance that employees won’t achieve what they need to.

However, other time-saving strategies can be employed, such as reducing lunch hours, capping meeting lengths, automating some tasks, and setting aside more time for uninterrupted deep work.

The 4-Day Working Week In Practice

Organizations worldwide have experimented with 4-day workweeks, and the results are in. We look at some trials and how employees and employers found the experience.

Modern Office

United States

In the U.S., many small nonprofits and tech companies have begun implementing a 4-day week. Software company Elephant Ventures adopted a compressed schedule for its employees, while Wildbit has been operating a 4-day reduced schedule of 32 hours since 2017.

Other trials haven’t been quite so successful. Utah launched a pilot program for thousands of state employees in 2008, hoping to reduce overheads, conserve energy, and improve efficiency. In 2010, when the state government realized it wasn’t making savings, it reinstated a five-day policy.

Despite Utah state deciding it wasn’t a great idea, some cities, such as Provo and El Paso, have kept the 10-hour 4-day workweek as they found it boosted staff morale and helped lower utility and fuel costs.

United Kingdom

The world’s largest 4-day workweek trial happened in the UK. Around 3,000 employees at 61 companies took part in operating a 32-hour, 4-day week schedule between June and December 2022. Run by nonprofit 4-Day Week Global and the think tank Autonomy, the trial involved a variety of businesses, from nonprofits and manufacturers to finance firms and fast-food outlets, each implementing a 100:80:100 model for employees: 100% of pay, 80% of the time, and 100% of the usual output.

Companies experimented with different systems to find what worked best, including staggered rotas, mid-week days off, and half days.

The results were pretty conclusive. 92% of companies made the 4-day workweek permanent once the trial finished. Businesses concluded productivity had remained high, staff turnover dropped, and revenues increased.

From an employee perspective, 90% wanted to continue with the 4-day week, and 15% claimed that “no amount of money” could make them return to working five days. Just under half said they were less fatigued, and 60% found it easier to balance work with care responsibilities.

Of the five businesses not permanently adopting the 4-day workweek, two have extended the trial, and three have paused the policy.

New Zealand

Unilever, one of the world's largest consumer goods producers, ran an 18-month pilot in New Zealand. It was so successful that the company expanded the 4-day workweek trial to its Australian business in November 2022. Based on a 100:80:100 system, staff has the flexibility to set the hours and days off that best suit them and their teams.

In addition to a growth in revenue, Unilever claimed work was delivered on time and to a high standard and that absenteeism among employees had dropped by 34%.


In 2021, the Japanese government recommended companies allow employees to opt for a 4-day workweek. The idea was to improve work/life balance, giving employees more time to study, socialize, or care for families.

It wasn’t a new concept, as several organizations had previously piloted reduced weeks for Japan-based staff. The most notable was Microsoft Japan, which implemented 4-day weeks throughout August 2019. Workers were happier, meetings became more efficient, and productivity rose by 40%. Even so, the policy wasn’t permanently introduced.


Almost 2,500 people took part in a 4-day week experiment in Iceland between 2015 and 2019. Researchers deemed the trial a success, with employees experiencing a better work/life balance, increased productivity, and improved well-being.

Following the trial and after pressure from unions, 86% of workers in the country now have the right to request a shorter working week. However, Iceland’s private sector is still reluctant to offer the 4-day week as an automatic benefit for staff.


Belgium has gone one step further than other countries. In November 2022, a law was introduced that gives employees the right to work four days instead of five without a reduction in wages. It’s a compressed schedule scheme, so workers still have to work the same number of hours during the week.

However, an employer has the right to refuse an employee’s request for a shortened workweek, as long as it can justify the reason for the decision. Even so, the law gives businesses and employees the freedom and flexibility to choose their work times.

South Africa

Following its success in the UK, 4-Day Week Global has launched the same trial in South Africa. Running between March and September 2023, the experiment involves 28 companies and over 500 employees. Based on the 100:80:100 model, it’ll be interesting to see whether the results will be as positive as in the UK.

Benefits of a 4-Day Workweek

The trials highlight many of the benefits of a 4-day workweek for employees, businesses, and the wider community.

Happy office workers laughing together.

Happier Workforce

An extra day off each week would benefit the majority of staff. Workers could spend more time exercising, socializing, enjoying family time, and pursuing interests, leading to less negativity, reduced fatigue, improved mental and physical health, and lower stress levels.

A healthier and happier workforce means less absenteeism due to illness, reduced staff turnover, and increased job satisfaction.

Better for the Environment

Climate change is such a global issue that it’s interesting to note the impact a 4-day workweek could have on the environment. If the office closes on a Friday, that’s one less day to switch on the lights, air-conditioning, elevators, or computers, and there would be less traffic on the road.

Researchers calculate that reducing the working week by a day across the whole of the UK would shrink the country’s carbon footprint by 21.3% by 2025 — or the equivalent of taking 27 million cars off the road.

Increased Employment

Offering a 4-day workweek could help organizations retain and recruit talented staff. One of the companies taking part in the UK trial saw job inquiries and applications increase by 88%.

Helps the Economy

Henry Ford believed his workers would use their newly found downtime spending their wages on leisure activities and shopping — maybe even on purchasing a motor vehicle. And, the same could apply to moving to a 4-day week.

With employees saving money on things like lunches, gas, transportation costs, and child care, they should have more disposable income to spend within the community, helping boost the economy.

The Negatives

Unfortunately, there are also some negatives.

Older mechanical engineer

Impractical for Many Industries

When looking at the type of organizations that already operate a 4-day workweek, it’s striking to note that many tend to be nonprofit, tech companies, and smaller businesses.

While 4-day weeks could be possible for white-collar workers, it’s difficult to see how it could work for manual blue-collar workers who tend to work shifts.

Large corporations may find it hard to roll the practice out across the whole organization, and it’s also an impractical concept for industries that offer 24-hour services, such as retail, hospitality, law enforcement, and healthcare.

Doesn’t Suit All Workers

Not everyone likes change, and many people enjoy the structure that an 8-hour five-days-a-week lifestyle offers them. Others rely on the chance to work overtime to boost their wages. A 4-day week, especially on a reduced schedule, could also disadvantage older or disabled employees who may find it difficult to increase their work rate to achieve everything in less time.

Increased Costs

Although companies could make savings on energy costs, and some of the trials showed a slight increase in revenue, a 4-day workweek could also increase staffing costs. For example, organizations providing a 24/7 continuous service, such as transportation and emergency services, may need to pay more overtime or hire additional staff to cover the reduction in working hours.

Is a 4-Day Week the Answer?

The answer is a resounding — maybe! No country has yet decided to mandate a 4-day week. But one thing’s for sure: the traditional 40-hour, five-day week is no longer the norm. Organizations from all industries realize the benefit of reducing the working week on their employees' well-being, job satisfaction, and productivity.

Not everyone can work a 4-day week. But, with the evidence falling on the side of a shortened week, maybe it’s time to consider more flexibility in working practices for you and your workforce. And, by working smarter during those four days, it’s just possible you could see a boost in productivity.

Jackie Smart
LinkedIn Profile

Could a 4-Day Workweek Really Work? FAQs

What is a 4-day workweek?

A 4-day workweek is an arrangement where employees work four days instead of the traditional five, often for longer hours each day, while still maintaining a full-time job status.

What are the potential benefits of a 4-day workweek?

Some potential benefits include improved work-life balance, increased productivity, decreased employee burnout, and potential cost savings for businesses.

Could a 4-day workweek lead to increased productivity?

Studies suggest that it could. The idea is that by working fewer days, employees are less likely to become overworked or burned out, which can lead to increased focus and productivity during working hours.

What are potential drawbacks of a 4-day workweek?

Some potential drawbacks could include longer workdays, difficulties coordinating with businesses operating on a 5-day schedule, potential drop in customer service quality, and the need for more staff to cover the workload.

Is a 4-day workweek suitable for all industries?

Not necessarily. It may work well in some sectors, like tech or creative industries, where flexible schedules are more common. However, it might be more challenging in sectors like retail or healthcare where continuous service is required.

How can a 4-day workweek affect work-life balance?

A 4-day workweek could improve work-life balance by providing employees with an extra day off for personal activities, rest, or spending time with loved ones. However, longer workdays could also be challenging for some individuals.

How would the transition to a 4-day workweek affect the business structure?

It would require considerable changes, such as adjusting hours of operation, shifting schedules, potentially hiring more staff, and updating policies. The business would also need to monitor performance to ensure productivity doesn't suffer.

Have there been any studies or trials of the 4-day workweek?

Yes, several trials and studies have been conducted globally, including in New Zealand and Japan. Some have shown positive results like increased productivity and worker satisfaction, but results can vary based on industry and implementation.

Can a 4-day workweek reduce operating costs?

It could potentially reduce costs related to utilities and maintenance if the business premises are closed for an additional day. However, these savings would need to be weighed against potential costs like additional staffing.

How can a company decide if a 4-day workweek is right for them?

A company can conduct a thorough analysis of their operations, consult with employees, and potentially run a pilot program to test the effects before making a full transition. It's also useful to learn from the experiences of other companies in similar industries.

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