The death of the five-day workweek

U.S. workers support a shorter workweek, but is it achievable? A new survey reveals the potential benefits of a four-day workweek.

The grind. The rat race. That steady eight-hour, five-days-per-week cycle we’ve come to know as full-time work is but one answer to the problem of output versus rest, productivity versus consumption. And it didn’t come from nothing. The 40-hour workweek has a storied history of activism and advocacy for fair working conditions, dating as far back as 1884.

Today, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes nonexempt workers who put in more than 40 hours in a workweek are eligible for overtime pay. But the FLSA does not require workers (exempt or nonexempt) to put in 40 hours.

With the 40-hour workweek at the discretion of private employers, many Americans feel they could benefit from and look positively on working fewer days each week (either in a four-day, 10-hour week or a four-day eight-hour week). In a QuickBooks Time 2019 survey of full-time U.S. employees and business owners, 58 percent of respondents support the idea of working four days per week as opposed to five.1

Which best describes your opinion about a four-day workweek?

When broken down by role, half of business owners support a four-day workweek, while 35 percent are indifferent. Similarly, just over half (52 percent) of employees support a four-day workweek, with 31 percent indifferent to the idea.

Among full-time employees, 12 percent say they already work a four-day week. Of those who currently work five days per week, 43 percent say there is a moderate-to-high probability they will work a four-day week at some point in the future, based on the workweek’s growing popularity.

Additionally, 69 percent of employees say they believe technology — perhaps like cloud-based time tracking and scheduling apps — will make it easier for companies to adopt a shorter workweek. And 77 percent of managers agree.

Will technology make it easier to adopt a shorter workweek?

But even if it’s possible in the future, how sustainable will it be? We asked those who are already working a four-day week about the conditions of such a schedule.

Half of those participating in a four-day workweek said they work longer hours each day, while 1 in 3 says they took a pay cut to compensate for working fewer days. But the total number of respondents who have adopted a four-day workweek, regardless of conditions, report positive outcomes. Four-day workweek adopters still report a high level of job satisfaction, with 75 percent saying job satisfaction improved. Over half (69 percent) also report lower stress levels, and 75 percent report less illness in the workplace.

A few respondents said they didn’t have conditions when adopting a four-day workweek. Only 6 percent said they did not have to work additional hours per day, take a pay cut, or work under new performance measures — they simply worked fewer days per week.

2 in 3 workers believe a four-day workweek would boost productivity

While many employees are already working a four-day week, the majority of respondents surveyed said working fewer days could boost productivity. Of those who already work a four-day week, 63 percent agree productivity has improved since it was adopted.

Has working a four-day week improved productivity?

However, not everyone agrees with this assessment. While 54 percent of managers agree that employees would get more work done in a hypothetical shorter week, just 25 percent of business owners said the same.

There was a slight discrepancy between hourly and salaried workers as well, with 37 percent of hourly workers predicting a shorter workweek would negatively affect productivity, compared to 27 percent of salaried workers.

In reality, respondents who have adopted a four-day workweek report positive outcomes. Of the respondents who already work a four-day week, 77 percent report increased employee loyalty.

What impact has a shorter workweek had on the following?

Shorter workweeks could help the environment and society

Overall, our respondents tended to equate fewer workdays with positive benefits that don’t stop at employee health and morale.

When asked about their commutes, more than half of respondents said they spend 30 minutes or more commuting to work each day. A shortened workweek could reduce the amount of time people spend on the road, thus likely reducing their weekly carbon output and saving them money on fuel and other transportation costs.

And if our sample of workers who already work a shortened week is any indication, society as a whole could benefit as well, as at least 1 in 5 would spend their extra day caring for family members.

Whether Americans will ever have a standardized four-day workweek is yet to be seen. But with employees leaning into the idea as a greater possibility, employers may benefit from taking notes on trends and evaluating the well-being, engagement, and productivity of their teams.

What do you typically do with the extra day off?