The four-day work week was once a mere hypothetical, something for overworked employees to daydream about. But now it’s close to becoming a reality, both in the U.S. and abroad. 

In February, we covered the emergence of four-day work week pilot programs in the United Kingdom – with more than 30 companies participating in six-month trials of a truncated work week for their employees. 

These programs, as well as the growing amount of data that supports the benefits of a four-day work week, have inspired a similar movement in the United States – starting in the state of California. 

A proposed bill to shorten the workweek is currently working through state legislature. If the bill is passed, it will make the standard workweek 32 hours for businesses with more than 500 employees. The bill, AB-2932, includes stipulations that there would be no reduction in pay, and that employees who work more than 32 hours must be compensated no less than 1.5 times their regular pay rate. 

Many local legislators have publicly supported the bill, citing the promising results achieved by international companies who have adopted shorter work weeks.  

Not everyone is on board with the proposal, however. Fierce opponents of the four-day work week have emerged in the wake of this new legislation, claiming that reducing the number of hours worked will have a negative impact on businesses and the job market. 

As we await further news regarding this bill, let’s look at the key arguments from both sides of the debate around the four-day work week in the U.S.  

The Four-Day Work Week: Productivity Enabler or “Job Killer”? 

Proponents of the AB-2932 bill have argued that shortening the work week will increase productivity and ultimately drive profits for California businesses.  

Their theory has research to back it up, including a 2021 study on more than 2,000 Icelandic workers who participated in a four-day work week and ultimately enjoyed an improvement in overall productivity and service provision. 

According to Assembly Member Cristina Garcia, who co-authored the legislation, the bill was prompted in the wake of the Great Resignation, the mass exodus of employees leaving their jobs for new opportunities during and after the pandemic. 

 “There has been no correlation between working more hours and better productivity, Garcia said in a statement to the press. She added: “It doesn’t make sense that we are still holding onto a work schedule that served the Industrial Revolution.” 

On the other side of the debate we have the California Chamber of Commerce, who went as far as to include the bill on its list of “job killers”.  

Chamber of Commerce Policy Advocate Ashley Hoffman penned an opposition to the bill, in which she argues that a four-day work week would result in higher labor costs, untenable requirements for employers, and slower job growth among other potential risks.

“The significant rise in labor costs will not be sustainable for many businesses,” Hoffman wrote. “Such a large increase in labor costs will reduce businesses’ ability to hire or create new positions.” 

She ultimately states that the bill is the wrong solution to the problems that led to the Great Resignation. The correct solution, according to the Chamber of Commerce, is not to shorten the workweek but to promote more flexible workplaces for employees:  

“Employees want flexibility, whether it be through a more flexible daily schedule, alternative workweek schedule, or the ability to continue to telecommute after the conclusion of the pandemic. Yet, bills that propose increased flexibility are often not even set for a hearing.” 

Reimagining the Workweek 

No matter what side of the debate you fall on, one thing is for certain: the pandemic has led to a complete overhaul of how we think about the workplace, from where we work to the timing and quantity of hours we spend working. 

If the bill passes through California legislation, we’ll surely see the four-day work week gain traction across the country over the next several years. And even if it doesn’t, it’s inevitable that future legislation will aim to address the need for businesses to reimagine the flexibility and benefits they offer to modern workers.