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California’s Four-Day Dream

A new bill in California would define the workweek as 32 hours for employees of large companies. Is that a good idea?

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More time for loafing.
This story was published on our The Memo from Quartz at Work newsletter, Practical advice for modern workers everywhere.
  • Lila MacLellan
By Lila MacLellan

Quartz at Work senior reporter

Published

“The drive for the four-day workweek has become serious.”

A feature writer for the New York Times Magazine made that argument… in 1964.

“The time has come to take a hard look at both the presumed advantages and disadvantages,” wrote the late Edward Chase.

More than half a century and one (ongoing) pandemic later, the push for a shorter workweek is once again inspiring headlines and governments around the world. The latest call comes from California, where lawmakers have introduced a state assembly bill that would redefine the workweek, setting 32 hours, rather than 40, as the new standard.

If passed, bill AB293 would require companies to provide overtime pay for people whose hours exceed the new legal threshold, but it would only apply to companies with more than 500 workers. Still, that would impact an estimated 2,600 firms in the state and 3.6 million people in a workforce of about 17 million, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Employers in unionized workplaces would be exempt from the 32-hour law because collective agreements might offer similar or better terms, State assembly member Cristina Garcia, one of the bill’s co-authors, told the Chronicle.

Other questions about the bill, which is now facing review by the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee, remain unanswered. State lawmakers would need to determine how it would impact salaried employees, for example, or those who are employed by large California-based companies but live elsewhere.

However, the proposal stipulates that companies could not cut workers’ current salary.

Is this four-day workweek scheme a good idea?

In theory, most employees would happily welcome a four-day workweek. However, Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economics professor, said California’s version of the four-day week is “terrifying.”

“If they introduce this, businesses will reduce employment through hiring freezes and layoffs,” he told the Chronicle, and many companies would move to neighboring states.

The California Chamber of Commerce warned that the four-day week would make hiring more expensive. The bill now appears on the organization’s annual list of potential “job killers.”

What are the advantages of the four-day workweek?

Still, the idea may not be so easily dismissed.

Unlike in 1964 (and during other former attempts to install a four-day week in the US), California legislators now have plenty of precedents and data to consider when weighing the benefits of the bill. A host of private companies and political leaders around the world have adopted versions of a four-day workweek, reporting mostly positive results. Notably, a large, multiyear trial in Iceland found that employees who were given an extra day off felt better able to look after their health and to care for children.

Though company managers involved in the Iceland study expressed concern about employee time pressures and heavier workloads, they also said that most workers were far more energized and engaged after moving to a four-day week.

Since that experiment began, the covid-19 pandemic has made employees’ wellbeing and mental health a top concern for companies. Amid record levels of job-hopping and quitting, employers have introduced flexible hours and other supportive benefits. Now proponents of the California bill say they want state law to recognize and formalize such shifts.

Garcia also argues that a 32-hour workweek would help companies attract and retain employees, while encouraging women who left the workforce during the pandemic—and especially working mothers—to return.

“We’re seeing a labor shortage across the board from small to big businesses,” she told Fortune. Employees, she said, “don’t want to go back to normal or the old way.” —Lila MacLellan

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Today, more than ever, purpose has risen to the top of leadership agendas. Leaders and change makers are sparking disruption and challenging all of us to step up to help shape a more equitable future. This means a willingness to have the hard conversations – deepening our understanding and committing to action. Learn more and get uncomfortable with Jimmy Etheredge, CEO – North America, Accenture, and Emmanuel Acho, FS1 Sports Analyst & New York Times Bestselling Author and a host of unexpected guests, as they tackle tough topics that require our attention to ignite change.Advertisement

Five things we’re reading this week

🍿 GSK’s newly-designed boardroom looks more like a small movie theater than a hallowed corporate space. Big screens are in and hulking office tables are out, as architects rethink meeting spaces in a post-pandemic world.

✈️ Graduates of the world’s elite universities can now apply for a “high potential individual” visa in the UK. Britain is hoping that the new program will attract skilled young workers and help make up for a post-Brexit brain drain.

💼 Companies that recruit already busy CEOs as board members are thinking way too narrowly. Selecting someone like Elon Musk elevates workaholism, reinforces a mostly white and male pipeline, and limits the range of skills and experiences among corporate directors.

👎 Bad managers leave a lasting mark. Humu’s Laszlo Bock says that an employee’s performance can stay depressed for three to five years after an experience with a lousy boss, which is just one way that poor managers cost US companies at least $960 million per year.

🖥 The past two years alone have seen almost as many Indian-origin Silicon Valley CEO appointments as did the entire 2010s. Several of these top US executives are alumni of the Indian Institutes of Technology or other such elite institutions.

Sponsor content by Accenture
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Today, more than ever, purpose has risen to the top of leadership agendas. Leaders and change makers are sparking disruption and challenging all of us to step up to help shape a more equitable future. This means a willingness to have the hard conversations – deepening our understanding and committing to action. Learn more and get uncomfortable with Jimmy Etheredge, CEO – North America, Accenture, and Emmanuel Acho, FS1 Sports Analyst & New York Times Bestselling Author and a host of unexpected guests, as they tackle tough topics that require our attention to ignite change.Advertisement

The four reasons people seek mentorship

If you’re thinking you’d like a mentor but not sure what you’d even ask of one, you’re not alone.

“Most people—and I’ve worked with over 1,300 people in one-to-one coaching—have no idea what they want to do next,” Sean Cain, director of career and performance for Disney General Entertainment Content told attendees of last month’s Quartz at Work (from anywhere) workshop on how to find mentorship.

Cain had some advice for organizing your thoughts. When seeking mentorship, there are typically four ways to categorize what you’re looking for, he said. Before you do anything else, figure out which bucket you fall into so that you can gain clarity. Is the mentorship you seek about:

  • Your existing role? If you like where you are and you want to ensure that your skills are as sharp as possible, you already may have a good idea about who to consult for mentorship.
  • A horizontal move? Perhaps you like what you do but want to do it with a different team or in a different work environment. In that case, find like-minded colleagues or peers who can talk to you about making the leap.
  • A vertical move? Maybe you already know the path you want to follow, and maybe there are barriers to it (the role you want next isn’t open or doesn’t exist yet, or your would-be boss can’t get that headcount approved). “What else can you do along that vertical path?” Cain says. Perhaps you can take on new kinds of assignments that will prepare you for the next role.
  • Strictly exploratory? There’s no need to be embarrassed about not knowing what you want to do next. A good mentor can be a valuable sounding board to help you figure out that very thing.

No matter which category you’re in, Cain explained, ask yourself, “‘Who do I talk to next to learn what I don’t know?’”

Read more and watch a recording of the workshop, here.


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Today’s Memo was written by Lila MacLellan and Heather Landy, and was edited by Francesca Donner. The Quartz at Work team can be reached at work@qz.com.

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