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SO MUCH FOR 9 TO 5

There’s one job perk more popular than a four-day workweek

A giant clock is seen over the entrance of Cergy-Saint-Christophe railway station in Cergy, near Paris, France.
Reuters/Christian Hartmann
A giant clock is seen over the entrance of Cergy-Saint-Christophe railway station in Cergy, near Paris, France.
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The four-day workweek is certainly on trend.

Belgium’s prime minister recently OK’d the idea as part of a suite of workplace reforms passed last month. His government is the latest in a long list of national and local governments ready to try shorter weeks.

And workers are taking note. In the US, a new survey by Qualtrics found that an astonishing 92% of workers like the idea of working four 10-hour days every week, instead of five days per week for eight hours. One in three (37%) said they would choose a shorter workweek even if that means taking a pay cut, and 82% said that they would be more productive on a condensed schedule.

However, when employees were pressed to choose between a four-day week or having more control over when they work, the second option was slightly more popular: 50% of workers said they’d rather have the freedom to set their own hours compared with 47% which said they’d prefer the four-day week.

The “four-day workweek” is not a rigid concept

In practice, there may be little difference between the two approaches.

Andrew Barnes, the New Zealand-based founder of the 4 Day Week Global movement, told Quartz last year, companies might talk about the four-day week for shorthand, but allow employees to continue working five-day weeks if that’s what suits their needs.

In other words, the definition of a “four-day week” varies across organizations experimenting with it. Sometimes employees get an extra day off and earn the same pay, without extending their hours on the days they work. In some cases, workers may get to choose which day they take off; in others, the whole company might shut down on the same day to keep the workflow organized.

The pandemic has fueled adoption of the four-day workweek

Working four-day weeks is correlated with lower rates of burnout, which is partly why the concept is having a moment, with employees particularly exhausted. (Though not everyone would agree.)

The four-day week has also been found to support gender equality. An extra day off can be invaluable to women, since the burdens of caregiving and housework still fall disproportionately on them, threatening their ability to succeed at the same rates as men, and putting them at a higher risk of burnout.

“The pandemic has been a wakeup call,” says Pernille Garde Abildgaard, CEO of Take Back Time, a Danish consultancy. “We all have become more aware of how we spend our time,” she says. Those who began working remotely two years ago saw how their former workplace processes were often needlessly complicated, meetings were too long, and interruptions too common, she adds.

Workers are also becoming more mindful of how much time and energy they dedicate to work at the expense of other relationships and interests. Qualtrics’ survey suggests companies would do well to recognize that: 81% of respondents said having a four-day week would make them more loyal to their employer.

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