Boston College sociology professor Juliet Schor is leading a research team that is currently conducting world-wide studies analyzing the benefits of the four-day work week.
“There is an organization called 4 Day Week Global that recruits companies to trial four-day weeks with five days pay,” Schor said. “I had been approached by the CEO of 4 Day Week Global about doing research for these trials because I have a long history of studying work time.”
Researchers have started trials in countries across the world, with the largest trial thus far beginning in the United Kingdom on June 6. The first trial in the United States began on Feb. 1, and Schor said there are more U.S. trials to come with another slated to begin in October.
“These are six-month trials, and companies volunteer for them,” Schor said. “They’re giving four days of work for five-days pay. Some of them are not reducing by a full eight hours right away—they might be going to 34 hours or 35, but the vast majority are actually going to four days, and most of them are taking Fridays off.”
Schor said there are many benefits to the four-day work week, including less burnout and better sleep among employees.
“In some of the studies, we see higher energy levels, less work-life conflict, and higher job satisfaction,” Schor said. “I think a key thing that is important in a lot of these is people tend to sleep more when they have less work time, and that has a lot of benefits.”
Wen Fan, a sociology professor at BC and a researcher for the study, has previously conducted studies on hybrid work and said that people rarely stop working when they work from home. Due to this, according to Fan, worker burnout is at an all-time high, but the four-day work week could prevent this over-working.
“My own research shows that while people work remotely they have the tendency to work 24/7 because the boundary between work and your personal life essentially disappears,” Fan said. “So I feel that this trial for a four-day work week will provide an innovative way for us to rethink the work process.”
According to Schor, employees are typically able to make up the amount of work they would complete in five days in the new four-day week by cutting out time-consuming activities.
“Part of why that is—this is sort of the premise of our trials—is that the companies go through a process of work reorganization before they start in which they cut out low productivity activities,” Schor said. “Often that means changing the culture of meetings, which can tend to be very time consuming and not very efficient.”
Four-day work weeks also have benefits for the environment, according to Schor.
“So people have argued that with a four-day week, you have carbon savings through one fewer day of commuting,” Schor said. “And we’re measuring a number of different dimensions of people’s carbon emissions, their energy use and travel, and so forth. And we’re also asking the companies to give us information on their energy use.”
According to Schor, the four-day work week also benefits companies in that it is attractive for prospective employees because of potential areas for cost reductions, such as health care or employee retention.
“Companies can benefit by maintaining productivity, and then they can also have cost savings on health care costs, on hiring, retention, and they can often attract better employees when they’re offering a four-day week.” said Schor “And then so generally speaking, companies have done well on it.”
Schor said that while many companies have thrived under the four-day work week, it is not realistic for all businesses to operate under this schedule.
“There are a number of important sectors where getting five days of productivity in four days is neither feasible nor desirable,” Schor said. “So we could think about health care. These workers are already pretty stressed, they need four days without any work intensification. Teachers, flight attendants, you know, there’s categories of service workers, and also manufacturing workers who are already at pretty intense pace”
The four-day work week is also not completely possible for hourly wage workers, according to Fan.
“So the first thing I think is important is to realize that we are mostly just talking about salary workers, right, so those workers who get the same amount of pay and it doesn’t really matter how many hours they are putting on the job,” Fan said. “It’s a little difficult to imagine this happening for a wage worker scenario because their payment is directly linked to how many hours a week they work.”
Schors said the momentum toward a four-day work week is historic and that she is excited for BC to be at the forefront of the movement.
“I’m really thrilled that Boston College has the opportunity to lead,” Schor said. “I think this is a historic movement. The trial that began in the U.K. on June 6 is really historic. It’s more than 70 companies, thousands of workers, and I do think we’re at the beginning of something big, so it’s pretty exciting.”