Conference Dissects Mounting Need for Four-Day Work Week After COVID-19 Pandemic

Boston College hosted a public conference on Friday that dissected findings from an expansive global trial exploring the effectiveness of the four-day work week after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID has had a way of resetting the button for humanity to look at how we work,” said Haub Vice President for University Mission and Ministry Jack Butler, S.J. “Certainly COVID challenged us about how we connect with each other about socialization and the need to be in community.” 

The Institute for the Liberal Arts, Center for Work and Family, the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, and various departments sponsored the conference, which aimed to discuss the innovations and challenges that continue to shape how people work after the pandemic.

Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat who represents California 39th District, also spoke at the conference, expressing his support for the research surrounding the four-day work week and presenting the Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act. Takano cited the pandemic as one of the main factors that sparked his interest in the four-day week.

“Workers came to the realization that they value time with their children more and that life is short,” Takano said. “Workers didn’t want to wake up, sit in traffic for eight hours and repeat, rinse, and recycle for five days in a monotonous loop.”

The day-long conference began with an introduction from Butler, who organized the event along with sociology professor Juliet Schor. Schor led the research team analyzing the effects of a four-day work week around the world. 

“Depending on who you are and what you are, there are people that are very much engaged in [the four-day work week] and want to talk about it,” Butler said. “They want to look at it. There are other people that are afraid of it.”

Many people have experienced work-related stress since the COVID pandemic, and this has contributed to the discussion of implementing a four day work week, according to Schor.

“Although it was beginning to gain momentum before the pandemic, the experiences of working through lockdown, pandemic, disease, and massive uncertainty have led workforces around the world to experience extraordinary high levels of stress, burnout, and threats to their well being,” Schor said. 

Schor also introduced numerous researchers including Brendan Burchell, a professor in the social sciences at the University of Cambridge, who also participated in the four-day work week trial with Schor. Burchell presented qualitative findings from the trial. 

Burchell said many businesses cited an interest in providing better quality of life for workers or increasing productivity as the main reasons for participating in the four-day work week trials. 

The trials were a success in the United Kingdom and Ireland according to Orla Kelly, an assistant professor in social policy at University College Dublin. According to Kelly, eight out of 10 of Irish businesses that participated are planning to continue with the four-day work week.

After the trials concluded, Kelly said her team surveyed employees about what it would take for them to return to a five-day work week. The survey found that many employees would request a pay increase if they returned to work full time.

“As we see, a vast majority would need from a 25 to 50 percent pay increase,” Kelly said. “So again, these are perhaps reflections from COVID as we evaluate life and how we spend our time valuing freedom to do things outside of work.” 

According to Kelly, participants of the trial said they were able to improve their work-life balance during a four-day work week by becoming more efficient with their time. 

“They talked about a lot of this work, reorganization, and about how they don’t do hour-long calls with anybody,” Kelly said.

Workers need to take part in the change they want to see, both in offices and at home, Takano stressed.

“In the midst of this tragic loss experienced during the pandemic, there is no doubt that it has been a wake up call for workers to take charge of their lives,” Takano said.

April 23, 2023