Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Four-day work weeks offer benefits, some drawbacks

One Wisconsin organization experiments with four-day work weeks, but they might not be in every business’ best interest
Martha Daniels

An advocacy group called 4 Day Week and research organization Autonomy recently conducted a pilot test in the U.K. regarding four-day work weeks. The results show over a course of six months, 39% of employees reported they were less stressed, 71% reported reduced levels of burnout and there was an overall improvement in mental health.

In Wisconsin, Capri Communities, whose services include assisted and independent living options, is similarly experimenting with four-day weeks. Capri Communities is operating on a grant from the Wisconsin of Department of Health Services to test shortened work weeks.

The program launched Jan. 8 and needs at least six more months before drawing any conclusions, Capri Communities Chief Financial Officer Kristin Ferge said in an email statement to The Badger Herald.


“What we know is the number of applicants for each open position has increased significantly but whether it will help with retention, we don’t know yet,” Ferge said.

Some students who don’t have classes on Fridays may not realize they are already experiencing a taste of four-day weeks.

UW students row toward more equitable gym equipment

Management and Human Resources assistant professor in the School of Business Jirs Meuris said, for example, many classes in the Business School are only offered Monday through Thursday. This gives students an extra day to perform other tasks or for their leisure.

“I think, in general, people will do better under those circumstances rather than if they, for example, will have class five days a week,” Meuris said. “And so especially in the school context where there are these other things outside of work, it makes a lot of sense to try to condense classes.”

But, for students who have a full schedule five days per week, School of Business Management Department professor Alexander Stajkovic said cutting down to four days would look something like producing the same amount of work during the week in 20% less time.

Past studies have also tested the effects of four-day workweeks — others even date as early as the 1970s. There are many different ways to measure the outcome of a four-day week — some of which might cause burnout faster. For a model that looks at 32-hour weeks in four days with the same productivity output, burnout looks like it will increase, Stajkovic said.

Because of this, it is possible to actually burn out faster under work week conditions where businesses are squeezing 40 hours into 32.

Multiple sclerosis awareness month highlights need for more research, accommodations

“If you’re trying to do the same amount of performance in 20% less time, how is that going to decrease the burnout?” Stajkovic said. “You see, science would need to explain that. What are the mechanisms through which this would actually happen?”

The 4 Day Week study was conducted in several different counties, with the U.K. study being its largest effort. In fact, 56 out of the 61 participating companies have elected to continue with the four-day week model.

But, 4 Day Week did not truly cut work weeks down from five days to four — it went from 4.86 days to 4.52 days, according to the report. Stajkovic said this is only a 7% difference in the number of days worked instead of the 20% difference that would result from reducing five days to four.

Because the non-peer-reviewed study did not accurately reflect a 32-hour, four-day workweek, some of the findings, such as improved mental wellbeing, are not fully comparable to a four-day week, Stajkovic said.

Today, many jobs already operate on four days, or fewer than four days, while still meeting 40 hours per week. Nurses, police officers and other shift workers sometimes work 12-hour shifts over four days, Meuris said.

World renowned conservationist Jane Goodall gives lecture at Memorial Union

On a broad scale, four-day weeks may not be the best for every business, company or organization. Changing to four-day weeks will require more workers to accomplish the same amount of work in fewer days or hours. On one hand, Meuris said he does see it creating more job opportunities. On the other hand, it comes down to which work arrangements work best for an organization.

Meuris also said a change from five- to four-day weeks would be more difficult for knowledge workers, or workers who do not perform physical labor or tasks, similar to a “white-collar job.” Knowledge-based work performed in a team would be harder to operate under four days because teamwork requires more schedule coordination. For example, if one worker misses a Friday and another misses a Monday, there are only three actual days of effectively working together.

Another example, Stajkovic said, applies to the post office and mail people. How would they perform the same volume of work in four days without changing the current mail system? The answer is a lot more complex than simply performing the task faster.

“Then, there is manufacturing [which has] a lot of processes and procedures,” Stajkovic said.”It’s all kind of connected and we can’t just squeeze that [into less time].”

Research shows exercise benefits mental, physical health

There are many factors that need to be considered when thinking about four-day weeks and designing experiments to study their effects. Productivity and mental health are very different variables, and changing the hours adds even more factors to consider, Meuris said.

In designing a study, Meuris said the hours worked per week should stay the same but in four days instead of five. Daily or at certain time points during the study, researchers could survey productivity or mental health.

Defining the pros and cons for organizations, managers and employees, using the scientific method and examining past research or experiences will guide discussion surrounding four-day weeks for businesses, Stajkovic said. Looking at four-day work weeks from different angles would also provide managers and researchers insight into whether four days are a good fit for certain workplaces and who should implement them.

“My [advice] with the four-day workweek [is] the same advice you would give any company — test it out in a proper way where you can actually make the comparison and then see what happens because you’re not going to know without doing that,” Meuris said.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *