Number forA California bill mandating employers with at least 500 employees to pay overtime for working more than 32 hours a week — essentially creating an incentive for employers to adopt a 4-day workweek — just stalled in the state Legislature.

There’s a lot of talk lately about 4-day workweeks, with big pilot programs taking place in the US, Canada, and the UK. (For info about these pilots, see the links at the end of this article.)

I find the idea of shortened workweeks compelling, though I don’t see anything magical about four-day weeks (imagine a world where people work the number of days it takes to do the job?). And I wish folks would specify whether they’re advocating a reduction of weekly hours at the same pay vs. cramming the usual number of hours into 4 days (i.e. 4 8-hour days vs. 4 10-hour days a week).

(California was not trying to cram 40 hours of work into 4 days. Indeed, unlike many states, California currently mandates overtime pay for working more than 8 hours in a day.)

That said, let’s be on the lookout for unintended consequences and questions that have been unanswered or even unasked:

  1. Will 4-day workweeks evolve as a privilege of “white collar” workers? Some of the pilot programs include only a nominal number of retail, food service, and manufacturing companies, but if hourly employees are not given the same opportunity as salaried workers, will the perception of a leisure class — working 4-days a week from home offices while others toil away to conduct “essential” work — fuel the ever-growing disparities in our society and the resentments and polarization that follow?
  2. If employers with predominantly hourly workers — think about factory and transit workers, for example — do adopt 4-day work weeks they’ll need more workers. How will this need be met in an economy that supposedly has a labor shortage?
  3. How will overtime pay be affected? Are proponents defaulting to the California model of paying hourly employees overtime for anything beyond 32 hours (California already has worker-friendly overtime regulations compared to other states) or will there be a donut hole between 32 and 40 hours, which may ultimately lead to the policy’s implosion?
  4. Will employers increasingly divvy up jobs that are currently 40 hours a week into two 20-hours-per-week jobs? Workers may be driven to hold more than one job, increasing job insecurity and, most likely, challenges with scheduling and family caregiving.
  5. Who will be considered part-time, and how will shortened work weeks affect benefit eligibility?
  6. How will customer experience be affected?
  7. Descriptions of the US/Canada trial refer to “Fridays off.” Why is this the default? Why not give employees voice regarding which day(s) they’d like off? And mightn’t some employers prefer to stagger the days off?

Glad to see that the major tests of 4-day workweeks include training, especially for leaders/managers. Less time at work can be transformational for our society, but it’d be naive to think we can just lop off Fridays and operate business as usual.


Learn more:

The Guardian: Thousands of UK workers to take part in four-day week trial: “More than 3,000 workers at 60 companies across Britain will trial a four-day working week…”

CNBC: Thousands of employees are testing a 4-day workweek starting today: “Thousands of workers across the U.S. are enjoying their first Friday off for the next six months in an experiment to test a four-day workweek. It’s part of a worldwide effort launched by 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit associated with the University of Oxford…38 companies in the U.S. and Canada are taking part.”

BBC: The realities of the four-day workweek: “A shorter workweek is being hailed as the future of employee productivity and work-life balance. Is it that easy to make work better?”