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What is a four day work week and does it really work?

With an ever-changing workplace, increased levels of burnout in the workplace, and the onset of the great resignation, companies around the world are considering adopting a four-day workweek.


The exciting research in this area suggests that a four-day work week has the potential to yield positive economic, environmental, and social effects, yet these outcomes are not inevitable.

Keep reading to take a look at 4-day work week stats, which countries and ambitious businesses are shifting work hours, and the mental health benefits for staff.

Let's look at the four day work week statistics:

  • A 2019 study at Henley Business School reports that companies that adopted a four-day week found that over three-quarters of staff (78%) were happier, less stressed (70%), and took fewer sick days (62%).10
  • The Henley Business School report also found that a third of business leaders say switching to a 4-day week will be important to success in the future.
  • Moving to a 4-day week has already saved UK businesses an estimated £92 billion annually.10
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of employers said that providing a four-day working week has helped them to attract and retain talent.10
  • 40% of employees say they would use the time to upskill or develop professional skills. A quarter said they would use their fifth day to volunteer.10
  • UK employees estimate they would drive 557.8 million fewer miles per week on average, leading to fewer transport emissions.10
  • Three quarters of Brits back a four-day working week - with 67% of Gen Z saying it would drive them to pick a place to work.10
  • A New Zealand trust management company shifted to a 4-day work week and saw a 27%: decrease in work stress levels, a 20% increase in productivity and a 45% increase in employee work-life balance.2
  • On average, the citizens of The Netherlands only work 29 hours/week—the lowest in the industrialized world. As a result, they have a high employment rate. Culturally, they prioritize time with their families or participating in non-work-related activities, but they are still able to maintain very high rates of productivity.3
  • When Treehouse shifted to a four day work week, their employees saw a 50% increase in family/hobby time.4
  • Yearly revenue growth increased by 120% for Treehouse from 2013 to 2014, the first year of their four day work week experiment.4
  • Working 55 hours of work per week puts a hard ceiling on effectiveness.5
  • Microsoft Japan saw a 40% boost to productivity after implementing a four day work week in 2019.1

"Forty hours isn't some kind of a natural law," says Natalie Nagele, co-founder and chief executive officer of Wildbit, a virtual software company where employees work a four-day, 32-hour week. "I don't think 40-hour weeks are productive. Give employees space to do their work. Don't micromanage them. Don't harass them. Don't make them go to unnecessary meetings. They'll get more done in four hours than eight." [9]

Could the four-day week increase life expectancy?

A landmark report from the UK shows that life expectancy has stalled for the first time in more than 100 years. It also points out a huge gap in health equality that is getting bigger over time.

At the top of the report's list of priorities to improve health outcomes is a four-day week:

“At its recent conference the Scottish National party called on the Scottish government to launch a review of working practices, including the possibility of a four-day week, while the recent Marmot review into health outcomes put shorter working hours on its list of priorities to cut stress and extend life expectancy,” says the economist Aidan Harper who argues in favor of the four day week at the New Economics Foundation (NEF) thinktank and EU political groups.

These findings likely apply to many other countries around the globe too with similar work cultures. Working hours in Australia are about the same as in the UK, and working hours in the U.S. and Canada tend to be even higher.

Four-day workweeks have been shown to decrease stress and improve mental health and decrease stress, and since stress has been proven to increase risk of disease and decrease life expectancy, a four-day week seems like a logical next step for humanity.

How a shorter workweek could impact gender inequality

A sad truth is that gender equality in the workplace has taken a few steps back during the pandemic.

About 3 million women have left the labor market in the U.S. in 2020, meaning women no longer make up 50% of the workforce there.

Studies show that women (disproportionately) have had to drop out of the workforce due to antiquated notions of caregiving that lead to gender inequalities in the home — mothers were three times more likely than fathers to be responsible for a majority of housework and child care during the pandemic.

Coupled with stress from their jobs, the pandemic itself and precarious working situations, more women are struggling from burnout than ever before.

To top it off, women are disproportionately losing their jobs due to pandemic-related layoffs.

In December 2020, women accounted for 100% of the 156,000 jobs lost in the U.S. economy, while men gained 16,000 jobs in that same month.

It's obvious that something needs to change, and a four-day work week might be a tool that can prevent us from sliding even further in the wrong direction.

A recent report argued that it could help women by shifting childcare responsibilities to balance more evenly between women and men. It would also allow more flexibility for parents to spend their extra day off running necessary errands and dealing with other family matters — allowing them to be more focused and productive when they are working.

The four-day work week and the environment

A report by Henley Business School found that employees in the U.K. would drive 557.8 million fewer miles per week on average, leading to fewer transport emissions. Translate that to the entire globe, and the four-day week looks like a promising weapon in the fight against global warming.

According to a study from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, predicts that "if we spent 10% less time working, our carbon footprint would be reduced by 14.6%, largely due to less commuting or grabbing high-carbon convenience foods on our breaks. A full day off a week would therefore reduce our carbon footprint by almost 30%."

If you're still not convinced that's enough to make an impact, you're not alone; it's a common misconception that industry and big business are responsible for global warming. But a multi-national study found that the way we live, work and consume is the primary source of emissions.

Green Growthers

The 'green growther' movement is a group that believes shorter work weeks with no cut in salaries can help economies continue to grow while significantly improving energy efficiency and decreasing emissions.

Alice Martin, Head of Work and Pay at the New Economics Foundation says:

“If you reduce working hours while keeping pay constant, then the evidence suggests that does have positive effects on reducing carbon emissions. Having people in work 20% less of the time translates to a similar drop in carbon emissions, because of changes in behaviour, including reduced commuter travel, eating home-cooked food rather than convenience foods, and spending more time locally, even volunteering. Having more time in life to do things you actually enjoy could result in a change in behavioural patterns so that you actually stop consuming as many high-carbon products."

So, if the largest part of the workforce values work-life balance over everything else, shorter working hours look like a promising tool to improve life expectancy, gender equality and the environment, and the 40-hour week is not inherently part of our DNA, why is it taking us so long to change how we work?

A look at the 40-hour work week and identity

The 40-hour workweek is an ingrained part of American culture that has spread all over the world due to globalization and the United States long-time dominance in the global economy and Hollywood. This is due largely to the post-WWII idea that purchasing power was a status symbol, and men began to identify themselves with their jobs more than they previously did.

"Work became the center of male identity," says the author of the recently released The Age of Experiences: Harnessing Happiness to Build a New Economy (Temple University Press, 2020). "We went from working to live to living to work." [9]

But as with the pandemic layoffs and Artificial Intelligence stealing jobs, we’re at a critical point in human history that is forcing us to rethink what we’ve taken for granted for nearly 100 years.

COVID is forcing us to ask: How can we restructure work to account for the massive societal changes that are upon us, where going to the office isn’t safe and there are not enough jobs to go around?

What countries have a four day work week?

The four-day work week is starting to gain traction around the globe, and we'll likely only see this trend grow significantly over the next few years. While Belgium was the first country to legislate a four-day work week, there are at least 10 countries that have followed, including Canada, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Iceland, Japan, Australia, and South Africa

Here are a just a few examples:

U.S. & Canada

Former U.S. Presidential candidate Andrew Yang has been bullish on the idea, talking with sociologist Jean Twenge about it on a podcast episode. Gizmodo noted the climate change benefit from a four day work week, and The National Post referred to it as a “way to save Canada” post-COVID.

In the United States, the four day work week has been very slow to catch on, although some companies have seen great success from it. And that overall is sad for U.S. citizens, because In 2017, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that from 1987 to 2015, productivity rose by as much as 5% annually in industry sectors from information to manufacturing and retail — but compensation never grew by more than 2% in each year of that same period.

We might be at a tipping point now, however. This could be the moment for the four day work week to scale.

United Kingdom:

In 2019, the British Labour Party -- who would unfortunately go on to lose most of their elections that year -- noted the four day work week as a means of “transforming lives [while] having enough to get by. Not just to scrape by, but to live a rich and fulfilling life.” There is talk of implementing the 4-day week nation-wide.

Recently, UK postal workers argued successfully for a drop from 39 to 35 hours per week, while maintaining the same salary.


Germany is significantly ahead of the curve in terms of working hours, but some movements are pushing the envelope even further. In 2018, a million German metal workers fought (and won) the right to decrease their standard workweek from 35 hours to just 28.

There is an understanding that similar deals will be seen in other sectors soon.


Even before COVID changed our connections to some ideas about work, the four day work week had some political backing. Finland’s Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, stated her support for “a four-day week or a six-hour day with a decent wage” in August 2019, while she was still her country’s Minister for Transport: “I believe people deserve to spend more time with their families, loved ones, hobbies and other aspects of life, such as culture. This could be the next step for us in working life.”

New Zealand

New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, had encouraged businesses that are "in a position to do so” to adopt a four-day workweek.


Spain is considering moving all public sector jobs to a mandated four day work week for 2021 and beyond.

In response to the pandemic, Spain announced pilot programs for a four-day work week to help prevent millions of people from losing their jobs. The government has announced that employers who cut their team’s work week to 32 hours without a loss in salary will get financial backing from the government.

This initial trial is expected to cost €50million, but Spain thinks it’s just the beginning.

“The eight hour working day was unrealistic a century ago.” said Íñigo Errejón, one of the policy’s pioneers and leader of the political group Más País.

There is strong support for this policy to catch on in other countries across Europe since shorter hours have been shown to be effective at spreading work more equally in times of economic crisis.

“Clearly the way that we work is making people stressed, burned out, overworked and causing massive workplace and mental health issues. The four-day week would be good for the economy, good for workers and good for the environment. What’s not to like about it?” - Joe Ryle of the 4 Day Week Campaign

15+ ambitious businesses experimenting with the four day work week

So, there is plenty of political support popping up, but most employers and leaders are still left wondering does this idea actually work?

This varies based on the organizational model and team culture, although in most of the large experiments, the results are positive.

Here are some examples of companies who have successfully implemented the four-day week (and no, they are not all large corporations):

Microsoft Japan

Here’s what happened with the Microsoft work week experiment:

  • Overall employee productivity boost of 40%.
  • Electricity costs fell by 23%.
  • 60% fewer pages were printed.
  • The standard duration for a meeting was slashed from 60 minutes to 30.

Again, though, it’s important to remember that Microsoft was already a tech-friendly organization with established processes and management structure (the company has been around over 40 years).

The company has a tremendous amount of resources, both fiscally and in terms of human capital, to make the four day work week plan more manageable. An average small- or mid-sized business can still implement such a plan, but it won’t have the same resource base, and that’s important to point out here.

But there are plenty of small- and medium-sized businesses that are making the four day work week work for them, and seeing huge benefits from it — see below for more examples.

Perpetual Guardian

Andrew Barnes saw success when they moved away from a traditional five-day workweek at his New Zealand trust management company.  As a pioneer in the movement, his company experienced the following when implementing 4-day workweeks:

  • 27% decrease in work stress levels
  • 20% increase in productivity
  • 45% increase in employee work-life balance
"With its emphasis on productivity, the four-day week tackles hard issues facing our world, for example stress and the breakdown in mental health, gender equality in pay, and the environmental crisis. Four-day weeks offer significant societal benefits from relief of congested highways and public transport systems, reduction in healthcare costs, through to more harmonious families and more purposeful lives.” - Barnes

Target Publishing

The Guardian has many stories of four-day work week success, including that of Target Publishing. Because of sliding advertising sales during COVID, the owner cut pay for 30 employees by 20%.

Correspondingly, as they were receiving 20% less pay, they could work four days. They were so much more productive that, in July, the owner was able to reinstate full salaries -- and keep the four day work week, which employees clamored for.

David Cann, the founder and owner, was surprised at how much more productive his team was.

“And from a mental health point of view, we see huge benefits and because everyone wants it to work, you get an upside in higher profits.”


The social media marketing software, Buffer, started experimenting with a four-day workweek in May 2020, after relaxing productivity expectations for its team due to the pandemic.

Their team mainly works Monday through Thursday, except for the customer service team which has staggered days off.

“Our team is able to have the space to truly relax and recharge on the weekends and come to work refreshed on Mondays,” says Carolyn Kopprasch, Head of Special Projects. [6]


Unilever, which employs about 150,000 people globally, is experimenting with 4-day workweeks at its New Zealand location, which is the type of large-company endorsement (along with Microsoft, above) that the idea needs to gain more traction.

Unilever plans to use new project management software to help boost productivity and erase the need for mindless tasks, allowing their team to focus more on deep work.


Awin, an online marketing firm, is moving 1,000 employees to a four day work week model as well. They will track key metrics over the 12-month pilot stage to determine viability.

This move comes as part of Awin’s “people-centric vision for work” which allows employees to spend more time with families and explore personal hobbies, while being more productive when they are at work.

“With staff well-being at the forefront of our minds, we have been experimenting with a more modern approach to work focusing entirely on outcomes rather than a more traditional input measurement,” CEO Adam Ross says.

Employees are meant to receive their full salaries, and having staff across multiple time zones helps to provide around-the-clock-care for their clients.


Deloitte has been a pioneer of the four-day work week for years, and recently issued an insightful report, Re-architecting Work Models — Four Future Worlds of Work.

Employees are still required to put in 40-hours of work in their short weeks, so it’s not the most envelope-pushing policy, but parents in particular rave about the flexibility.


KPMG offers a similar option to employees without switching to a 32-hour workweek: the ability to work 40-hours per week in four days.  This still allows staff to enjoy a 3-day weekend so focus on their personal lives. This option came to life after the 2008 economic crisis in order to avoid laying off employees.


A London-based technology services firm, which started converting to a four day work week in 2020, after becoming a fully remote company in response to the pandemic.

Daniel Cooper, the managing director, says their goal was to improve work-life balance for its team.

Like so many other companies, they’ve seen a boost in productivity, happiness, motivation, and ability to attract top talent.


A software company based in Zurich, are experimenting with giving their employees Wednesdays off. Their founder, Dmytro Okunyev, claims the change has been positive, with his staff becoming more energized and productive.

“It’s no longer interesting for a company when staff is working”— only what they produce when they are.” - Dmytro Okunyev, Founder [7]


A supermarket chain in the UK announced a move to a four day work week for its headquarters in Bradford.

But they’re experimenting with their own version of the four-day week; staff will be working 9-hour days for four days per week, with an additional 6-hour shift one Saturday per month.


A workflow management solutions company in Montreal, decided in October 2020 to start giving team members the option to work four days a week, along with the choice to work on weekends instead of weekdays if they prefer.

“This is our attempt to acknowledge and accommodate people’s needs, family situations and habits,” - Marc Boscher, CEO. [6]

Shake Shack

Burger franchise, Shake Shack, has been experimenting with 40 hours per week condensed into four days for some of its employees, in an effort to improve staff retention.


Maaemo, a Norwegian restaurant with three Michelin stars, has even shaved an extra day off the four-day week. They are trying to fight their industry’s culture of long hours that often lead to burnout.

In 2016, they cut the workweek from five days to four and saw a tremendously positive impact, so they decided to take it even further — to work just three days a week, with four days off back-to-back. And once a month they would even get five days off in a row so they could visit family or travel.

They noticed an enormous shift in their staff: everyone is happier and does better work, which translates into a better customer experience.

"It was always tense before. People got tired of each other; they'd snap at each other. I'd be pissed off at the waiters because they weren't smiling enough. But now we've turned into normal people. It gives you that boost." - Benjamin Ausland, maitre d' [8]

They readily admit that this change has been expensive and has cut into profit, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Since plenty of businesses are seeing gains with the four-day work week, without experiencing a decline in profit, we’re inclined to believe that the four day week is easier to implement than a three-day week, so if you’re just getting started, stick to that.

Commission Factory

In 2020, Commission Factory trialed a four and a half day work week to help support their team throughout this difficult year. This trial resulted in a more flexible, high-performing team. Due to this success, they've piloted a four-day week with no adjustments in salaries or partnership agreements.

They are closely monitoring the results, but have already seen an improvement in collaboration and innovation.

When they asked their team what they would do with the extra day off, the most common answer was that they would spend more time with family and friends.

Source: Commission Factory

Their team has expressed gratitude for the initiative, with many claiming they feel lucky to work at a forward-thinking company that takes real action to promote work-life balance (instead of treating it like a buzzword and a 'someday' priority).

Employees also claim that it helps with their happiness and motivation, as they are able to come back on Monday fully refreshed and recharged.

Feeling unmotivated?

Find out how to unlock your motivation.

A look at the Autonomy report on the 4 day work week:

The overall Autonomy report, based on 50,000 UK firms, found that:

  • Under the best-case scenario, a reduction in hours per week would be entirely offset by increases in productivity and price increases.
  • Under the worst-case scenario, a four-day week with no loss of pay would be affordable for most firms once the initial phase of the Covid-19 crisis has passed.
  • Under the worst-case scenario, some firms in high-labour cost industries could experience cash flow problems but only if a four day week was implemented too quickly.

There is generally a belief that a four day work week could actually benefit unemployment numbers, with a majority of firms studied saying that they believed a four day work week would ultimately increase productivity among employees.

Coupled with the potential of raising prices, those companies felt they could weather COVID-related storms (or general business fluctuations), and as such, they'd do fewer layoffs. Employment numbers would be more robust.

Mental health benefits of 4-day work weeks

Most of us love a 3-day weekend. It's an opportunity to recharge and enjoy life outside of the office.

The most notable organizational benefits of a shorter working week are related to employee's mental health, burnout, and productivity, including:

  • Employee engagement/experience: If you consistently had three-day weekends, wouldn’t you arrive back at work a bit more motivated to push through?
  • Stress: In a 2016 Groupon study, 60% of the respondents said there wasn’t enough time in the day to do everything. 50% said workload was preventing them from work-life balance. 20% of the respondents said they worked 10 hours/day or more. All of it added to a huge amount of work stress, which could be reduced with less daily commitment to work. Also, um, have you heard about COVID stress?
  • Work-life balance: Four day work week means more time back to family, friends, volunteering, and other commitments.
  • Job Burnout: Same as some of the above stats; overworking, child care, schooling, and home responsibilities, cause burnout. Burnout decreases productivity, and a staggering number of women are having to leave the workforce entirely. A four day work week can help.

If you're feeling overwhelmed at work, you're not alone. In fact, we know how important mental health and physical health is. That's why we've developed two coaching programs to target these areas of your life: Vital Wellbeing and Optimal Health Coaching.

To get started, take our free F4S assessment. It's based on more than 20 years of research and is proven to support you in reaching your biggest goals - it fact, 90% of our participants meet their coaching goal in 4 - 8 weeks. Our starter plan is free and includes one free coaching program.

Logistically, how can you implement a four day work week?

If you're ready to ditch the five-day week here are some examples of what a four day work week could look like:

The 4x10 or 4x8 models

One of the easiest is to shift to 4 x 10 (10 hour workdays, adding to 40), which some companies do, or 4 x 8, because a 32hr work week is the lowest number of hours for health insurance in countries such as the USA.

Now, on a 4 x 10 model, the days do need to be staggered. If you have clients or customers, and you give everyone in your organization Friday off, well, those clients/customers may still have questions or needs on a Friday, and you want someone available to deal with them.

You could design A, B, C, and D teams and each team could alternate taking a different day off every week -- so, for example, each team might get two Mondays off and two Fridays off, but that ensures there is coverage on the other Mondays and Fridays in case clients have needs.

The flexible approach

A more low-key approach to the four day work week is to tell employees they don’t have to come in on specific days, but encourage “coverage pockets,” whereby certain members of a given team check their email every 2-3 hours to make sure there are no major client or customer issues.

This is a less-formalized approach, but it still means employees can plan to be off the work grid and make plans aside from a few check-ins.

The hybrid model

In the context of COVID, you can use the A, B, C, D model above to have certain teams be in-office on certain days (when it’s safe), certain teams be work from home on certain days, and a cross-section of different teams have a fifth day off each week.

You should mix up the A-D models, because you don’t want just the Operations team being in-office on Wednesdays. While that might be beneficial for the boss of the Operations team, you want to create interaction across silos so that people can get access to different information.

So have a mix of teams come in on different days, and have a mix of team members with different fifth days off. This also might encourage socializing outside of work across functional areas (“Oh, you have Monday off next week?”).

What are the downsides of a four day work week?

The primary downside is honestly in terms of Industrial Age management thinking, that if people aren’t physically present, work won’t be getting done and key client/customer relationships could suffer.

While that is a potential concern, and organizations have long had problems with it, it’s also the same logic that kept talent management tethered to a few HQ locations for generations.

Now, with COVID and the explosion of remote work for knowledge workers, we’re increasingly seeing that physical location doesn’t matter as much as your ability to get work done successfully. It’s the same logic jump that needs to occur in management thinking to scale a four day work week.

A shift in mindset is needed for the 4 day work week to work

A shorter week at work does not mean people are slacking off. Instead, it means they are still putting in 32-40 hours of work, but taking time to recharge themselves and invest in relationships, which means the organization gets a better version of them coming to work -- often one who is happier, more well-rested, and less-consumed by the day’s tasks. Sparks of creativity and innovation can fly in such employees.

The biggest shift is management thinking. It’s not people demanding to work less, or the demise of work ethic. It’s just a different way to conceptualize how we work given how much technology currently aids us in work as is.

Plus, an April 2014 paper called “The Productivity of Working Hours” found that 55 hours of work per week was essentially a hard ceiling on effectiveness.

Someone who works 54 hours/week and someone who works 80 hours/week have very similar outputs. We don’t mean to insult Elon Musk’s 120-hour work week, as it works for some people apparently, but much social science research of the past few decades has shown that we could all do with working a bit less.

How to negotiate a four day work week with your boss

If you're feeling inspired by the stats we've shared, you might be ready to implement a four-day working week policy. Negotiating a four-day work week with your boss or HR department requires careful planning, effective communication, and a strong case for why it benefits both you, your colleagues, and the company.

Here are some ways to get started:

  • Refer to the research above to focus on effective examples and compile the most relevant cases studies and stats.
  • Frame the case around work-life balance, burnout, stress reduction, and increased productivity as a result of the betterment of those elements.
  • Be sure to indicate all client and customer needs will be met.
  • Ensure them that work productivity will not be lost - and may even increase.
  • Propose a short 4-day work week pilot and see how things are going at two months; re-evaluate then.
  • Decide what metrics will be tracked during those two months for the evaluation period.
  • Capture data and survey employees on their experiences and feelings.
  • After your agreed-upon trial time, determine the best course of action for your organization.

Remember that the success of your negotiation largely depends on how well you can demonstrate the benefits of a four-day workweek, both for you and the company, and how open and constructive the conversation with your boss is. Approach the discussion professionally and remember to be patient.

The bottom line on the four day work week

It is achievable, and organizations have already shown it. It might not be achievable for every business model so it's important to consider the outcomes strategically.

Some of the jobs are part-time or temp “coverage” roles for people taking their fifth day off, but it’s nonetheless paid opportunities for someone at a time when millions are unemployed globally.

The biggest shift in thinking on the four day work week typically needs to occur at the management (upper and middle) levels, so prepare pitches and presentations that are data-driven, have a trial period and an evaluation, and emphasize consistently that work will still get done and people will still be committed to the organization and not slacking off.

It is achievable and can make a big difference in the lives of your employees, as well as the environment. Will this be the year you embrace the four day work week?


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