Team of business professionals wearing face mask sitting in office boardroom during a meeting. Business people having meeting during pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended, among many things, the job market. With time to reevaluate their careers, working conditions, and quality of life, nearly 48 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021. And according to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 4 million people resigned in February 2022 alone. Some people believe a four-day workweek could be the answer in the quest for a better work-life balance

Some California lawmakers thought it was the answer too, hoping to blaze a trail with Assembly Bill 2932, introduced earlier this year, that would have shortened the workweek from 40 to 32 hours for companies with more than 500 employees. While the bill recently failed to advance this session, a similar federal bill proposed by California Rep. Mark Takano is making its way through Congress, though it has yet to be heard by the House.

Proponents of a four-day workweek say the shift improves productivity, employee well-being, reduces stress, and improves retention rates. In 2018, the New Zealand-based company Perpetual Guardian found a 20% increase in employee productivity and growth in employee work-life balance after switching to a four-day week.

And for families and BIPOC, the benefits are increasingly impactful. Not only does the money saved on commuting costs make a difference, but a shorter workweek would help reduce employment barriers for women—who are often the primary caretakers of their families—allowing more time and flexibility for child care. These benefits are extended to any worker who is a caregiver to a loved one—and nearly 40% of caregivers in the U.S. are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. 

Emily Banister, a 24-year-old business development analyst, shifted to a four-day, 10-hour-per-day schedule when she started her new job eight months ago. 

“The biggest benefit I’ve seen from a shortened workweek is the ability to have a full day to handle any medical or personal appointments,” Banister said, noting that now she has increased flexibility in scheduling things like doctor appointments, haircuts, or trips to the car shop that might otherwise come out of her paid time off. “It’s wildly helpful.” 

“A four-day workweek is absolutely something that more industries could benefit from,” Banister said. “I recognize it’s not possible for all lines of work, but I believe more companies should try making that shift for employee wellness.” 

4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit organization affiliated with University of Oxford, has been helping companies execute a shortened workweek through a six-month pilot program with 38 companies in the U.S. and Canada. The organization offers workshops for business leaders to streamline their work, pair companies with others that have successfully executed a four-day workweek, and track shifts in productivity and employee well-being. 

Last month, cybersecurity startup ByteChek made the move to a company-wide four-day, 32-hour workweek. 

“We are still at the beginning of our four-day workweek journey, but the result so far has been incredibly positive,” said Chief People Officer Allison Bauman. “Work output has not decreased, and ByteChekians have reported that they feel just as or more productive during the shorter week.”

ByteChek made its way to the shortened workweek policy gradually. First the company consulted with their team and analyzed their Friday workloads to maintain output with fewer hours. That started with “Quiet Fridays,” where employees didn’t schedule internal or external meetings, which gave way to half-day Fridays and now, a four-day workweek. 

This move made sense for the type of work culture ByteCheck was hoping to build. 

“We value focused work, true work-life balance, and putting people first.” Bauman said, noting the team works remotely. “The four-day workweek supports these values and has perfectly complemented the environment that our team has created from the beginning.”

Some companies in Iceland, New Zealand, and Japan have been successful in implementing a shorter workweek, but most of the companies offering an extra day off are in tech, finance, or other traditionally white-collar industries. Companies in the U.S. like Kickstarter, Bolt, Seed&Spark, ThredUp, and Buffer have all experimented with it.  

That doesn’t mean it’s not feasible for some smaller workplaces. 

Madison Taylor, a 19-year-old from Blairs, Virginia, moved to a four-day workweek when she started working as a technician at a private eye doctor’s office practice in the beginning of the year. Like Banister, Taylor also works 40 hours over the four-day workweek. 

“I struggled terribly with depression, lack of motivation, not having any time to get daily tasks taken care of [while working five days a week] because I was absolutely exhausted once the workweek ended,” she said. 

Now that she has an extra day off, she’s seen a massive improvement in her mental health. She’s able to schedule appointments during her weekday off, has more time to spend with her partner and loved ones, and has the motivation she couldn’t find previously to finish her work.

While many sing the praises of a work schedule that shorten the number of work days and hours, doubts remain about how beneficial it can be across the labor market—particularly for low-wage workers outside of white-collar industries. Assembly Bill 2932 would’ve barred companies from cutting full-time employees down to part-time in retaliation, but it’s unclear how much the loss of hours would impact an hourly worker’s check, or whether part-time employees would earn less per hour compared to their full-time counterparts. 

“I really wish and hope that one day more individuals will be able to experience how much of a difference just one extra day off a week will give you,” Taylor said. “It has definitely changed my life in such a short period of time. I really do think it would bring more positivity in the workplace regardless of what field you are in.”

Montse Reyes is a writer and editor based in Oakland and raised in California's Central Valley. She enjoys writing about the intersection of race, gender and class, often as they relate to culture at large.