Last summer, the biggest four-day work week trial in the world kicked off in the UK. 3,300 people started working 80 percent of their regular hours for 100 percent of their pay. Feedback from employees and companies was overwhelmingly positive; people felt they were more productive and less stressed, and some businesses even saw their financial performance improve.
Meanwhile, a similar trial was taking place in the US and other English-speaking countries (Australia, Ireland, the UK, New Zealand, and Canada), with 903 employees across 33 companies getting a day of the week back in exchange for consistent work output. This pilot was also a resounding success, with 96.9 percent of participants voting to stick with a four-day week rather than going back to five days. Employees’ self-assessed work performance improved, as did their “satisfaction across multiple domains of life.”
The message is clear: a four-day work week works. People like it. Companies like it. Everyone’s happier, and there’s no decrease in productivity or hit to financial performance. So now that we’re all in agreement, what comes next?
The state of Maryland is the first in the US to take a step towards standardizing the four-day week. A proposed bill would give tax credits to companies that implement a 32-hour work week without reducing their employees’ pay. They’d get credits of $750,000 per year for up to two years if they have at least 30 employees scale down to a shorter work week.
The tax credit would be used in part to help businesses cover the cost of collecting data about the trial and reporting it to the state. The state would have to pay the cost of administering the program, which could be as much as $250,000 a year.
So what’s in it for the state? It seems a bit counter-intuitive for a state government to incentivize its citizens to work less. What about growing the economy and staying competitive?
As we’ve unfortunately learned through the chaotic labor market of the last couple years, it’s hard to grow the economy when millions of people are unhappy with their jobs and voluntarily leave them. The instability and worker shortages brought by this state of affairs must be more harmful than working one less day per week—especially if that one day is making a difference in employee satisfaction.
That’s job satisfaction and overall life satisfaction. Less time behind a desk means more time doing whatever you please, be it spending time with family, exercising, or working on personal projects—and ideally, that means a happier you, one who’s more motivated to perform at work and less likely to quit in a flurry of frustration and stress.
“We have a real opportunity here to create a win-win,” said Vaughn Stewart, the Maryland state delegate who sponsored the bill in the House after learning about the global trial. “We can make a shift toward reducing working hours without harming productivity, and possibly even boosting companies’ bottom line because they not only have improved productivity but retention and recruitment.”
The Maryland Legislature will hold hearings on the bill this month. If it passes, it would be the first of its kind in the US, and would be the first official change to the work week since 1940, when the federal government changed the minimum standard from 44 hours to 40.
Stewart is cautiously optimistic, noting that he’s gotten more interest in this bill than in all the other bills he’s sponsored combined since he became a member of Maryland’s House of Delegates four years ago.
If it’s signed into law, Maryland’s four-day work week pilot would go into effect on July 1.