A growing number of lawmakers, business leaders, and academics are pushing for the U.S. to embrace a four-day work week, leading critics to question the wisdom of what would be a cultural sea change for the country.
Maryland state lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would incentivize companies to switch to a four-day workweek, allowing employees to work 32 hours instead of 40 without losing any pay or benefits.
The state would subsidize employers that want to make the change. Specifically, the Maryland Department of Labor would administer a five-year pilot program to study the possibility of a shorter work week without any reduction in pay. Companies that agree to participate by trying out a 32-hour workweek without reducing their full-time employees’ weekly pay would be eligible for a state tax credit.
Critics question whether the cost-benefit analysis would be worth it for employers.
“Not every business is able to cut its work time while maintaining the same level of salaries,” said Mary Elizabeth Elkordy, founder of the remote-based company Elkordy Global Strategies. “Companies need to produce the same level of work, so they may need to hire and train more people. Would the tax breaks offered be enough to cover these extra expenses? This could cause businesses to really sweat.”
Elkordy explained a four-day work week could work well for some businesses in certain areas, especially those with long or unconventional hours such as nurses or firefighters, but questioned its practicality in service-based industries where pay is directly tied to a person’s time and output.
The Maryland legislature is set to hold hearings on the bill later this month.
“I really think that this idea, while it may sound radical or utopian, is something that offers a real win-win possibility for both employers and employees,” Maryland State Delegate Vaughn Stewart, the bill’s sponsor, told NewsNation.
The bill’s been referred to a committee in the State House but would need approval from the whole chamber, the State Senate, and the governor to go into effect. If it becomes law this legislative session, the measure would take effect on July 1 and expire in 2028.
“I don’t think that Marylanders should be lining up and thinking that this is going to happen overnight,” said Stewart. “But I do think the time has come for this conversation, and I think the time has come for us to start looking at the future and envisioning a future with more free time.”
According to Stewart, the impetus for his bill was a recent study by the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, which conducted a trial of several companies working a four-day week. The pilot program found most participating companies experienced a general increase in revenue and productivity and won’t go back to a traditional five-day work week.
Proponents of the four-day work week argue it will create a happier and more productive workforce. However, Elkordy questioned whether that would stick following an initial “honeymoon phase” of less work with the same pay.
“On Monday mornings, it will take time for people to get going regardless,” she said. “And it’s just human nature that on the last day of the work, people tend to take it easier whether it’s a Thursday or a Friday. You may over time end up getting less quality hours from employees during the week.”
Elkordy, who said she understands the need for personal time and a work-life balance, noted Maryland’s proposal and others like it could create “bad will” among business owners who may not be able to participate in the program, especially at a time of layoffs in the tech sector and a looming recession.
Beyond Maryland, a California bill that would’ve required companies with 500 or more employees to pay overtime to employees who worked over 32 hours a week stalled last year. At the federal level, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) introduced a similar bill to change the work week to 32 hours.
Outside government, a growing number of business leaders have been delivering TED Talks on the merits of a four-day work week, and academics have been increasingly floating the idea. Meanwhile, a recent CNN opinion piece praised Maryland for “striking a blow at the absurd American culture of over-work.”
However, doubts remain about whether it can break through to the mainstream — in part because of America’s culture of elevating work ethic as a key value.
“Never say never. But I’m not anticipating it happening anytime soon,” Matthew Bidwell, management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, said last year. “I don’t think there’s a huge clamor for it. We are a bit of a workaholic nation, and we don’t even take very much holiday.”
Bidwell’s colleague, Wharton assistant management professor Lindsey Cameron, said she didn’t believe “our employers are going to believe that you can get as much work done in four days as in five.”