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Lindsay Grizzard has pitched a four-day workweek to two of her previous employers with no success. Even then, she’s not deterred from asking for it again.
Grizzard works eight hours a day, five days a week as a brand designer for a technology company from her home in Portland, Oregon. She feels she could accomplish the same amount of work on a 32-hour-a-week schedule — or at least close to it. But a four-day workweek could also improve her focus while she’s at work and her mental health when she isn’t, a factor she considers even more important. She’s convinced both could help a company’s bottom line, too.
“A four-day workweek would help us relax, recharge and take better care of ourselves overall,” Grizzard says. “If companies truly put their employees first and figured out ways to keep them healthy and safe, they would end up with an extremely loyal and productive workforce.”
Grizzard, a millennial, has a viewpoint that many peers her age seem to share. Younger generations overwhelmingly support a four-day workweek, a nationwide Bankrate survey published in July found. More than 8 in 10 Generation Z and millennial workers (or 83 percent for those between the ages of 18-42 combined) say they’d support one, with almost 3 in 5 strongly supporting it (at 59 percent).
Their older counterparts are still interested. Close to 8 in 10 Gen X and baby boomer workers (or 78 percent for those between the ages of 43 and 77 combined) support a four-day workweek.
But younger workers indicate they’re willing to go to greater lengths for the schedule, and it sets them apart. More than 9 in 10 of Gen Z and millennial workers who prefer a four-day work week (or 92 percent) would still be willing to work that schedule if it meant giving something up, versus 86 percent of Gen X and baby boomers.
Those who are more senior in the workforce are more accustomed to doing things a certain way, including being in office and having two-day weekends, whereas those whose views have been more significantly shaped by the changes in the workforce forced by the pandemic have had a taste of what adaptation looks like.— Mark Hamrick, Bankrate Senior Economic Analyst
The steps those younger workers say they would be willing to take include working longer hours (48 percent), changing jobs or companies (35 percent) and coming into the office or working fully in person (33 percent) to have three days off a week. Some would even be willing to take less vacation time (20 percent), accept a pay cut (13 percent) or take a step back in their careers (12 percent) for it.
Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of Gen Z and millennial workers (or 67 percent) say they would be willing to make more than one of those sacrifices, versus 43 percent of Gen X and baby boomers (ages 43-77). More than 2 in 5 (or 43 percent) of Gen Z and millennial workers say they would be willing to sacrifice three or more aspects of their job, compared with 26 percent of Gen X and baby boomers.
Grizzard herself says she would be willing to change industries or companies for a four-day workweek. She’d even take up to a 20 percent pay cut for it, believing it could help keep more workers employed during recessions. She draws the line, however, at taking less vacation time or working a job she’s less interested in, and she’d only work off-peak hours if she started her own business.
“I genuinely believe caring for ourselves and each other would help us create more economically viable and lasting companies,” she says. “Unfortunately, I don’t think much will happen until workers organize and demand more respect through unions or strikes.”
Today’s historically strong labor market and post-pandemic burnout are reviving calls for a shorter workweek
Grizzard is right to point out the link between workweeks and employment: It was the Great Depression of the 1930s that made the 40-hour workweek the norm. Sweeping regulations of the era mandated overtime pay for those who worked more than 40 hours in a week — a “penalty,” as labor economist Dan Hamermesh puts it, designed to incentivize companies to hire more people.
Before the unemployment crisis, a 40-hour workweek was progressive. Henry Ford famously enacted the schedule at his factories back in the 1920s, an era when workers in manufacturing recorded roughly 50 hours a week on average, historical Census Bureau data shows. That was down from a 60-hour week in 1890, while other accounts from the 1860s show workweeks were longer than 12-to-14 hours a day, six days a week.
“He was way ahead of the rest of employers, and it was very attractive to workers; it kept down turnover,” says Hamermesh, a professor emeritus at the University of Texas. “A work schedule is not just decided upon by workers. It’s decided by a joint decision between workers and employers.”
Calls for a shorter four-day workweek may be another sign of the times in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and rising worker burnout. Remote work blurred the lines between work and life, altering Americans’ perceptions of where they work and how they do it. A still-robust job market is also giving Americans the leverage to bargain for what they want.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) union that represents Detroit’s “Big Three” auto manufacturers made headlines in September when it launched a strike that now spans 44 plants across 22 states, currently encompassing more than 40,000 workers. Included on the list of demands: a push for a 32-hour full-time workweek and overtime for anything more.
“In a world where we state what we want, most people would raise their hands and say they’d like to have more money for less work,” Hamrick says. “For everyone, this is probably not a reasonable expectation.”
Despite widespread interest in a four-day workweek, few U.S. workers in 2023 — only 12 percent, according to data from payroll analysis company ADP — report that their employer is offering them the nontraditional schedule as a mental health perk.
The four-day workweek, however, is on the rise. Last year, just 9 percent of U.S. workers had that schedule, ADP data shows. In the next five years, 22 percent of U.S. workers expect four-day workweeks to be the norm within their industry.
Hamermesh’s own research shows momentum for a four-day workweek had been building long before the coronavirus pandemic. The number of U.S. workers on a four-day workweek tripled between 1973 and 2018, a paper from 2022 published in the National Bureau of Economic Research showed. Workers are still taking a wage penalty for the schedule, his research found, though it’s decreased over time.
“People think they’re going to get the same pay for 32 hours, four days a week as they get for five days a week,” Hamermesh says. “That’s not going to happen.”
Four-day workweeks have been gaining traction in the U.S. but remain most popular in Europe, according to Wen Fan, an associate professor at Boston College who’s studying results from the nonprofit 4-Day Week Global’s pilot programs. It’s not a “representative sample” just yet, she says, but the majority of companies that try out the shorter week end up sticking with the schedule, noticing higher revenue and lower turnover.
Most of the companies participating in her team’s research trials are within knowledge-based work, including professional services, information technology and nonprofits. On the flip side, relatively few companies in manufacturing and construction are participating, she says.
“This doesn’t mean it’s impossible; it just means more work is needed,” Fan says. “Ultimately, I think this will be the future direction, although the road can be a little bumpy.”
This business owner started a four-day workweek — and never plans to go back
One company that now offers a four-day workweek is Michael Arney’s Halftone Digital, a Minneapolis-based design agency that employs nine full-time employees and three contractors.
Arney first implemented the schedule — 32 hours a week with no reduction in pay — in March 2022, after an employee who’d been at the company for six months left for an opportunity at a larger firm with higher pay. He couldn’t come close to matching the offer, he says. But what his smaller agency lacked in compensation packages, he hoped it could make up for in flexibility.
“That got me thinking about, ‘What can we offer that would incentivize people to stay?’” Arney, who is also a millennial, says. “I had been considering a four-day workweek basically my entire life. I always wanted to spend less time working and more time with my family and friends. I’ve always viewed 40 hours as imbalanced.”
The initial plan was to experiment with a six-month pilot program and reassess. His main concern wasn’t worker productivity; instead, he wanted to keep an eye on the continued satisfaction of his two corporate clients. But the biggest surprise of the experiment, Arney says, was that they were all supportive. Some clients jokingly even asked Arney, “Are you hiring?”
His four-day workweek policy has remained largely identical to the pilot program, except he’s now decided to cap vacation time at 12 days a year instead of offering unlimited paid-time off in addition to a four-day week. Arney also says he’s witnessed no drop in productivity. Instead, he sees his employees guarding their time even more carefully. One example: His team replaced one of their three weekly, hour-long stand-ups with a minute-long pulse check survey.
Going back to a five-day, 40-hour week is not part of his plan, he says.
“It’s not for the real capitalists who are answerable to shareholders looking to have their profits be as big as possible year to year. I wouldn’t do it if that was our motivation,” Arney says. “I have a very clear goal to be a lifestyle company. We don’t necessarily have extravagant salaries, but we have great hours and great benefits, and for a lot of people, that’s as important, if not more important, than a larger-than-average salary.”
Workweeks were never supposed to stay stay stuck at 40 hours, this labor historian says
The plan all along was to keep shrinking workweeks, according to Ben Hunnicutt, a professor at the University of Iowa who studies the history of work. John Maynard Keynes — a celebrity in the world of economics — predicted back in 1930 that technological innovations would pave the way for a 15-hour workweek. But he’s the most famous one, Hunnicutt says. Hundreds of other lesser-known writers, theologians and historians alike have been dreaming about more leisure time since the colonial ages.
Consumerism could be to blame for delaying that momentum, as could changing attitudes about work in the aftermath of an economic disaster like the Great Depression, he adds.
“Work is our religion; it is the center of our ethical universe,” Hunnicutt says. “But work is failing as a God, as a source of value. It’s just not up to the task. The new generations that are coming along have a different take on both work and leisure. They are doubting the God of work.”
Younger Americans are recognizing flexibility as a valuable job perk. About a third of Gen Z and millennials (or 31 percent combined) say work-life balance factors (or flexible working hours, more time off or vacation time and the ability to work from home or remotely) are the most important quality in their employment moving forward, second only slightly to higher pay (at 32 percent), a separate Bankrate survey from March found.
Meanwhile, about 1 in 5 Gen Z and millennial workers (or 20 percent combined) say they are looking for flexible working hours and more time off — perks that could come along with a four-day workweek. Those factors ranked higher as a priority for both generations combined than a remote work-friendly gig (at 11 percent for both generations), a position with job security (8 percent) and a job that’s fulfilling (8 percent), foreshadowing what younger workers might be willing to give up for a four-day workweek.
Experts say younger generations may be changing the way they value another precious economic resource: time itself.
“The choice is not more leisure and the same income; the choice is more time and a little bit less income,” Hamermesh says. “The question is how do I value leisure and how do I value income?”
Taking a pay cut for a four-day workweek was a ‘blessing,’ this worker says
Jenny Jarr recently decided to make that trade-off herself for a four-day workweek. Last Thanksgiving, Jarr took a new job as an academic and career advisor for a community college near her Iowa home. She said the change has been a “blessing,” even despite having to give up remote work and take a pay cut she estimates is worth $5 an hour.
“I went back and forth on it with my husband,” Jarr says. “He looked at me and said, ‘Your mental health is more important than money. We’ll figure it out.’”
For five and a half years, Jarr previously worked as a customer service agent for a local utility company, answering phone calls Monday through Friday on a 40-hour schedule that frequently required overtime. The work — which often entailed calming exasperated customers — took a toll on her mental health, she says. She felt nervous to step away from her phone for bathroom breaks and couldn’t take longer than 30 minutes for lunch.
“It was nice because I did work from home, and it was good pay and it was good benefits, but I was being mean to everyone else because people had been yelling at me all day long,” she says. “Money makes the world go ‘round, but it definitely is not everything.”
Now, Jarr gets every Friday off and is guaranteed comp days on the rare occasion she needs to go in. She goes in for longer stretches during her working days — her shift starts at 7:15 a.m. and ends at 4:45 p.m. — but sees the flexibility as worth it.
Jarr, a millennial, uses her free time to get caught up on errands, chores, appointments and yard work. She spends more time with her husband of 11 years — who also works a four-day workweek for a local factory — and their foster child. They frequently spend their permanent three-day weekends traveling up to Iowa City, attending football and women’s basketball games at the University of Iowa.
“My last day at my previous job, when I turned my stuff in, it felt like this huge weight had lifted off my shoulders, and I knew I made the right decision,” Jarr says. “I feel more like a person and appreciate where I’m at right now than I did prior. They don’t just talk about work-life balance; they actually live it. I would in a heartbeat always, always choose a four-day week, even if I had to give up a higher-paying job.”
Here’s 5 tips to negotiate for more flexibility in the workplace
1. Speak your company’s language, and don’t shy away from small steps
As with any negotiation, successfully making your case to a company involves knowing how to speak its language. If you’re wanting to ask for more flexibility or even go the bold approach of advocating for a four-day workweek, know how to talk about the value of the work that you do and the business case for adopting a more flexible schedule. Potential benefits could be preventing company burnout, enhancing productivity or retaining top talent.
When you approach your employer with your pitch, have a clear game plan on how you could implement a more flexible schedule while still getting your work done. Don’t be afraid to suggest small steps toward a four-day workweek, too.
“A company that already has one Friday off per month may be more open to consider four-day workweeks,” says Juliana Rabbi, a career coach who specializes in workplace flexibility and remote work. “But if there’s nothing implemented in your company, suggest something that can be less risky, such as one day off or leaving Fridays after lunch, and then take it from there.”
2. Know there are values in numbers
Your company may be more inclined to listen if you approach management for a more flexible work schedule with other team members as a united front. Form a committee with like-minded coworkers who can also join in on researching the value behind the proposal and how it may work in practice.
3. Consider the full scope of salary and benefits, and know what matters to you
Even if you find a company offering a four-day workweek, be sure to familiarize yourself with all aspects of its benefits and workplace policies before assuming you’ve hit the jackpot. Sometimes, there could be fine print.
How a company implements its four-day workweek depends on the nature of its business. Some companies could require four, 10-hour days to squeeze in the same amount of work, while others could shift down to 32 hours a week. Some companies could decide to tweak other benefits, such as vacation time or benefits packages. In more drastic cases, firms may even say they offer a four-day workweek but pile more work on their employees’ plates than is manageable.
At the end of the day, there’s no wrong choice in the debate between more leisure time versus higher pay, but it comes down to thinking about what’s most important to you.
4. Find a company and a career that aligns with your values
A four-day workweek might not suit all job functions or workplace cultures. Finding a company and job that matches your personal values may help ensure you’ve found your preferred work environment.
Anytime you’re interviewing for a new position at a company, remember you’re studying whether they’re a good fit for your lifestyle just as much as they’re reviewing you. Check job review sites or speak with employees for an inside look at what it’s like to work at a specific company you’re interested in.
“A lot of times, people think about flexibility as the cherry on top of the cake because there are other things that they were not happy about,” Rabbi says.
5. Be brave, and know how important it is to take time off
Americans may find negotiating for flexible hours even more uncomfortable than asking for higher pay. Hustle culture can often paint work-life balance in a negative light, and workers may fear that asking for time away from their desks could make them appear that they aren’t passionate about their jobs or working hard enough.
But just as going above-and-beyond won’t always guarantee that you’re on the fast track to a promotion, know that the value you bring to your company doesn’t always equate to the amount of hours that you work. Before negotiating for a four-day workweek, make sure you’re taking the time off that you’re already entitled to.
Rabbi points out just how drastically perceptions of work can change. Before the pandemic, for example, companies and workers alike were skeptical about remote work, too.
“It’s not written in stone that we should be working five days a week, but we got used to it, and it’s the norm,” Rabbi says. “If we want to change, we need to review all those concepts of what is the right way to work and what is the wrong way to work. It can be a long process, but it starts somewhere. We are already starting by talking about it.”