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Best New Ideas in Money: Could we ever really get a 4-day work week in the U.S.?


The pandemic showed many of us that it’s possible to work from home, but that’s not the only change the workforce has seen. In other countries, and now here in the U.S., companies are experimenting with the 4-day work week, the 5-hour work day, and even the 4-hour work week.

According to a study by the non-profit 4-Day Week Global, 63% of businesses who implemented a 4-day work week found it easier to attract and retain talent, and 78% of employees with a 4-day work week said they were happier and less stressed out.

Alex Soojung Kim Pang, author of the book “Shorter: Work Better, Smarter and Less,” said it took a pandemic to show companies they could work differently.

“I think lots of companies now have to ask themselves, why do we do things this way? Can we do things differently? And certainly lots and lots of employees are insisting that it is possible to work differently and to work better,” he said on this week’s Best New Ideas in Money podcast.

Experts say companies are trying to strike a balance between maintaining productivity while reducing hours to improve workers’ job satisfaction and avoid burnout.

Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College, is conducting research trials on the 4-day work week.

“What we find with all the individual company cases that we’ve seen is that giving people a four day work week dramatically reduces their stress levels, their burnout, it improves their work-life balance,” Schor said on the podcast. “It improves their overall health and wellbeing … There are fewer sick days taken. There’s less absenteeism and personal days.”

But in some cases, limiting weekly hours can actually hurt people in non-salaried jobs.

And some experts — like Harvey Kaye, author and Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay — doubt we can actually make these big structural changes.

“We couldn’t even get a $15 minimum wage enacted last year. So it’s striking to me to try to push for a four day workweek,” Kaye said on the podcast. “I could imagine certain categories of working people would love it. And vast others would literally despise any legislator who proposed it without first addressing the utterly gross inequalities that have emerged.”

Learn more in this week’s podcast. And tune in every week to MarketWatch’s Best New Ideas in Money podcast with Stephanie Kelton, economist and a professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University, and MarketWatch reporter Charles Passy. Each week, they explore innovations in economics, finance, technology and policy that rethink the way we live, work, spend, save and invest.

You can listen to past episodes here.

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