Maryland lawmakers recently introduced a bill that—if passed—would establish a pilot program and income tax credit encouraging public and private employers to experiment with a four-day workweek.
Slated to begin in July and run though 2028, the program would work like this: employers would be required to transition at least 30 employees to a four-day workweek without any decrease in pay or benefits. Employers would also have to agree to information gathering on the results of the transition. The Maryland Department of Labor would determine tax credit amounts, which would not exceed $750,000.
But enough with the details. Unless you’re a hard-charging, go-getting, rise-and-grind workaholic who sees weekends as an opportunity to get even more office stuff done, you’re probably thinking: a four-day workweek sounds awesome. Life-changing. Too good to be true. It’s too good to be true, right?
Not necessarily! Maryland is not the first place to consider a four-day workweek pilot. Several governments, including those of Iceland, Denmark, and Spain have actually tried it—launching pilot programs or permanently transitioning employees to reduced working hours. (France famously instituted the 35-hour work week in 2000, a move that in practice has been largely symbolic). Earlier this year, Time even claimed that 2023 could be the year of the four-day workweek.
Why the optimism? Data suggests that when it comes to days on the clock, less might really be more. Late last year, the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global concluded its first four-day workweek pilot program in North America and Ireland, a six-month study of 33 companies with 903 employees. Researchers from Boston College, University College Dublin, and Cambridge University contributed to a subsequent report, which found that:
- Of the 33 companies, 27 completed the final survey—and on average, rated the trial a 9.0 out of 10 on a 1-10 scale from very negative to very positive.
- Eighteen companies reported they were definitely continuing the four-day workweek, seven were planning to continue but had not decided, one was leaning towards continuing, and one was not sure yet.
- When researchers compared the companies’ change in revenue during the six-month trial to the change in revenue from the same six-month period in the prior year, they found a weighted average increase of over 37%.
- 97% of all employees said they wanted to continue the four-day week. The report also states that employee stress and burnout decreased, while job satisfaction increased.
- The study found increases in physical and mental health, and the report states, “This strongly suggests that a four day work week has the potential to reduce costs associated with health care.”
Not everything was positive. While 32% of employees reported decreased stress, over 16% of employees reported increased stress—suggesting that the four-day workweek might not be the right fit for every person. Moreover, while some four-day workweek proponents argue that it could increase gender equality in the home if men have more flexible schedules, 4 Day Week Global’s report did not find any sizable changes in household division of labor—a result that is, perhaps, not entirely surprising.
Maryland’s potential program comes as some companies and governments are giving employees more freedom to adjust their schedules without reducing actual work time. Some Federal Government agencies have instituted a Flexible Work Schedule, where employees can vary their arrival and departure times during flexible hours but maintain a 40-hour week. South Korea, by contrast, may allow employees to work up to 69 hours per week instead of 52 in order to increase labor flexibility.