The incredible shrinking workweek | WORLD
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The incredible shrinking workweek

BUSINESS | Some companies opt for just four days of labor

Illustration by Krieg Barrie

The incredible shrinking workweek
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WITH A PILE OF BOOKS and a foam roller behind him, Gabe Greenberg sits at his desk wearing an orange beanie and thick blue parka. His attire doesn’t fit the Miami weather, but he just returned from a midmorning Thursday cold plunge: He takes frequent breaks throughout his workday, he says, to “center” himself.

Greenberg is the CEO of G2i, a recruiting company that screens and rates software engineers. Back in 2020, G2i decided to give its employees, who work remotely, every other Friday off. Today, Greenberg doesn’t mind if they put in three or five days a week, so long as they get their projects done.

Other companies may soon follow G2i’s lead. The idea of a shorter workweek has been around for about a decade but is becoming more mainstream: Businesses in multiple countries have experimented with shortened workweeks in recent years. Workers praise the benefits of the structure, but it might not be feasible for all business types.

Beginning in February, 45 German companies embarked on a pilot program to test out a four-day workweek in an effort to reduce employee burnout. The same month, businesses in the Dominican Republic began experimenting with 36-hour weeks (down from 44) without reducing paychecks. Businesses in Iceland were among the first to trial four-day workweeks back in 2015, and shortened weeks have now become standard for most of the country’s workforce.

Not all four-day structures are alike. Italy-based car company Lamborghini allows employees to alternate between four- and five-day workweeks. Other businesses squeeze 40 hours into four days. Four-day weeks can result in less time spent in the office, but most businesses keep wages and output goals the same.

Greenberg didn’t always have such a flexible view of work. Back in 2012, he was trying to start a company in the fast-paced software development industry while waiting tables in the evenings and working at a nearby mental hospital. He formally launched G2i in 2016, and by 2020, he said, his typical 65-hour workweek had become “addictive,” taking priority over his family.

He said his faith played a big role in his decision to cap his workweek at 40 hours. (G2i stands for Good News to the Internet, and the bottom of its website reads, “Powered by Jesus.”) Greenberg said he pared down his workweek in order to prioritize what mattered most. The change helped him become more “stable” for his wife and two young children, he said: “I had to stop the dependence on adrenaline and get sober from work addiction.”

Gabe Greenberg ditches his desk for Smith Rock in Oregon.

Gabe Greenberg ditches his desk for Smith Rock in Oregon. Courtesy of Gabe Greenberg

In a U.K. trial run that involved 61 companies and 2,900 employees, over half of the employees reported having a better work-life balance after switching to a four-day week. Forty percent of workers even slept better. Businesses benefited too, reporting that employee turnover declined and revenue and productivity stayed consistent before and after the trial. Nearly all of the participating companies didn’t plan to return to a five-day structure afterward.

The approach didn’t work for every business, though. A BBC report on the U.K. trial found that some companies providing hands-on, time-sensitive services would have needed to hire more employees to stay on track with their goals. Without the budget for that, some businesses dropped out of the trial early.

Squeezing five days of work into four can be stressful, too, especially when it comes to meeting work deadlines. A 2022 Gallup survey found that workers who put in only four working days actually reported higher levels of burnout.

That’s a challenge that Boston-based Nectafy, a content marketing agency, had to overcome. When Nectafy leaders introduced the idea of a four-day week in 2020, employees worried they wouldn’t have enough time to accomplish their tasks. That forced executives like Henry O’Loughlin, former head of operations, to eliminate busywork and unnecessary meetings. After a few months, employees adjusted and responded positively to the change, he said.

In a U.K. trial run that involved 61 companies and 2,900 employees, over half of the employees reported having a better work-life balance after switching to a four-day week.

Although reduced hours worked for Nectafy without a loss in revenue, O’Loughlin suggested such decisions should be left to private businesses, not made by government mandate.

“If you’re going to force everybody to work less,” he said, “you’re going to run the risk that some companies are going to go out of business.”

For companies that can manage it, four-day workweeks could keep employees happy. A recent survey from Bankrate found that 83 percent of millennial and Gen Z workers would prefer a four-day schedule. Many say they would willingly cram 40 hours into four days to have longer weekends.

Nectafy employee Gabby Shultis said reduced workweeks have allowed her to be a mom while working full time. With two boys under the age of 5, she can’t imagine putting in five days a week anymore.

“It’s helped my relationship with my boys,” she said. “It gives us more one-on-one time together.”

Bekah McCallum

Bekah is a reviewer, reporter, and editorial assistant at WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Anderson University.


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