When Michael Arney, the founder of an eight-person marketing design agency in Minneapolis, Minnesota, learned an employee was leaving for a 50% raise at a larger company, he knew he had to make a change or it would happen again.
“I just couldn’t compete with the monetary offer,” said Arney, recounting the moment in January 2022 when he first considered a four-day, 32-hour workweek for his company Halftone Digital.
Within two months, the shorter hours took effect without a reduction in pay.
“I thought it was a pretty sweet deal,” Arney told ABC News. “Nobody has left since.”
Halftone Digital is among a growing roster of companies that use a four-day workweek, fueling a movement that has accelerated amid a pandemic-era reconsideration of the workplace, experts told ABC News.
However, the four-day workweek faces formidable obstacles to nationwide adoption, they added.
Here’s what to know about the rise of the four-day workweek, how it works and its prospects for implementation across the U.S.:
Where has a 4-day workweek taken effect?
A host of countries and U.S. states have moved toward a four-day workweek or considered doing so, Juliet Schor, an economist in the Boston College Sociology Department who studies the issue, told ABC News.
Spain, Iceland and South Africa are among the nations that have implemented a trial of the four-day workweek for select companies and workers.
A six-month experiment in the United Kingdom, which involved 61 companies and about 2,900 workers, resulted in a continuation of the policy for 56 businesses or 92% of the employers, according to a February report from advocacy group 4 Day Week Global.
Belgium imposed a law in November that requires employers to offer full-time workers a right to request a four-day workweek.
“We’re seeing more countries take steps,” Schor said.
At the state level, lawmakers in Massachusetts introduced a bill in April that would provide employers with a tax credit if they shift at least 15 workers to four days a week without cutting their pay. In January, legislators in Maryland introduced a similar bill before rescinding it months later.
In California and the U.S. House, lawmakers have introduced bills that would set the standard workweek at 32 hours.
A crucial question at the heart of the debate over a four-day workweek is whether the policy constitutes a decrease in hours or a traditional 40-hour week compressed to fewer days.
Companies have opted for both approaches, setting a loose definition for a four-day workweek that accommodates a willingness to reduce the hours in the workweek or preserve them, experts told ABC News.
“There are different places doing it different ways,” Mark Bolino, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Oklahoma, told ABC News. “I don’t think there’s consistency.”
Tuan Diep, a senior product designer at Halftone Digital who works 32 hours each week, said a workweek consisting of four 10-hour days would make for a markedly different experience.
“Although two hours a day doesn’t seem like a lot, I just feel like any extra time that we’re required to work is going to create more stress,” he told ABC News. “I’m not really for 10-hour workdays.”
Will the U.S. ever have a 4-day workweek?
Some experts said a combination of escalating market pressure and legislative activity could ultimately bring a nationwide four-day workweek standard; while others said such an outcome would prove nearly impossible, at least anytime soon.
Eric Loomis, professor and labor historian at the University of Rhode Island, said the policy has faced difficulty spreading from white collar professions to low-wage ones.
“I can see in an office getting a job done in 32 hours instead of 40 hours,” Loomis told ABC News. “If you’re a ticket taker at a theater or you’re wearing a costume at Disney World, you need to be there.”
The prospect of federal legislation enshrining a four-day workweek standard, meanwhile, is highly unlikely, Loomis added. “The U.S. hasn’t passed significant pro-labor legislation that’s in any way comprehensive in almost 90 years,” he said.
Schor disagreed, however, citing the recent rise of businesses voluntarily adopting the four-day workweek.
“I see momentum in the market as more companies do it,” Schor said. “That creates more pressure for the government to act.”
The U.S. could take incremental steps downward from 40-hour week to a 32-hour week within the next decade, Schor added, predicting that policies would start in statehouses and work their way to the federal level.
“I think that’s conceivable. People really, really want it,” Schor said. “Am I going to put money on it? No.”