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The United States Could Finally Get A Four-Day Workweek

The best thing for parents' work-life balance since the five-day workweek could be finally coming to America.

On July 27 Rep. Mark Takano of California introduced legislation that would reduce the standard workweek from 40 to 32 hours. That means that non-exempt employees would start to receive overtime after 32 hours, not 40. If passed, it would represent a massive change in the relationship between labor and capital in the United States, one that the evidence shows could benefit everyone.

Workers across the world, particularly in America, are working longer hours than ever without increased productivity. The four-day workweek is touted as a way to reestablish the long-severed relationship between productivity and working hours, giving working people more time to live their lives (and parents more time to take care of their kids) without reducing what they accomplish on the clock.

In a press release, Takano wrote that “A shorter workweek would benefit both employers and employees alike,” citing the positive results seen in various experiments with and studies of the concept.

Most recently, Iceland piloted a shorter work week and found it to be a resounding success for its workers. Workers who had a 32-hour workweek were happier, healthier, more productive or as productive, more motivated, and less stressed. Since its release, 90 percent of working Icelanders have reduced their hours with great success.

The Icelandic experiment suggests that the benefits of the 32-hour workweek exist across industries and are felt by workers, their kids, and families at large. That’s why it’s garnered endorsements from the UK Labour Party, the country of Spain, Unilever, Kickstarter, Microsoft Japan, and other major companies. Put simply: there’s a growing consensus across national borders and within the public and private sectors, that working less is good for parents, workers, and businesses.

Takano cited this evidence, pointing out that in places that utilized the 32-hour workweek, “productivity climbed and workers reported better work-life balance, less need to take sick days, heightened morale and lower childcare expenses because they had more time with their family and children.” He also drew attention to reduced health care premiums, lower operating costs for employers, and more limited environmental impact as other benefits of shorter workweeks.

Aside from these practical benefits, there’s also an argument to be made for the 32-hour workweek as a matter of fairness.

“People continue to work longer hours while their pay remains stagnant. We cannot continue to accept this as our reality,” Takano said. He also noted that the pandemic, which left millions of American unemployed or underemployed, showed him that a shorter workweek is needed in order to “allow more people to participate in the labor market at better wages.”

The prospects for the bill aren’t exactly sunny—it’s a dramatic change that would affect hundreds of millions of people and has to make it through the United States Senate, a notoriously slow-to-act legislative body. But given the preponderance of evidence from countries around the world—and the nascent experiments with a shorter workweek here in the U.S.—it’s becoming more and more likely that the four-day workweek is the future of work whether or not its Takano or a future lawmaker who introduces that bill that finally makes it a reality.