Few have had a good word to say about the global catastrophe that is Covid-19, but at least one group has managed to find a small silver lining to the crisis: advocates for shortened workweeks. From Stanford-based scholars and New Zealand's prime minister to entrepreneurs in the small-business trenches, a chorus of voices has argued that this crisis is the perfect time for companies to experiment with a four-day workweek.
Not only might reduced hours allow employers to share around the pain of the economic contraction, reducing the need for layoffs, but a less full office also makes social distancing easier if and when employees physically return to work. Plus, everyone has a lot on their plate now (especially parents). Giving your people a little space to rest and regroup can result in greater productivity when they are on the clock, the thinking goes.
Which sounds like a pretty compelling case for experimenting with shortened hours. Are employers actually listening? New data suggests that the argument for a shortened workweek might actually be getting through.
Experimenting with a four-day workweek? You're not alone.
"Data from jobs marketplace ZipRecruiter shows that in 2020, so far, the share of company job postings offering four-day work weeks is 69 for every 10,000 job postings. It's a tiny number to be sure, but it's up from 40 in 2019. Between 2015 and 2018, the share was fewer than 18 in 10,000 postings each year," reports Quartz's Michelle Cheng.
Partly that increase reflects many companies' efforts to cut costs during a super challenging time. But the new interest in shortened workweeks may also reflect a dawning understanding that people are often more productive working from home than distraction-filled offices.
"Companies may be realizing that they can get five days' worth of work done in four," Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter, commented.
Whatever the exact mix of rationales, the more than 70 percent increase in ZipRecruiter job listings touting a four-day workweek definitely indicates a steep rise in interest in shortened schedules. So does my inbox, which is peppered with announcements and story pitches from companies keen to share their experiments with reduced hours.
And these experiments may very well outlast the crisis. As Wharton professor Adam Grant wrote in a recent Economist article championing shortened workweeks, "take it from someone who studies work for a living: We can be every bit as creative and productive in six focused hours a day as in twice as many distracted hours." (Grant promotes a reduced schedule where the workday ends at 3 p.m. rather than a one-whole-day-off approach.)
But, as Cheng notes, while the percent increase in companies adopting four-day weeks is large, the absolute number of companies going this way is still small.
Shortened workweeks remain impractical for more hands-on industries like construction and personal care, where hours-in generally correlates with productivity-out. But as the coronavirus crisis continues to put more pressure on companies' finances and employees' schedules, we may yet see a further rise in shortened workweeks for jobs where less time at work often leads to better ideas and more output.