The growing interest in a 32-hour workweek in the U.S.—as well as around the world—is leading some employers to put their own spin on how they offer workplace flexibility.
One example is the Washington, D.C.-based National League for Nursing (NLN), which offers its 42 employees a 32-hour workweek with the option of working four days including one telework day or five days including two telework days. Under either policy, employees are expected to be in the office three days a week.
“We don’t have a lot of money to give raises, so the whole idea is: How can we benefit the staff to make NLN an attractive place to work?’ ” and reflect NLN’s core values of caring, diversity and inclusion, integrity, and excellence, said NLN CEO Beverly Malone.
She was influenced by her experience working in the U.K., where she was general secretary of the United Kingdom Royal College of Nursing and vice chair of the Brussels-based European Federation of Nurses Association. Malone said she was also inspired after reading about Microsoft’s successful implementation of a four-day workweek in Japan.
Making It Work
The NLN created a task force, led by Linda Christensen, the NLN’s chief legal officer, to look at flexwork options.
“We did do the homework: We looked at the best practices of organizations,” Christensen said. Originally, “we weren’t necessarily focusing on a four-day workweek [but] how can we focus on flexibility” and examining policies around work/life balance and the potential of offering work-at-home days.
“We did have some lessons learned along the way,” Christensen said. For one, a six-month pilot program had people working four days that were nearly 10 hours long, when accounting for lunches and breaks. That was too long.
“We had people just burning out on that,” Christensen said.
The NLN found it needed to reduce the hours worked to 32; paid breaks and lunch hours stretch the workweek to 35 hours. Employees may change or renew their telework options annually in December. Staff will be surveyed again in January.
When the six-month pilot ended in March 2022, staff feedback showed that while a majority liked the shorter week, it wasn’t unanimous.
“We thought everyone was going to jump for joy [at a four-day workweek], but it didn’t work out that way. Some people loved it, others didn’t,” Malone said. “We found out not everybody would be able to work four days” because of daycare schedules or other commitments. Telework days were added earlier this year.
“The question is really [about] management and the relationship between the manager and the people they manage and whether the work is getting done,” Malone said. “It’s about how the manager sets the expectations and communicates the goals for the organization. Are managers providing the oversight for the work we’re expecting? Are we getting work done? We put in the overall structure, the framework, and then it’s up to managers to exercise the diligence and leadership.”
Future of the Workweek?
Futurist Bernard Marr, who writes a column for Forbes and advises and coaches many organizations, predicted 2023 could be the year employers say goodbye to the traditional five-day workweek.
“Workers will increasingly look for opportunities with companies that offer flexibility as an incentive. … Additionally, in 2023, we are likely to see more companies adopting provisions for flexible hours, allowing employees to fit parenting responsibilities as well as educational opportunities around their jobs,” he wrote on LinkedIn.
Almost 900 U.S. school districts operate on a four-day week, CBS reported Aug. 9, noting it’s a recruitment strategy during the national teacher shortage. Some districts tweak those schedules, such as the Independence School District in Independence, Mo., the state’s largest district. It added 35 minutes every Tuesday through Friday in 2023 to comply with state requirements for instructional time and offers child care for $30 on Mondays, when schools are closed, CBS reported.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., wants to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to accommodate these new schedules. He reintroduced his Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act to Congress this year. The FLSA was amended in 1940 to create today’s 40-hour workweek.
Takano talked about his legislation during a global webinar Aug. 10 held in conjunction with 4 Day Week Global, which organizes four-day workweek pilot programs around the world. He noted he’s seen pilot programs that had “very promising results.” However, “it takes time [for the concept] to become palatable for the public.”
At least six states—California, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington—have considered legislation mandating, incentivizing or allowing the switch to a four-day week.
SHRM opposed the California bill that would mandate a 32-hour workweek for employers with 500 or more workers, calling it a “one size fits all approach” and noting that “there are better ways to enhance employees’ work-life integration and attract and retain top talent.”
Hussein Fazal, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based Super.com, a technology company focusing on fintech, travel and commerce, is skeptical about the feasibility of a four-day workweek. As the leader of a tech company often working with third parties, and employing people in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere, Fazal takes a different approach.
His 225 employees work a fully remote schedule—a change prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic—and there are no plans to bring employees back into the office. They have unlimited paid time off and twice-quarterly “recharge days” when the entire company shuts down.
“No email, no Slack, no nothing. … You want to disconnect,” Fazal said. Employees receive three- to six-months’ notice of Recharge Days, which typically are at the beginning of the quarter.
“This is a good mix and match of programs that allow for productivity as well as employee wellbeing and employee health,” he said.
Recharge days began informally when the company was smaller and employees worked onsite.
“We would just decide to give everybody the day off or half-day off as a way [to say] thanks everybody for all your hard work,” Fazal said. “People came back more energetic, more excited and even more productive the following week. As the company grew, we wanted to continue to do that but that wasn’t possible [to do] randomly.”
Fazal said a company survey found employees primarily use their recharge days to spend time with family, engage in outdoor- or nature-related activities, and catch up on housework. One-fifth of respondents (20 percent) use that time to catch up on work.
For employers considering a shorter workweek, bear in mind that “you’re changing a long-set culture in your organization,” NLN’s Christensen said. “You need to listen. You need to engage people from all across the organization and be willing to make different accommodations” and consider how you will do so.
Other SHRM Resources:
The Average Workday Has Shrunk by 37 Minutes, SHRM Online, Aug. 2023
Is the 32-Hour Workweek Feasible in the US? Experts Weigh In, SHRM Online, March 2023
What Employers Should Know Before Trying a 4-Day Workweek, SHRM Online, June 2022
Want to Switch to a 4-Day Workweek? Here’s How to Run a Pilot, SHRM Online, January 2022