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The Idea of the Four-Day Workweek Isn't Going Away

A recent Los Angeles Times story about the realities of shifting to a four-day workweek seems to report what we already know: Shorter workweeks do not lead to reduced worker productivity; shorter workweeks lead to positive improvements in worker well-being, stress and burnout; and people who have four-day workweeks can't imagine going back. 

I'm getting a little bit of a flashback to how we covered remote work during the lockdowns of 2020. Although plenty of people were very clear about the stresses of working while their kids were home trying to do long division over Zoom, a narrative emerged and did not subside: Remote work did not lead to reduced worker productivity; remote work led to positive improvements in worker well-being, stress and burnout; and many people who have four-day workweeks can't imagine going back. 

We've all seen how the return-to-office discussion has unfolded. At this point, hybrid work is here to stay in many verticals and many geographic markets, and a lot of workplaces have accepted that the key to bringing in workers is to take the approach of "magnets, not mandates," i.e. it's easier to lure workers to an office if you give them a compelling reason to be there. The occasionally-predicted employer crackdown on returning to "normal" never materialized; instead, the definition of "normal" has grown to include hybrid and remote work as part of a full menu of workplace strategies. 

So strap in for the sequel. The discussion will center around employee productivity, workplace satisfaction, employee well-being, and how well to use office space if people are just working whatever days they want, wherever they want.  

Of course, sequels always differ slightly from the original and there is one key difference in this discussion-- shifting the managerial window on embracing remote work was helped by a global lockdown and a mass proof-of-concept that nobody could ignore. It's hard to imagine what kind of global event could prompt people to say, "That's it -- we all have to reduce our work weeks!" 

But maybe we don't need a precipitating event. Maybe now is the time to say, "The global workforce has already weathered one redefinition of 'normal' to the betterment of workforce and productivity. We can do it again." Watch this space for more.