News & Commentary

February 2, 2024

Greg Volynsky

Greg Volynsky is a student at Harvard Law School.

In Today’s News & Commentary, an experiment with a four-day workweek begins in Germany.

On Thursday, a New Zealand-based nonprofit began its experiment with a four-day workweek in Germany. The nonprofit, 4 Day Week Global, has previously piloted a four-day workweek with 33 companies in the United States and Ireland, declaring the project a “huge success.” Forty-five companies in Germany are taking part in the six-month program, which started on February 1.

The pilot comes amid a twofold labor crisis in Germany: labor shortage and inflation. The job-vacancy rate is high, while unemployment is low. Employees across industries are seeking higher wages and planning strikes, including the national construction union, which represents 930,000 workers and is seeking a 20 percent pay increase. And, as Bloomberg reports, the problem is likely to get worse, as falling birth and immigration rates are expected to further shrink the workforce. 

The four-day workweek has been hailed by some as one path forward. Proponents argue that the shorter workweek will reduce burnout and increase productivity, upholding steady economic output, and attracting workers from around the world. The nonprofit 4 Day Week Global claims that all companies that participated in their initial pilot plan to continue with a four-day workweek.

Writing in 2010, Robert Bird of the University of Connecticut argued that the four-day workweek is neither novel nor beneficial. Bird surveys evidence from the 1970s, when many claimed that the four-day workweek “has arrived,” and concludes that the four-day workweek boosts employee morale only temporarily. Only about half of studies from the period found that the shortened workweek had a positive economic impact, as measured by productivity and absenteeism. The compressed workweek creates longer workdays and increases pressure on shift workers, leading one-third of firms that adopted the compressed workweek to revert back shortly. 

Utah adopted a four-day, ten-hour-per-day workweek in 2008; in 2011, Utah retreated to a five-day workweek, after an audit found that the change failed to achieve lawmakers’ objectives and residents complained about lack of services on Friday.

Could this time be different? Bill Gates thinks so

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