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U.S. lawmaker seeks national four-day workweek

The four-day workweek could become law under legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Mark Takano. It would require firms to pay overtime to hourly employees working more than 32 hours.

The pandemic has delivered many changes to the workplace, especially with the forced embrace of hybrid and remote work. But a California lawmaker is proposing what may be one of the most significant changes yet -- a law that would institute a four-day workweek for some workers.

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., introduced legislation Wednesday that would reduce the standard workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours under the Fair Labor Standards Act. It would lower the threshold for overtime compensation for nonexempt employees, who are typically hourly workers. Exempt employees are salaried and would not be affected by this change.

Takano said he was proposing the legislation because it would lead to a better work-life balance, lower childcare expenses and reduce healthcare premiums for companies.

"People continue to work longer hours while their pay remains stagnant," Takano said. "Many countries and businesses that have experimented with a four-day workweek found it to be an overwhelming success as productivity grew and wages increased."

A revitalized conversation

The four-day workweek was not gaining much traction in the U.S. until the COVID-19 pandemic "sort of revitalized the conversation," said Gerald Suarez, a professor of management and organization at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

The pandemic began to trigger some questions that were suppressed, like, 'Why am I working so hard?'
Gerald SuarezProfessor, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland

The pandemic began "to trigger some questions that were suppressed, like, 'Why am I working so hard?'" Suarez said.

Many businesses discovered, for example, that they could maintain connectedness, human contact and efficiencies even by working remotely. "We began to look for meaning and fulfillment, and not just jobs," he said. The four-day workweek was a natural extension of the remote work conversation.

"In a culture that values overcommitments and overwork, and saturation of emails and business as a badge of honor, we're beginning to say when we detach, when we let go, we experience something more fulfilling," Suarez said.

The tension with the four-day workweek is that firms must maintain the same pay with reduced hours and retain the same level of performance, Suarez said. If you're going to reduce hours, you need to maintain continuity of operations, and that will force you to streamline business processes, he said.

Some firms that have tried a four-day workweek have seen a spike in productivity, "at least initially," Suarez said.

In a statement accompanying Takano's bill, Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said "reducing overall working time without any reduction in pay -- through shorter workdays and a four-day workweek -- makes all the sense in the world because it spreads work hours to more workers and minimizes unemployment. This could be a key mechanism to help ensure that the benefits of technological progress are shared broadly by working people."

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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