Results are in: Wave goodbye to the five-day workweek

The five-day, 40-hour workweek is so ingrained in our culture that few question it. Maybe it’s time to. Learn about the benefits of a shorter workweek.

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Last Updated June 3, 2024

A man leans back at his desk, enjoying the benefits of a shorter workweek.


What if I told you that it’s possible to shorten your workweek without sacrificing the quality of your work? And what if I told you that it can actually benefit your business in multiple ways?

Sounds like a trite, Billy-Mays-style hook, I know, but it’s totally possible. In fact, more and more countries and companies are looking toward the future—asking themselves this question:

Is the traditional five-day workweek really the best thing for our business anymore? 

In this post, you’ll learn: 

  • The origins of the five-day workweek. 
  • The results of companies and countries that have tried out the four-day workweek. 
  • The positive impact of nixing the traditional, 40-hour, five-day schedule (and potential pitfalls). 
  • How to find a weekly schedule that works for everyone. 

Origins of the five-day workweek 

Where did the idea of the five-day workweek come from? Here’s a brief history lesson:

And that’s it. That’s the history.

The days and hours we’re giving to our jobs haven’t been looked at officially for nearly 100 years.*

The last time our government defined the number of hours that qualified an employee as “full time”: 

Our parents and grandparents operated in a completely different way than we do today: 

  • They were on their feet; we sit behind a desk. 
  • They handwrote data into a notebook; we automate it with import and export tools. 
  • Information was physically carried to another’s desk or mailed through the USPS. Today, encyclopedias are downloaded in seconds.

The list goes on. 

So, since we’ve advanced how we work—and we’re able to get more done with the tools we’ve created—shouldn’t our benefit be fewer hours behind a desk?

The shorter the workweek, the better the work 

Turns out, shortening the workweek doesn’t just make employees perform as well—it helps them perform even better.

According to The UK’s four-day week pilot, the largest four-day working week trial to date: 

  • Employees working fewer days are more productive. 
  • 39% of participants were less stressed with a four-day work schedule; 48% reported no change in stress levels. 
  • 48% of participants were more satisfied with their work after they switched to the shorter schedule. More time to reset, refocus and recover led to an overall increase in satisfaction with their jobs. 

“The trial was a resounding success. Of the 61 companies that participated, 56 are continuing with the four-day week (92%), with 18 confirming the policy is a permanent change.” – The UK’s four-day week pilot 

Countries and companies seeing benefits from a shorter workweek 

The UK isn’t the only country to have tried out the shorter workweek:

After having the company’s three best consecutive months, the change was set permanently. And to date, Wanderlust Group had its strongest six months of growth and productivity, with profits up by 121% year over year.”– Fast Company 

Are there any potential downsides to a shorter workweek?

Stress and burnout. That’s right: The exact things that respondents in the UK’s four-day week pilot study said improved, other respondents in that same study said got worse. 

  • 13% of respondents said stress levels increased (compared to 39% who indicated stress decreased); 48% recorded no change in stress levels. 
  • 22% of respondents registered feeling more burnt out; 71% reported lower levels of burnout.  

It makes sense, though, right? Fewer hours to do things…maybe people would get stressed about not getting everything done in time. It’s certainly not practical for every industry; obviously, healthcare and emergency services would never move to a shorter schedule. 

But for professionals who work mostly behind a desk—accountants, sales agents, marketers (ahem), executives—why not test this out? According to the majority of studies I found, the benefits of a shorter workweek far outweigh any perceived negatives. 

Finding a schedule that works for everyone 

Not everyone wants to work a shorter workweek. Some people find enjoyment logging in on weekends to send a few emails. That’s fine. The crucial aspect of these trials and studies is that the four-day workweek offers employees freedom of choice.

Freedom of what they can do with that extra day—whether it’s spending more time with their kids, getting caught up on laundry or working—leads to happier, healthier and more work-life-balanced employees.

If I’ve done my job well, and you’re curious about trialing out a shorter workweek, here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • Try the new schedule before making it permanent. See how employees react. See how recruiting, productivity and performance change.  
  • Make the trial voluntary. If you have employees who want to work on the new day off, they should be able to.  
  • Treat the extra day like a Saturday or Sunday. If you want to log in and work, go for it. But don’t expect employees to get back to you until the next workday. 
  • Reevaluate meetings. A new schedule means that everything in that schedule should be questioned. Could this meeting be more effective asynchronously? Does everyone on the invite list really need to be there? 
  • When’s the best time to start the trial? Summer may be the wisest time to try a new schedule. Typically, it’s already slower and harder to work. Kids are at home. And there’s an easy out if you’re finding the new schedule doesn’t suit your needs (i.e., end of summer, end of trial). 
  • Evaluate mental health and performance before and during the trial. Check in with employees regularly: Is the new schedule helping them or stressing them out? Now, look at the company’s performance: Has it decreased, stayed the same or improved?

Ready to try it out? 

Ready to try out a four-day workweek at your business? Let us know on LinkedIn or X

And for more articles about the latest trends in accounting and business, subscribe to our blog below. 

*On March 1, 2023, Congress introduced the “Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act,” which would change the standard workweek under federal law from 40 to 32 hours. No progress has been made since its introduction. 

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