How 4-Day Workweeks Could Be The Answer To Job Burnout And Stress


There have been numerous proposals by different companies talking about four-day work weeks rather than the traditional five. In fact, many wonder if endless complaints about burnout and high-level stress could be solved by simply removing a single day from the usual workweek.

In a new study that came out of the United Kingdom, which is considered the biggest trial done of a 4-day, 32-hour workweek, the answer is undoubtedly a huge yes.

As compared to the way they felt at the start of their six-month trial, British employees that participated in the study reported that they had reduced levels of burnout and stress when they were given an additional weekend day. Although the results are not surprising, to say the least, employers also shared that they noticed a number of benefits, such as the majority of them reaching their productivity targets, and how their company revenue managed to go up slightly, by roughly 1.4 percent.

Sociology professor at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the study, Brendan Burchell, PhD, explained that the buy-in from the participating companies ‘was an important indicator that this model works.’ He said, “The vast majority — 92 percent of the 61 organizations included in the study — said they were going to stick to a four-day workweek even after the study period ended, with 18 companies making the policy permanent.”

Over 50 Million People Quit Their Jobs in 2022

Statistics show that in 2022, over 50 million people quit their jobs. In fact, according to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index, ’48 percent of employees and 53 percent of managers say they are burned out at work.’

In fact, the Harvard Business Review shares that searches on Google for “burnout symptoms” over the last year were at an all-time high.

CNBC News also reported that there was also an unprecedented number of people that chose to quit their jobs, which is why it was called “the Great Resignation” where there was an estimated 50.5 million people that left their jobs.

But what exactly causes burnout? It’s actually a combination of many different things. According to Mayo Clinic, some of these factors include a lack of control over your schedule, a heavy workload and long hours, and work-life imbalance.

Moreover, although most people complain about the adverse effects of burnout being mental and emotional, some also explain that unaddressed job burnout also contributes to insomnia, alcohol and substance misuse, high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

As per Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, PhD, who also happens to be the global programs and development manager at 4 Day Week Global – the nonprofit that worked to design this pilot study – says that fewer hours of work each can help deal with burnout and stress since it gives people more time to rest.

Dr. Soojung-Kim Pang says, “A four-day week gives people more time for recovery, lets them sleep longer, decreases work-life interference, and creates more space for hobbies and healthy habits. And because four-day week companies tend to be good at enforcing work-life boundaries, you’re less likely to have to answer emails or check your phone in your time off, which further improves recovery.”

A Shorter Workweek Equals Less Burnout and Stress

There were 61 companies that participated in the UK study, and all of them agreed to reduce hours by 20 percent, without cutting the wages of their workers, for a six-month period of the trial, which was between June 2022 to the end of the year. Most of these companies also had the same set of productivity goals in place as when their employees were working 40 hours a week.

Here are some of the highlights they had from the study:

  • 71 percent of employees reported lower levels of burnout, and 39 percent said they were less stressed than at the start of the trial.
  • There was a 65 percent reduction in sick days and a 57 percent decline in the number of staff who left the participating companies compared with the same period the previous year.
  • About three out of five employees said they found it easier to balance work with both family and social commitments, and 62 percent reported it was easier to combine work with a social life.

As for Dr. Burchell, “I was concerned in moving to a four-day workweek that people were going to have to work harder and under more time pressure, which I think would have defeated the object because we know that’s not good for people.”

Moreover, Dr. Soojung-Kim Pang also shared that these findings matched up with former surveys done about 4-day workweeks. He said, “They tell us that people actually feel less stress, more autonomy over their work, and better work-life balance,” he says.

In addition, Dr. Burchell also said that people were able to maintain the same level of work performance due to certain reasons, like “The promise of a 50 percent increase in their weekends was a big motivator for workers to find better ways of solving problems and doing things.”

“Knowing they had one less day to complete everything they had to do, people cut out the inefficient periods of their day,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr. Soojung-Kim Pang shared that the research shows that people tend to waste two to three hours of productive time every day due to interruptions and distractions. “In other words, the four-day week is already here, it’s just buried under overly long meetings, bursting inboxes, and poor processes. Implementing a four-day week provides a great incentive for everyone to deal with those drags on productivity,” he said.

Could Less Working Hours Work in the U.S.?

Dr. Burchell iterates that there was nothing ‘uniquely British’ about the study results. He said, “I think most of our findings would translate to the U.S. as well. There was an earlier, smaller study held in the U.S. that had a similar success rate as far as the number of companies that said they would continue with it.”

However, while the cultures of the two may be similar, there are some important differences as well. For example, in the United States, insurance benefits are usually tied to a 40-hour work week, something the UK doesn’t follow, shares Burchell.

Could It Work For All or Just For Some?

Dr. Soojung-Kim Pang said, “A shorter workweek benefits people whether they’re salaried or hourly, white collar or blue collar, professionals or working class, because even work that society regards as less valuable requires creativity, judgment, and good decision-making — all of which are improved by giving people back time.”

He admits though that some jobs are resistant to the model. He said, “If the work is very seasonal or commuting costs are extremely high, it’s hard to implement. I wouldn’t expect to see snowplow operators or oil rig workers moving to shorter weeks. But I think for everyone else, the pandemic underlined that the way we work is a choice, not an inevitability, and can be changed.”

Such was the case for the California based business, Bolt, which became the first financial technology company to switch to a four-day workweek earlier this year. Founder and executive chairman, Ryan Breslow, said in a company blog post, “Work is changing, and the biggest obstacle we have to face is burnout. Here’s what many of us know but can be tough to admit: Work will fill the space you give to it. My bet is that we’re going to become vastly more efficient from Monday to Thursday.”

However, many experts don’t think that the four -day workweek will be effective or embraced everywhere.

Lindsey Cameron, PhD, an assistant professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, in the school’s business journal Knowledge at Wharton, says that while it’s easier for tech firms to make the switch because they have ‘nimble operations’ with employees who work in front of computer screens, other employees can’t – or won’t – make such a huge change.

She said, “I honestly don’t believe our employers are going to believe that you can get as much work done in four days as in five. We see the subtle pressure they are exerting to get their employees to get back into the office now.”

Dr. Cameron also shared that a four-week concept might work well in an office, but it won’t necessarily translate well over all work industries. Dr. Cameron explained, “It seems ridiculous that a restaurant owner can entertain this conversation when they can’t even hire enough workers to do six days a week.”

4-Day Workweeks Could Be ‘Transformative’ for Women

When it comes to working mothers, Dr. Soojung-Kim Pang explained that a four-day workweek could be very transformative. He said, “Even in Iceland, which is a famously egalitarian country, women benefit more from a shorter week than men. As one labor leader told me, men are spending their newly won free time doing family things, while women are spending it on themselves.”

In addition, four-day workweeks also have benefits for working mothers on the job, explains Dr. Soojung-Kim Pang. He explained, “Mothers are often stigmatized for not being able to work late or asking for reduced hours. When everyone has to work together to make a four-day week a success, that stigma goes away.”

“There’s even anecdotal evidence that four-day week companies often prefer working mothers, whom they value for their experience, organizational skills, collaborative ability, time management, and ruthless ability to prioritize,” he said.

Dr. Soojung-Kim Pang goes on to share, “The pandemic erased decades of gains by women in the workplace. A four-day workweek could help them regain it.”