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Four-day working week also for America: utopia or possibility?

After the successful experiment in the UK, America too is considering the possibility of reducing the working week to four days without changing the salary. But is this really possible in a society where productivity comes first?


From Monday to Friday, millions of Americans wake up and head to the office. Or in some cases, they open their computers to do smart work from home, in between a household chore and a zoom. For at least eight hours a day, five days a week, this is the routine of those who want to bring home a paycheck.

But things are about to change. Even in one of the countries where people live to work and don't work to live, covid has left a mark on working habits that could be indelible and lead to a revolution. The first sign has come from overseas, exploiting the momentum that covid has given to an idea that has been under discussion for decades. In the UK, more than 60 companies have started a test of the four-day working week, which after six months has yielded very positive results. In fact, 90% of them said they would continue with this business model, reporting higher employee satisfaction, loyalty and productivity.

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It did not take long for these positive results to make the idea palatable in America, where 62 per cent of people have very high levels of stress and fatigue due to work and 33 per cent have them but can manage them (AIS Workplace Stress Scale). Bernie Sanders, Vermont senator and labour spokesman, wrote on Twitter: “With the explosion of technology and the increase in worker productivity, it is time to move forward with the four-day working week without a pay cut. Workers too must benefit from technology, not just CEOs.”

After all, who would not want to work one day less and receive the same salary? The four-day working week could be the best immediate solution to people's high levels of exhaustion. Among the benefits evident from the experiment are improved sleep quality and mental health, and reduced stress levels. At the same time, the companies reported the same profit over the six-month period and a 35 per cent increase on average compared to the same period in previous years, making even sceptics believe again. The much-demanded flexibility from the standard working model, imposed in America for since 1938, finally has a chance.

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But in a country like America, is reducing office time utopia or can it really become reality? Work is almost an obsession for Americans, workaholics and part of a culture where doing nothing is not contemplated. According to Insider, Americans are working longer hours, taking fewer holidays and socialising less in the workplace. 

A 2014 report by Gallup reported that on average Americans work 47 hours per week, one of the highest figures in the world and significantly more than Western Europe, and that they only use 54% of their available holiday time. Skipping lunch breaks and eating quickly at one's station is also a widespread norm. But the worst trend, exacerbated by covid and technological development, is that of continuing to work at home or on holidays, e.g. calling or emailing in the evenings and at weekends, effectively blurring the boundary between work and private life.

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The real question seems to be: why is productivity in America at the expense of individual well-being? It is the mentality of the “more, bigger, faster is better”, pushed from the top horizontally and vertically, to the point of workforce exhaustion. The empirical success of the four-day work week could be a first solution to this perceived toxic mentality, the natural outgrowth of the progress and changes that technology and pandemic have brought to our society. But in America it is clear that it will not be easy to convince companies and people to slow down.

Image Israel Andrade on Unsplash