Is a 4-day workweek the answer to employee burnout? Most American workers say yes

More than a year and a half into the Covid-19 pandemic, many American workers are burned out.

The remedy may be a four-day workweek, according to a survey from Eagle Hill Consulting.

Of those U.S. employees polled, 53% said they are experiencing burnout, with women and younger workers showing the highest levels, at 56% and 62% respectively. Fully 83% said a shortened workweek would help. The survey included 1,010 respondents from a random sample of employees across the U.S.

"Employee burnout has been simmering for years — and the twin problems of the pandemic and workforce shortage have exacerbated the problem," said Melissa Jezior, president and CEO of Eagle Hill Consulting.

While not new, the idea of a four-day workweek has slowly been gaining ground since the Covid-19 pandemic struck. In July, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., introduced a bill that reduces the standard workweek to 32 hours, from 40.

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Employers, meanwhile, are looking for ways to become more efficient while at the same time addressing the needs of employees. In September, technology company Bolt jumped started a four-day workweek and earlier this year New York-based crowdfunding platform Kickstarter announced it would test it out in early 2022.

The latter is taking part in a global effort, called 4 Day Week Global, that has companies trying the reduced workweek. So far, 15 businesses in the U.S. and Canada have joined the six-month pilot program, which kicks off next year.

The idea is to reduce work hours, not pay or productivity.

"We are changing the model of work away from measuring how long you are at your desk, how long you are at the office, and moving that towards what are people actually producing and what outcomes are we trying to achieve over the course of the week," said Joe O'Connor, global pilot program manager at 4 Day Week Global.

Amid the "Great Resignation," in which a record 4.4 million people quit in September alone, a four-day workweek may give employers an edge when it comes to hiring, advocates suggest.

According to a 2019 report by Henley Business School in the U.K, 63% of businesses said it is easier to attract and retain talent with a four-day week. It also found that 78% of employees with four-day schedules are happier and less stressed.

"Companies that have done this well are not saying, 'These are the changes you need to make,'" O'Connor said.

"They have empowered their people to come up with ideas and solutions to change the way we work to ensure we produce the same outcomes over four days rather than five."

That's what Banks Benitez, co-founder and CEO Denver-based Uncharted, did when he decided to test out the four-day week. Meetings were canceled or downsized and priorities were reimagined.

"It has been a great forcing function for us to think differently, like taking a smaller suitcase on vacation," he said. "We have to make trade-offs."

Evaluating a four-day work week should be part of the larger strategic conversation about the intersection of an organization's mission and its people, Eagle Hill Consulting's Jezior said.

It may work well for some, but not others, such as those in the hospitality, medical and public safety fields, she noted.

"A five-day work week has been a part of the American culture for more than a century, and change isn't easy," Jezio said.

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