Three-day weekends could become reality in Mass. House considers pilot programApr 14, 2023
Imagine having an extra day off every week. Instead of working five days, you would work four and have a three-day weekend.
What would you do with this extra day off? How do you think it would affect your work productivity and performance?
Two members of the state House of Representatives are paving the way to learn the answers to these questions.
On April 7, state Reps. Dylan Fernandez, D-Falmouth, and Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, co-filed legislation for the so-called Massachusetts Smart Work Week Pilot, a voluntary program that would allow businesses to transition employees to a reduced work schedule without an overall reduction in pay. Participating employers would agree to regular reporting to help study the effects of transitioning employees and businesses to a four-day workweek; in return, they could qualify for a tax credit.
The legislation creates a two-year pilot program run by the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development to study the issue in Massachusetts.
The last meaningful change in our nation’s work schedule occurred 85 years ago with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, according to Cutler, who is chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.
“With the pandemic, we’ve seen how a hybrid workplace can offer benefits without sacrificing worker productivity," he said. "Exploring a four-day workweek is a logical next step in this progression. We need to."
Expected benefits of a four-day workweek
Cutler believes a four-day workweek would help keep the economy growing in an era of tight labor markets.
“This bill creates new incentives for Massachusetts businesses to explore shifting to a four-day workweek, which can offer a myriad of benefits, including boosting worker satisfaction and productivity and reducing absenteeism and commuting time,” said Cutler. Fernandes added that workforce health and happiness must be prioritized if Massachusetts is to become a premier destination for businesses and workers.
“By creating more time for family, friends and leisure through a three-day weekend, we can attract and retain top talent, boost productivity and promote a dynamic and innovative economy that benefits all residents,” he said.
Cutler expects the House to begin hearings on the bill later this spring or summer.
A global effort
The four-day workweek pilot stems from the efforts of a nonprofit, 4 Day Week Global established by Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart, that provides a platform for like-minded people interested in supporting the idea of the four-day week as a part of the future of work.
Barnes is author of “The 4 Day Week: How the Flexible Work Revolution can Increase Productivity, Profitability and Well-Being and Create a Sustainable Future," based on an experiment Barnes conducted with his own business in 2018, The New Zealand trust company Perpetual Guardian. He asked his staff to design a four-day week that would permit them to meet their existing productivity requirements on the same salary but with a 20% cut in work hours. The outcome was happier and healthier employees, more engaged in their personal lives, and more focused and productive in the office.
Massachusetts is one of six states in the country considering four-day workweek pilot programs, according to Lockhart.
"We think it is a good step forward for any state to run a pilot program and establish a sustainable way to reduce work time,: she said. "Our pilot programs are designed to help businesses and organisations to keep productivity up while working through how they reduce time without reducing pay."
Why four days vs. five days?
According to the 2022 report by 4 Day Week Global, there is abundant evidence that long working hours are bad for human health, with a recent WHO/ILO review finding associations with higher rates of heart disease and stroke.
"Conversely, a growing body of evidence finds that work time reduction has positive health impacts on individuals and is economically viable for employers, even when not accompanied by reductions in pay," the report states.
Lower carbon emissions
The 2022 report by 4 Day Week Global also states: "There is also a growing body of literature showing associations between shorter hours of work and lower carbon emissions. In the global trials, significant decreases were seen in the frequency and duration of commuting, according to the report. The amount of time spent commuting fell by about one hour a week.
There was also a small but significant increase in self-reports of household recycling, walking and cycling, rather than driving and buying eco-friendly products, according to the report.
What research has shown
A 2022 report assessing global trials of reduced work time with no reduction in pay by academic researchers at Boston College, the University College Dublin and Cambridge University found that stress, burnout, fatigue, work-family conflict all declined, while physical and mental health, positive affect, work-family and work life balance, and satisfaction across multiple domains of life increased.
Employees surveyed from 33 companies who participated in a four-day workweek pilot program for six months in the United States, Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada all said they used their extra day off for hobbies, household work and personal grooming.
The report also found companies were extremely pleased with their performance, productivity and overall experience, with almost all of them committing or planning to continue with the four-day week schedule.
According to the report, revenue rose over the course of the trial. Sick days and absenteeism went down. Companies were hiring. Resignations fell slightly and climate impacts, while less measured, were also encouraging.
Expert on sleep medicine weighs in
Dr. Anthony Izzo, associate chief of neurology and sleep specialist/neurologist at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, thinks the four-day workweek is a good idea, especially if it affords people more leisure time so they don’t have to get it at the expense of their sleep at night.
“We as a society are overworked, especially with the recent ‘side hustle’ culture of the past decade, where younger people are encouraged to commodify and monetize what would otherwise be hobbies and free time,” said Izzo. “This leads to increased stress, decreased satisfaction with one’s primary job, as time spent to relax and recharge dwindles to nothing.”
In sleep medicine, there is a phenomenon called “revenge bedtime procrastination,” said Izzo, where people sacrifice sleep in order to spend time doing leisure activities that responsibilities to work and family life wouldn’t otherwise afford.
“A four-day workweek would open more opportunity for leisure and allow more time for healthy sleep at night,” said Izzo. “A good night’s sleep is key for learning new information, learning new skills and for focus and short-term memory during the day.”
In a study by Notre Dame University, health college students were taught a skill, then half of them were deprived of some of their sleep and had to demonstrate that skill the following day, said Izzo.
“The students that had a good night’s sleep ran circles around the ones that didn’t," he said. "We see this in our everyday lives. We know that if we get a good night’s sleep, it’s going to be a successful and productive day."
How the four-day workweek pilot works
If implemented, the Massachusetts Smart Work Week Pilot program will accept applications from employers throughout the state to participate. Priority will be given to ensure that qualifying employers hail from a diverse size, occupation, industry sector and geographical location, and include participation from veterans, women and minority-owned businesses and businesses owned by persons with disabilities.
Participating employers will agree to reduce the hours of all or some of their employees without reducing overall pay, status or benefits. Businesses will be eligible for a tax credit for their participation in the study and necessary data collection.