Four-day work week in California: how it works, who benefits
If every weekend was long, would we all be happier? As some companies and California lawmakers pursue a four-day work week, experts tell The Bee it’s not about the hours — it’s the flexibility that ultimately creates a more balanced workplace. .
At the beginning of May, a bill which would establish a four-day week for certain California workers have been sidelined after failing to advance to the state Legislature due to implementation issues. Assembly Bill 2932 suggests companies should pay workers the same amount of wages for 32 hours as they paid for 40.
While some groups feared the bill would dramatically increase labor costs, one lawmaker explained that a shortened workweek and a broader conversation about better work-life balance were “long overdue”.
The Bee spoke to tech startup Bolt, which recently upgraded to a four-day week, about the fit, and experts from UC Davis and Berkeley about the pros and cons of a shortened schedule. Here’s what we learned:
What does a four-day work week look like?
A handful of private companies in California have already moved to the four-day work week, according to Business Insider.
Bolt, a San Francisco-based tech startup, piloted a three-month trial for a four-day workweek in September. After seeing an increase in some productivity levels during the trial, the company decided to make the change permanent for all of its employees, most of whom are salaried.
In order to maintain productivity and prevent employee burnout, the startup has reviewed its operation. Bolt is a company that aims to make the checkout process more efficient for retailers.
“We had to start focusing on what’s really important and what we should be doing and kind of cut out some of the noise,” Adam McBain, Bolt’s vice president of human resources, said.
He said the “optionality” a four-day work week offers is the reason for its success. It allows people to log in on Friday, rather than Saturday, to complete any pending tasks, and still have two days off on the weekend.
“I think it makes a worker happier and it gives people balance,” McBain said.
He added that the company has had to find ways for employees to have some balance Monday through Thursday, so their schedules aren’t completely stacked with work and meetings.
“I think it’s doable with hourly shifts,” McBain said of the shortened model. “It takes a commitment from the company to do what you need to do to make it work.”
Does a shorter work week help or hurt?
According to the non-profit organization 4 Day Week Global, which launched a pilot project with 38 companies to test the four-day schedule, 78% of employees with a four-day work week said they were happier and less stressed.
However, UC Davis director of wellbeing, Dr. Peter Yellowlees, said flexible work options are most beneficial to people’s wellbeing — not necessarily reduced hours. After the pandemic began, many companies let workers decide where they wanted to work.
“We can work both in the office, at home and elsewhere, and what I think employers are starting to realize is that this is very positive for the well-being and mental health of most people. “Yellowes said.
He added that allowing people to work from home and integrate their personal and professional lives is a “much healthier way” to achieve work-life balance.
Financial disadvantage for some
Other factors that can create a happier worker include better pay and sick time, growth opportunities and a more consistent schedule, especially for hourly employees, said Enrique Lopezlira, labor economist at UC. Berkeley.
“I think employers who treat employees as valuable work partners and see them as an asset rather than a cost that they just have to minimize, I think those workers…are happier and more productive,” a- he declared.
Lopezlira, director of the low-wage program at the university’s labor center, said the four-day week would most likely put hourly workers at a financial disadvantage. Most of them are looking to work more hours during the week.
He added that the proposal could potentially worsen inequalities that already exist between white-collar workers and low-wage workers, which are mainly in minority groups.
“One of the reasons women, black and Hispanic workers have been hit so hard by the pandemic is that they are overrepresented in these low-wage industries,” he said.
Due to higher labor costs under the model, the economist said employers could reclassify full-time hourly workers as part-time workers or even contractors, which could cause them to lose benefits and negatively affect their earning potential.
But beyond reduced hours and flexible work options, wellbeing expert Yellowlees said making work more meaningful for a wider range of people is the best way to improve workers’ mental health.
“It’s not so much the number of hours they work,” he said, “but the meaning they have of their work – what they achieve and what they contribute.”
Although shelved for now, the proposal for a four-day work week could resurface later in the Legislative Assembly, according to the Wall Street Journal. A lawmaker said he intends to hear from stakeholders to find out what needs to be changed in the bill.