There has been a lot in the media lately about a new proposal in Maryland for a 4-day work week. With this bill, which has yet to be passed, a Four–Day Workweek Pilot Program would be launched to test the viability of offering a shorter working week to employees. However, although the way we work has evolved since the pandemic and the Great Resignation, many businesses in Maryland are still skeptical.
Is this another step towards the new normal and the future of work? Is the US workforce ready for such a big change?
In today’s post, we are going to share everything you need to know about Maryland’s Four–Day Workweek Act of 2023. We will discuss what the bill includes and where it took its inspiration from. We will also share some of the pros and cons of a shorter working week to help you decide if this initiative might benefit your organization.
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Table of Contents
Maryland’s four-day workweek pilot program
Working models have been evolving ever since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Businesses around the world saw their workforces contained to their homes and they had to find new ways to manage, organize, and delegate work. When the world started opening up again, many employees weren’t happy with the thought of returning to the office 5 days a week. This led to a rise in remote and hybrid work schedules as businesses realized that employees didn’t need to be in the office to be productive.
But the conversation didn’t stop there.
Many businesses and employees are now wondering whether a 5-day workweek is strictly necessary. Especially given the increasing focus on employee well-being and the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Maryland has decided to respond to this with a pioneering proposal: the Four–Day Workweek Act of 2023.
If it goes well, then this could be a promising glimpse of what the future of work in the U.S. might look like. But there’s a long road ahead. Although the bill is yet to be passed, it has already been met with mixed reviews. Some businesses think it could be a great way to boost morale and increase retention. However, others believe that it would be costly and not viable in the long term.
What employers need to know
Here’s everything you need to know about the Four–Day Workweek Act of 2023 and Maryland’s Four–Day Workweek Pilot Program.
4-day work week overview
The Maryland General Assembly’s Four–Day Workweek Act of 2023 (House Bill 0181) proposes that organizations should be given the opportunity to trial a 4-day work week to see if it works well in their business. Under the bill, companies would be invited to participate in a trial known as the Four–Day Workweek Pilot Program. This would enable private and public employers with 30 or more employees to road-test a shorter working week.
The Four–Day Workweek Pilot Program would be conducted over a one to five-year period. Employees would work 32 hours a week instead of the standard 40 hours over 5 working days. They would maintain the same salary and benefits. In exchange, participating organizations would receive tax credits from the Department of Labor. These tax credits would compensate for any potential loss in productivity, and they would be covered by the state. To qualify for these tax credits, employers must participate in the program for no less than one year and no more than two. They must also commit to sending regular progress feedback to Maryland’s Department of Labor.
Legislators in Maryland’s House and Senate will hold hearings on the Four–Day Workweek Act of 2023 this month. Watch this space for updates.
The 4-Day Week Campaign
Although the concept of a voluntary 4-day work week bill is new to the U.S., it has already been trialed in other countries. In fact, much of its inspiration was taken from a recent trial in the UK known as the 4 Day Week Campaign.
The 4 Day Week Campaign is a UK national campaign for a shorter working week. Organizers are working with Autonomy, 4 Day Week Global, and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College to roll out a series of 4-day work week pilot programs across the UK. This is the biggest trial of its kind, although there are similar programs in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Israel.
According to the organization, the “9 to 5, 5-day working week” is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. The solution they propose is a four-day, 32-hour working week. During the pilot, which represents more than 3,300 workers across more than 30 sectors in the UK, employees will receive 100% of their pay for 80% of their time.
Benefits of a 4-day work week
The 4 Day Week Campaign believes that a 4-day work week can benefit workers, employers, the economy, society, and the environment. They are basing this on the results of a 2022 study conducted in the US and Ireland by 4-Day-Week Global. Companies that participated in the study reported increased revenue and improved employee health and well-being. Businesses also highlighted notable utility savings. None had plans to go back to a five-day week after the trial.
Companies in Japan, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have also reported a number of benefits since introducing similar schemes, including improved employee well-being without a loss in productivity. In fact, according to a number of sources, Japan’s own pilot saw productivity increase by about 40%.
All this is a shining example of how a 4-day work week can change businesses for the better, in all aspects.
Moreover, according to Maryland State Senator Shelly Hettleman:
“Our workplace today is really different from when the 40-hour workweek was put into statute back in 1940. We have gone through just such a transformational change, adapting to Covid, with some people working from home and employers trying to figure out what their workplace needs are. Looking at the Great Resignation, I think people are looking to do work differently and so I think it’s a perfect time to do this”.
Downsides of a 4-day work week
There are many potential benefits to a 4-day work week, as we have just touched on and which we will discuss in more detail shortly. However, as with all major shifts to established models, there are bound to be challenges and disadvantages. And this is causing some employers in Maryland to be skeptical about the Four–Day Workweek Pilot Program.
- Doubts about whether it is cost-effective. A similar program conducted with nurses in Sweden found that the project wasn’t cost-effective. This could be a problem, especially for companies that don’t have the right support, technology, and workplace culture. However, at least for the short term, the proposed tax credits would counteract any drop in productivity.
- Negative impact on customer service. There’s a risk that consumers may feel they have less access to customer services. However, this could be addressed by using chatbots and other forms of AI to provide customers with alternative communication channels when CS departments are not open.
- Increased burnout: There’s always a risk that employers might push for the same workload condensed into fewer days. And this could result in an increase in workplace stress and burnout and a drop in engagement. The key to overcoming this is using the right approach. A 4-day work week is not the same as offering compressed hours.
Generally speaking, it’s impossible to predict the true impact of introducing a 4-day work week as every organization is so different. It’s not for every business and it’s a big step. It is up to you to decide if it is a viable option for your own unique business model. And this is precisely what the Four–Day Workweek Pilot Program hopes to offer: the opportunity to determine if it could work for your business.
What workers should know about the 4-day work week
There are a couple of things to consider from the point of view of employees.
Firstly, employees might wonder how their working week would be structured. Employers who participate in the 4-day work week pilot would be free to decide how they structure the 32-hour workweek. Some might decide that working eight hours a day, four days a week works best. Others might prefer to stick to five days a week but offer a shorter working day. What matters most is that you’re clear about what your structure is and everyone sticks to it. That way, there is less risk that you will be left understaffed.
Employees might also wonder how the 4-day work week will affect their vacation time. In theory, employees under the scheme would be entitled to the same salary and benefits. However, as there are no laws regulating PTO you may decide to adjust any paid vacation time that you offer accordingly. Again, this will be up to you and depend on the unique characteristics and requirements of your business.
Reasons for a 4-day work week
We touched on a few benefits of the pilot scheme above. Now let’s take a look at some of the biggest reasons why introducing a 4-day work week can be good for business.
Although there are concerns that a 4-day work week might result in a drop in productivity, there’s no doubt that it would also lead to reduced costs for everyone. Businesses could potentially see their utility bills reduced by up to 20% by closing the office for an extra day a week. And employees would save on their commute as well as the cost of lunch and coffee during the day.
Increase efficiency & productivity
Some businesses have cited a drop in productivity as one of the biggest potential downsides of a 4-day work week. But a shorter working week could potentially boost efficiency and productivity with the right approach.
Consider this. Employees working longer weeks are more likely to be overworked, unhappy, and disengaged. So much so that they might even distract their colleagues from their own work.
It all depends on your approach and how you organize your employee schedules. The key is freeing up time to account for the extra day off, not decreasing productivity. Are there any unnecessary meetings that you could eliminate to reduce workloads? Can you improve your communication channels to streamline any of your internal processes?
Healthier work-life balance for employees
Working only 4 days a week would give employees longer weekends to enjoy with their families and friends. And this is a big benefit for employee health and well-being. Plus, it can work wonders for employee engagement, morale, and job satisfaction, especially if you combine it with an employee wellness program. In fact, a UK study by Henley Business School found that 78% of employers who implemented a four-day week reported that 75% of their employees were happier. And a happier workforce is more loyal, empowered, committed, and productive.
What’s more, the US and Ireland trials that we discussed above found that employees reported fewer cases of stress, burnout, and fatigue. This means fewer absences and fewer employees taking stress leave from work. Instead, you will have a healthy and motivated workforce that’s ready to take on the challenges of the working week.
A solution to the gender pay gap
A 4-day work week could be a step in the right direction towards reducing the gender pay gap. For example, according to the World Economic Forum, women are much more likely than men to give up work due to childcare responsibilities. Offering a shorter working week could help to redress this imbalance. Employees can spend more time with their families and find a fairer solution to manage care and work commitments.
Streamlined hiring and lower attrition
Offering hybrid and flexible work schedules is very appealing these days, especially for younger generations. Increasing numbers of employees are looking to work at organizations where they can maintain a healthier work-life balance. And this means that offering a 4-day work week can help you attract top talent to your business. A 4-day work week is also more likely to encourage your existing employees to stay at your organization. In fact, research shows that 63% of businesses found it easier to attract and retain staff with a four-day working week.
All this can have a big impact on your hiring process and attrition levels.
Better for the environment
Finally, a 4-day work week can reduce your organization’s carbon footprint and help your business make a more positive impact on the environment. Fewer office hours mean less electricity, less water, and less heating and aircon. It also means one day less that employees have to commute to work in cars and buses.
A trial conducted in Utah showed a significant carbon footprint reduction after implementing a 4-day work week program. Over a period of 10 months, the project saved over $1.8M in energy costs and saw a reduction of approximately 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. All because they opened the office four days a week instead of five. If the idea of a 4-day work week takes off and becomes a national initiative, this could have a huge impact on the environment.
The Four–Day Workweek Act of 2023 might seem like a radical proposal. However, the U.S. has been gradually reducing its working hours for some time now.
Here are a few historical facts to explain the history of the US working week:
- Manufacturing plant employees worked an average of 100 hours per week in 1890. By the mid-20th century, manufacturing employees only worked 40 hours a week.
- Up until 1926, the standard workweek was six days, not five.
- The Fair Labor Standards Act set the minimum workweek standard at 44 hours in 1938. Henry Ford revised this to 40 hours in 1940.
- President Nixon predicted in 1956 that a four-day workweek was in the “not too distant future”.
More recently, California has proposed a number of initiatives to update the workweek to the requirements of the future of work. For example, in 2021, Democratic Congressman Mark Takano introduced a California bill that would reduce the standard workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours. However, unlike the Maryland proposal, California would mandate the initiative. A similar bill in California proposed that businesses should pay overtime to employees who worked more than 32 hours per week. However, the state has since shelved these bills, for the time being at least.
One thing is clear though. If the recent trials conducted around the world are anything to go by, the 4-day work week could soon form a part of the future of work. And this could have a huge impact on the way we work and the technology we use to support our businesses.
Would you be willing to try a 4-day work week in your business? Is your business ready for it?