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LaDonna Speiser works four days the first week of February. He says he is not ready to give it up.

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LaDonna Speiser works four days the first week of February. He says he is not ready to give it up.

Kyle Green for NPR

On a recent summer Friday, LaDonna Spicer, 59, takes her son-in-law to the pool and helps her mother-in-law with chores. She sees an eye doctor and makes an appointment with a physical therapist. She spends some time reading on the patio. She is able to do all this because her company, Healthwise, offers her a four-day work week.

As the pandemic and the “Great Resignation” make it harder for companies to attract and retain talent, a growing number of white-collar employers like Healthwise are exploring new ways to make work life more attractive. One of them – the four-day work week – assumes that workers In fact Must work 40 hours a week. As part of its “Working Life” series, NPR Morning edition I saw how realistic it really was.

Speiser’s company began experimenting with a four-day work week last year. The Boise, Idaho-based company produces health education materials for hospitals and health plans. It recently completed a pilot trial run by the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, which helps companies transition from the traditional five-day work week.

LaDonna Speiser is photographed outside her company, Healthwise, on June 29. The Idaho-based company experimented with four-day work weeks last year and made it permanent in February.

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For some companies, the benefits are clear

For Healthwise, four working days were actually reduced good For business.

“Our revenue has exceeded our budget this year,” says CEO Adam Hasney. “We delivered products on time or ahead of what we would have done. I would say all the things we could measure were positive.”

What’s more, these positives are tied to one of the aims of the trial – to learn how a four-day work week can help fatigued employees.

“There are a lot of people who spend more time in the office than they should,” says Juliet Shore, an economist and sociology professor at Boston College and author of the book SCORE. Overworked Americanand leads research on 4 Day Week Global.

“If the work is more efficiently organized,” he says, “[employees] You can do it in a short amount of time, go home, and have a good life.”

Companies joining the pilot program are being asked to test a four-day work week for six months. The requirement for participation is not a reduction in wages, but a substantial reduction in hours. Most participants went four days with 32 hours of work, with Friday being the most common day off. So far, 22 companies in the US and 70 in the UK have joined the trial this year. Companies in Australia, Canada and New Zealand are also involved.

Depending on the job, this may not be a realistic option

On June 27, 2022, Juliet Shore, an economist and sociology professor, sits for a portrait in her office at Boston College.

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Of course, testing isn’t for everyone.

“If you look at companies that are pioneering the four-day week, technology is very much at the forefront,” says Shore. Kickstarter, with approximately 100 employees, is a notable company in the experiment. “White-collar work is kind of the dominant job at the moment,” he notes.

In fact, it seems easier to try a four-day work week in an office environment, where there is more flexibility when it comes to schedules than other professions. When NPR called a manufacturing plant that makes steel products in the Northeast, a floor manager who answered the phone said he didn’t have time to get a supervisor to speak on the record. Before hanging up, he said the plant was so crippled by supply chain shortages and backlog orders that there was no way a four-day work week could happen.

But when it comes to white-collar work, one of SCORE’s aims is to see if reducing working hours is actually possible. He brought an experiment to health workers in Sweden where nurses were given six hours instead of the usual eight to combat stress.

“There are many people who spend more time in the office than they should,” says economist Juliet Shore. “If the work is more efficiently organized,” he says, “[employees] You can do it in a short amount of time and go home and have a good life.”

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“What these tests showed was that nurses were getting six-hour days, which we expected … was happier,” says Shore. “But care facilities had to hire people for those extra hours. And what they found was that despite the small increase in costs, most of those extra salaries were offset by lower health care costs and lower unemployment for their current workforce.”

In the end, the four-day work week ends up costing employers less — not just in revenue, but in productivity.

“Definitely, patient outcomes improved,” Shore says of the Swedish trial. “So I think we’re going to start seeing more of this in health care because they’re going through a lot of stress. The other thing in health care, of course, is mistakes. When you’re tired and stressed, you’re more likely to make mistakes.”

Some HR professionals see drawbacks

Some experts say the obvious drawbacks of the four-day work week should be considered. While Healthwise gives employees Friday off, some human resources experts say it can create a scheduling challenge.

David Lewis, CEO of human resources consulting firm OperationsInc, says the post-Covid-19 workplace has already made it difficult to lay off employees.

“I work at home” or “I live at work,” says Lewis. “People don’t turn off their laptops, they don’t hang up their phones.”

For Lewis, fundamental aspects of work-life balance come into play. In a recent study, researchers in New Zealand found that while employees were attracted to the four-day work week, many aspects of their work in practice intensified after the change, including pressure from managers around things like performance.

“How are you going to move people in exactly the opposite direction to think about three days versus two days of disconnection? [they’re] Are you struggling to disconnect for even two hours seven days a week?”

Similarly, for Lindsay Djebkema, CEO of marketing technology company Casted, Friday off is a bumper sticker of a great idea, but it doesn’t necessarily make her employees’ lives better.

CEO and co-founder Lindsey Djebkema will lead a senior leadership meeting on June 29 at the Gasted office building in Indianapolis.

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“True flexibility is, ‘Hey I want to start my workday late,’ or ‘I want to cut down early on Wednesdays for kids reasons, for friend reasons, for personal reasons, for pet reasons,'” Djepkema says. “So if I mandate that flexibility in our company, you get Friday off, that’s not flexibility. It’s mandating a day off.”

Casted CEO Lindsay Tjepkema says the four-day work week doesn’t create as much flexibility for employees as some might think.

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The experiments Schor helped lead are still ongoing, so there isn’t enough final data to draw conclusions about how much companies can save or how much better employee performance and satisfaction is due to the four-day work week. Of course, all of this is happening in a tough economy. Inflation affects firms and workers. As interest rates rise, many business leaders are forced into recession. Even so, Shore believes the four-day work week has an irreversible momentum.

“Friday is off every week, Friday off in the summer, no meeting on Fridays…Friday is gradually becoming a day where people are not connected to their work,” Shore says. “And one thing we know is that once people have something like this, it’s very difficult to take it away.”

LaDonna Speiser lives it. She works continuously for four days in the first week of February. When we asked her if she was ready to give it up for another job, she smiled and said that this new schedule has changed her life. She has too much of it now and is not ready to let it go.