Massachusetts lawmakers file bill to create 4-day workweek pilot

Employers participating in the proposed two-year pilot program would transition some or all of their workers to a shortened workweek without any loss of pay or benefits.

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Following a similar program in Europe, two Massachusetts lawmakers have filed a bill this week to create a two-year pilot program for a four-day workweek.

Rep. Dylan Fernandes of Falmouth and Rep. Josh Cutler of Duxbury filed the bill that would create a voluntary program allowing participating businesses to transition some or all of their employees to a four-day week without loss of pay or benefits. 

The pilot program would run for two years and would be overseen by the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. To participate, employers must agree to transition at least 15 workers to a shortened workweek.

While the bill was just filed this week, a number of businesses have already reached out to ask how they can participate, according to Cutler.

“I think this is really the perfect time for this kind of pilot program, given the changes we’ve seen in hybrid work as a result of the pandemic and the need to look for creative solutions to our current labor market challenges,” Cutler said in an email response to Computerworld

If the legislation passes, employers who participate in the pilot would agree to reduce the hours of all or some of their employees without reducing overall pay, status, or benefits. Businesses will also be eligible for a tax credit for their participation in the study and necessary data collection, Cutler said.

While the pilot program is designed to run for two years, individual businesses are not required to participate the entire time. The proposal is aimed at discovering the feasibility and benefits of a four-day work week.

“We chose this amount of time because we wanted to ensure a robust response and data availability. I have seen a variety of different lengths. In Maryland, there is a bill proposing a five-year pilot, for example. In this case, we felt two years struck a good balance,” Cutler said. (The Maryland proposal was withdrawn earlier this year.)

The Massachusetts legislation doesn’t call for participating organizations to adopt a strict 32-hour work week; instead, it states employees must receive “a meaningful reduction in actual work hours.”

Transitioning from the traditional five-day, 40-hour work week to a four-day week has the potential to reduce burnout and boost performance among workers without negatively affecting employer productivity, according to Cutler. “They could also bring a competitive edge for employers who are able to attract and retain talent,” he said.

Gartner is seeing “a high amount of interest” in four-day workweeks from its clients, according to Emily Rose McRae, a senior director with the research firm’s HR practice.

“Many organizations, and their HR leaders, see a four-day workweek as the next step in their flexibility offerings for employees — offering flexibility on when and how much people work, in addition to where,” she said. “For organizations that haven’t been able to successfully implement remote or hybrid work, or that fundamentally can’t for at least part of their workforce, a four-day workweek offers an opportunity to remain competitive in a still very tight talent market by offering a different kind of flexibility.”

In general, four-day work week pilots have shown that productivity increases with reduced hours, so reducing pay may not be necessary — but it is an option for organizations that have regulatory or legal limits on reducing hours without reducing pay, McRae said.

In February, the world’s largest trial of a four-day workweek completed its run, and 92% of the UK-based companies that participated said they plan to continue with the truncated work schedule because the benefits are so clear.

Several US states have considered trials, mainly to understand how a shorter week can function, given the specifics of state economies, labor laws, regulations, and other issues, according to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, global programs director for the nonprofit organization 4 Day Week Global.

“It’s one thing to hear about companies in the Nordic region doing it; it’s another to know that companies in Northampton [Mass.] are doing it,” Pang said.

According to Pang, the Massachusetts proposal is different than others in that it calls for a 15-worker minimum, targets a more varied set of companies than past studies, proposes tax breaks for participants, and is two years long.

“Given the long life of government policies versus business strategies, [two years] makes some sense,” Pang said. “You want to understand broader economic impacts, which might need some time to become apparent. There’s plenty we have yet to understand about how different kinds of rewards might incentivize companies to adopt long-term changes.”

The UK pilot program was conducted by the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, the UK’s 4 Day Week Campaign and Autonomy, a think tank. It guided the companies and their workers through a six-month test of a 32-hour, four-day week, with no loss of pay for employees. Including a previous study of companies in US and Ireland, a total of 91 companies with about 3,500 workers completed pilot programs of a shorter work week.

The study of 61 UK-based companies and about 3,000 employees delivered results that are largely consistent with existing evidence from other studies, “further demonstrating the benefits of reduced-hour, output-focused working,” the study concluded.

Of the 61 UK companies that participated in the trial, 56 indicated they will continue with the four-day week. Two have decided to extend their trials, and three have decided to pause their four-day week for now.

Other findings from the UK study included:

  • 71% of employees had reduced levels of burnout by the end of the trial.
  • 39% were less stressed.
  • 43% felt an improvement in mental health.
  • 54% said they felt a reduction in negative emotions.
  • 37% of employees saw improvements in physical health.
  • 46% reported a reduction in fatigue.
  • 40% saw a reduction in sleep difficulties.

While both men and women benefit from the UK’s four-day week, women's experience is generally better, the study said.

“This is the case for burnout, life and job satisfaction, mental health, and reduced commuting time," Dale Whelehan, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist and CEO of 4 Day Week Global, said in an earlier interview. "Encouragingly, the burden of non-work duties appears to be balancing out, with more men taking on a greater share of housework and childcare."

The number of people quitting companies during the study decreased significantly, dropping by 57% during the trial. Additionally, 15% of employees in participating companies indicated that no amount of money would induce them now to accept a five-day workweek over a four-day one.

Cutler said he doesn’t expect employers who would participate in the proposed Massachusetts pilot would see a loss in productivity, “but it's certainly possible in some industries. We won’t know unless we study the issue more thoroughly,” he said. 

According to a 2022 global survey of 3,600 employees by Gartner, a four-day workweek appears to be the most popular attractor among “new and innovative benefits to recruit talent.” Additionally, 63% of candidates selected “4-day work week for the same pay” as one of the top five benefits that would attract them to a job (this number jumps to 74% for respondents in the US), according to Gartner.

Last fall, a survey of 3,500 employees in the US and three other countries revealed workers want their productivity measured by the results they achieve, not by how many hours they log during the workweek. The survey of US, UK, Australian, and Canadian workers found that 58% want to eliminate the 40-hour workweek, and nearly half (47%) believe the best flexible work option would be a four-day workweek. More than one in four respondents (28%) also said their employer already offers a four-day workweek option.

The study by software and services provider Adaptavist also found that while employees want more choice and control over their work lives, hybrid and remote work comes at a cost in the form of isolation, loneliness, and increased workloads.

“Critics like to claim that the four-day week won’t work because it’s a ‘one size fits all’ solution,” Pang said. “[But] the companies that actually do it don’t even implement one solution across all their departments.”

For example, Pang explained, corporate sales and marketing teams may have some employees work Monday through Thursday and others work Tuesday through Friday, while other parts of the company could be closed on Fridays. “Ditto for part-time workers; it depends on whether they’re hourly or salaried, are working only for you or have other clients, etc.,” he said.

Gartner’s McRae said organizations don’t have to mandate a four-day workweek for their employees, but they can still offer one. “In fact,” she said, “we’re seeing a lot of organizations who want to add a four-day workweek to their flexibility offerings, but they aren’t mandating that all employees take the four-day workweek.”

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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