KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A study published out of Iceland that examined the benefits of a four-day workweek called it “an overwhelming success” and the news spread among international media and governments — as well as companies.
An academic researcher specializing in business management based out of Tennessee shared some insight with WATE on the four-day workweek and how employee productivity can be approached.
Studies out of Japan and New Zealand also posted positive results for the four-day workweek. Business, management, and organizational experts at the University of Tennessee’s Haslam College of Business say that while the four-day workweek is a hot topic of late, the idea has been around for a while.
Academic and management research studies dating back to the 1970s or earlier discuss the idea of a four-day workweek and since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified various companies’ approaches to how they manage their employees.
“There is actually a fairly large amount — and growing — of current literature on the four-day workweek,” Timothy P. Munyon, associate professor of management at UT Haslam College of Business, said. “The general consensus is that it improves productivity, reduces burnout, and increases respite.”
Munyon specializes in management and is the Janet and Jeff Davis Faculty Research Fellow at Haslam College of Business. His current research interests include the causes and effects of social influence at work, human resource management practices, and entrepreneur and family firm behavior. Munyon’s research has been published in multiple journals covering management, psychology, organizational behavior, and human resource management.
“Evidence is fairly compelling for the viability of a ‘results-only work environment,'” Munyon said. “This concept isn’t new, but the idea is to give people tasks, resources, and autonomy to get the work done, and then hold them accountable for outputs, rather than processes.”
Munyon also said these structures can save lots of time, give employees flexibility that they desire or need, and also can change the organization’s orientation toward its people.
“Of course, this is primarily intended for knowledge work roles, but may be applicable to other forms of work too, including manufacturing,” he said.
Historically, the 40-hour, five-day workweek became part of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Since then, the workforce has seen significant changes such as women entering the workforce in droves; the increased influence of international relations and employment; the onset of the internet and information age – and most recently, the coronavirus pandemic.
As far as hours spent during a workweek, workaholism is not as productive, experts say.
“Additional research suggests that there aren’t significant differences between the 55-hour and 70-hour work-week, suggesting that ‘classic workaholism’ doesn’t result in demonstrably improved productivity relative to a more balanced work-week.,” Munyon said.
A U.S. Congressman representing California last summer proposed legislation (US HB4728) for a 32-hour, four-day workweek and it gained momentum in Washington, D.C. In December, the Congressional Progressive Caucus endorsed the proposed bill. Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
“As a longtime member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, I am proud that the caucus voted to formally endorse my 32-Hour Workweek Act in support of transitioning toward a modern-day business model that prioritizes productivity, fair pay, and an improved quality of life for workers across the country,” Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said in a December statement.
“After a nearly two-year-long pandemic that forced millions of people to explore remote work options, it’s safe to say that we can’t – and shouldn’t – simply go back to normal, because normal wasn’t working. People were spending more time at work, less time with loved ones, their health and well-being was worsening, and all the while, their pay has remained stagnant. This is a serious problem. It’s time for progress and I am confident that with the CPC behind this bill, we can take meaningful steps forward and create positive, lasting change in people’s lives.”
At last check, the Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act bill had been sent to the House Education and Labor Committee, where it is pending.