Less work for the same pay won’t fly — but here’s a four-day week that might

Gene Marks
4 min readApr 28, 2024

Smart employers can get creative with schedules to attract and retain talent

(This column originally appeared in The Guardian)

According to CNN “4-day workweeks may be around the corner. A third of America’s companies are exploring them.” CNBC says: “This US company tested a 4-day workweek — and says it made workers happier and more productive.” Newsweek tells us: “Millennials Are Ready For a Four-Day Week.” So why do all of my clients say nope?

According to an advocacy organization, more than 300 companies have four-day workweeks and, per the reports above, many others are apparently “testing” the concept. I admit that I’ve spoken to none of these companies but I’m not sure I have to. I spend my life working with small and mid-sized businesses and I know a PR stunt when I see one. Hey, good for them. In these times of tight labor — it’s a great marketing campaign. “People! Come work for us except you don’t have to do as much work and we’ll still pay you the same!” Now that’s a company I want to work for.

But ask any business owner about the four-day workweek and you’ll get the eye-roll. No employer who’s currently paying a worker $1,000 a week for 40 hours is going to agree to pay that same worker the same amount for a 32-hour week.

My firm has 600 clients. These companies slit paper, coat films, design strip malls, buy and sell auto parts online, mow lawns and repair roofs. They’re mostly owned by people who wake up at 5am and work till 7pm. They don’t have enough people to do the work needed. They don’t have enough money to pay for good health insurance, let alone a robot. Their parking lots need resurfacing, their internet needs upgrading and their coffee pots need to be replaced by Keurigs.

These businesses — like most their size — suffer when a single person calls out sick. Their owners are battling customers who don’t pay, suppliers who don’t deliver and services that don’t function. My little subset of clients — who represent a tiny sliver of the country’s 30m businesses — can’t fathom a four-day workweek. To them, this is a fairytale, a dream, a misguided workplace concept driven by media interest that is so unrealistic that few even pay attention to the stories about it.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the four-day workweek. All this idea needs is a little bit of rebranding.

If you’re an advocate of the four-day workweek you’re going about this all wrong. Instead of working fewer hours for the same pay — which, again let me confirm, is never going to happen — you should be pushing for changes in work schedules. Many industries — like healthcare, home services and retail — allow flexibility in scheduling so that workers put in four 10-hour days and then have three days off. I know younger workers who have this arrangement at their employers and they love it. Working a 10-hour shift isn’t that much different than an eight-hour shift, but having three days off in a week makes a big difference.

This is the kind of four-day workweek an employer should embrace. Allowing your people more flexibility in their scheduling satisfies a very reasonable (and admirable) value championed by today’s younger generations to have a better work-life balance. They’re right about this and smarter than my generation. By adopting a more flexible 10-hour-day schedule your company can tout its own “four-day workweek” program to current and prospective employees and leverage the current news cycle to help retain and attract more talent.

There will always be wily politicians who will take up silly causes like the four-day workweek to fire up their base. There will always be companies aiming to grab the headlines. But here’s the reality: workers who think that corporate America is going to a four-day workweek anytime soon are dreaming. It’s not going to happen. Not in the foreseeable future. Probably not ever. It simply doesn’t make economic sense. But employers can be more flexible and should be if they want to recruit the best talent. That’s the kind of “four-day” workweek that does make sense to a businessperson.

Originally published at https://www.theguardian.com on April 28, 2024.



Gene Marks

Columnist on smallbiz, economy, public policy, tech for The Guardian, The Hill, Philly Inquirer, Wash Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur. Small Business owner and CPA