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4-day work week would make Massachusetts more competitive, bill supporters say

4-day work week bill gets hearing in Massachusetts
4-day work week bill gets hearing in Massachusetts 01:30

BOSTON - Should Massachusetts explore the benefits of a four-day work week? Supporters of a bill that would incentivize businesses to make the switch through a pilot program made their case on Beacon Hill Tuesday.

"Americans haven't had a meaningful reduction in working hours since. . . the 1930s," bill sponsor Rep. Dylan Fernandes, a Falmouth Democrat, testified before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. "The five-day work week is a human construct and we think it needs updating."   

The program called the "Massachusetts Smart Work Week Pilot" could reduce employee burnout without hurting business productivity, advocates argue. They also say it could make the state more attractive to job-seekers. 

What is the four-day work week proposal in Massachusetts?

The two-year pilot program would offer a tax credit for businesses that reduce work hours for at least 15 employees, without giving them a pay cut. 

Workers at businesses could opt out of the program if they choose. At the end of the trial period, employers would report on how the reduced work schedule affected employee well-being and productivity.

What have studies shown about four-day work weeks?

Wen Fan, an associate professor of sociology at Boston College, helped conduct an international study that showed "overwhelmingly positive" results for both businesses and employees. The trial involved dozens of companies in the United Kingdom where employees worked a 32-hour week instead of 40.

"Employees reported that they were more productive, they thought they were performing a better job with a shift to a four-day work week," Fan testified. "Interestingly, about 15% of employees said that no amount of money would be high enough to convince them to go back to a five-day schedule."

All 61 companies that participated in the trial chose to keep the four-day work week, researchers say. Alan Palm, executive director of the climate change nonprofit Better Future Project in Cambridge, said a switch to four days a week has worked for his team.

"Burnout among staff is a continual challenge," he said. "The 4-day work week has allowed us to boost the quality of life for our staff without impacting our budget."

Palm said there are also environmental benefits, as going into the office less means fewer car trips and a smaller carbon footprint. 

Possible challenges of a four-day work week?

Rep. Donald Wong, a Saugus Republican and restaurant owner, questioned advocates about whether the program would work for everyone.

"Police officers or firefighters, how could they have a four-day work week?" Wong asked.

Fan acknowledged that the pilot is geared "predominately" for white collar workers, but she said it could also have benefits for the construction, restaurant and manufacturing industries.

"The point is that with this broader rethink of the work process, you are able to get the productivity to go up, so you can get the same amount of work done using a smaller amount of time," she said.

How businesses and Massachusetts could benefit from a four-day work week

Fan said her study found that a four-day work week could be a good way for companies to attract workers. Fernandes said it would help both businesses and the state.

"It benefits businesses by actually increasing productivity of workers, which is something that is counterintuitive but borne out in data," he said. "It also helps attract talent and retain talent. When we think about Massachusetts' competitiveness, one of the biggest issues we face right now is attracting and retaining a workforce."

Has a four-day work week been tried in Massachusetts before?

Swampscott implemented a four-day work week for town workers in recent years - but it didn't mean a reduction in hours.

Question Everything: Is a four-day work week sustainable? 03:54

Town employees worked three nine-hour days, plus one 11-hour day for a total of 40 hours a week. 

"We do work, we work hard because now we've got five days squished into four days but it hasn't been a problem," town administrator Sean Fitzgerald told WBZ-TV.

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