Numlock Sunday: Ellyn Briggs on the rise of the four-day work week
By Walt Hickey
Welcome to the Numlock Sunday edition.
This week, I spoke to Ellyn Briggs, who wrote “U.S. Enthusiasm for 4-Day Workweek Dips Without Remote Work Option” for Morning Consult. Here's what I wrote about it:
A new survey of Americans find broad interest in a proposal to adopt a four-day workweek, as has been tried out in a number of companies and organizations around the world. A U.K. experiment saw 56 of the 61 organizations that tried it keep it after the trial period given improvements in employee satisfaction and revenue. All told, 87 percent of U.S. adults are very or somewhat interested in a four-day workweek, and 82 percent believed that such an implementation would be successful in the U.S. When asked if they’d still be interested in a four-day week even if that meant that remote work was never allowed, still 51 percent of Americans backed it.
I loved this because finally we can put some hard data to a general trend. The idea that in today’s economy companies can scale back the time commitment for certain types of jobs without undermining the actual ability to deliver on those is a potentially massive shift in how this economy works, and there’s a lot of potential in shaving off the eight hours of the week that have the most diminishing returns and giving them back to workers. We talk all about how bullish Americans are about this possibility.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Ellyn, thank you so much for coming on.
Yes, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. Happy Friday.
Happy Friday to you. Although, in an alternative world, perhaps this isn't Friday; perhaps this is... our weekend. You wrote a very good story all about the four-day work week and this fun experimental project that some companies have been embarking on. I guess just to back out a little bit, where did this idea come from and who's been trying it out?
This research was informed by just a number of headlines over the past year, but really over the past six months, about different companies trialing this four-day work week, mainly in Europe. But then results from a recent study got released that included U.S. companies as well, I believe last month. That prompted us to bring our data to the forefront and published this story this week. But just in the vein of broader workforce changes, the four-day work week has come up again and again really since the pandemic. It is, I think, one of the next frontiers. Just how remote work came to be because of the pandemic, this might be the next wave of workplace changes to come over the next few years here, as we settle into what I believe is the new normal, which is the hybrid ways of working. Our other research shows that.
Just to make a long story short, we wanted to dive in and also ask this alternate angle to the question, which is how do remote work policies impact interest in the four-day work week, if at all? We did find that there was some significant drop-off in interest in it when you take away the ability to work remotely.
Yeah. Let's talk about some of those experiments; you alluded to them a little bit in your post. There was a shortened schedule experiment in the U.K. There was another one that you mentioned in North America and Europe. Those have come out broadly in credit, it seems.
I think in the U.K. one that was completed earlier this year, 56 of the 61 involved companies are maintaining the four-day workweek. Really a high take rate there.
Again, the other companies that were in the U.S. involved in the study also found increased productivity, employee retention, all sorts of good things. The real world data, if you will, outside of our own study, is showing positive signs and large acceptance from the employees that are involved in these studies with these companies.
I actually did speak a few months ago now, as part of my reporting for this piece, with a person from Thread Up, which is an e-commerce resale platform similar to Poshmark or Depop. They adopted the four-day work week in 2021, and also not gone back from it. They're seeing improved retention rates among their corporate employees for whom it applies. I think just overall folks and companies are really happy with the way these experiments are working out and not necessarily going back to the standard work week.
Yeah. Let's talk about the data that you found. This is the first I've seen of it. You've found that there is — "broad" almost doesn't give enough confidence in how confident Americans are that a four-day work week could work here.
Yeah, our survey found that 82 percent of Americans believe that widespread adoption of the four-day work week in the United States would be successful. Of that 82 percent, 49 percent, so nearly half, believe it would be very successful. Really some strong confidence in this idea among Americans who we do have a hustle culture, a work culture in this country. They’re really stunning numbers on this topic when you think of what it means in the broader context of our country.
Yeah, there's a lot of negotiation going on right now between management of workers when it comes to remote policies, and that intersects pretty distinctly here. People don't want to give up remote work.
Yeah, that's what our survey found. We wanted to investigate what's a more compelling benefit: remote work or the four-day work week. We asked respondents in the survey, we gave them a series of hypothetical number of remote days per week and asked, "If you were able to have a four-day work week but could only work remotely X amount of days, how would that impact your interest in that four-day work week benefit?"
We found that this huge drop-off occurred between allowing remote work some of the time, so one to two days per week, we specified in the survey, and then never being allowed.
Sixty-eight percent of Americans still reported interest in the four-day work week if they were only able to work remotely one to two days a week. But if you took that benefit away entirely, only 51 percent of Americans — so still a slim majority, but much, much fewer Americans — are interested in the four-day work week when remote work is never allowed. Again, it's just telling of remote's staying power as a meaningful benefit to employees that 49 percent may not be interested, if you interpret the data the other way, in a four-day work week if you take the ability to work remotely away from them.
I guess just broadening it out a little bit, again, you cover a lot of things on this kind of beat. One other set of questions that you had here was just asking about other policies. What are some other policies, you can call them Europe-style, but as we renegotiate what work-life balance looks like in the U.S., what are some other things potentially on the table here?
Yeah. Extended vacations, extended lunch breaks, lots of support for those, as well, we tested in the survey. Nearly two-thirds of American workers, employed U.S. adults, said that American companies should adopt those policies.
One thing that was interesting of that set that we asked: Slower employee response time outside of work hours saw only a slim majority support adoption of this policy, just 51 percent.
Again, with some of that American hustle culture, individualism might be shining through there with wanting to still be able to respond to emails whenever they come in. But yeah, really broadly, there's just an evident hunger according to our data for lower impact, lax, however you want to describe it, ways of working that necessarily are not native to America, but that have as our data demonstrates substantial appeal to American workers.
To what would you attribute that? I know that you had a big story earlier this year about the state of workers in 2023. What's going on here, do you think?
We saw in that state of workers research that really young people, Gen Z and millennials in particular, are feeling pretty burnt out by their working setups. This is not necessarily a new or novel concept. Millennials place a premium on flexibility in the workplace. More than a third rated having a good work-life balance as a top priority in a job.
A similar amount said that having said the same of having flexible hours or work schedules. Really just again, young people want to be able to control their own time in a way that's a little bit different from their older counterparts. They're just feeling a little bit burned out. Then also 79 percent of millennials in that study said that they always, often, or sometimes feel too tired after work to enjoy the things that they'd like to do in their personal lives. A really large number of folks just reported being tired and not really being able to live their life outside of work the way they'd want to. I think that that sentiment overall is driving interest in these lackadaisical work policies.
Yeah, it definitely seems like the pandemic was a reset button and I think you've seen a lot of trends, real or not, talking about things like quiet quitting, you alluded to the "lazy girl jobs" trend in your piece, and a lot of those just speak to a larger concept where there needs to be a shift.
Yeah, I think there is, to borrow a word you used, a renegotiation happening. With every new trend, whether it's quiet quitting, lazy girl jobs, Bare Minimum Mondays, whatever.
They all have the common thread of taking back some ownership and autonomy over the work schedule that employers are presenting to them, to employees. I think that was definitely spurred by the pandemic, when we were all inside of our houses and had really nothing to do but work. Now that that's changed and there's life again happening all around us, I think it's led a lot of folks to question why we do the things that we do and why we do them the way that we do. Really, TikTok has produced the trends that we've referenced. They might seem frivolous or fleeting, but they've been around for in some cases multiple years now, and they are getting millions of eyeballs just by way of how many people, especially young people, are using that app.
It's definitely something that in the piece I encouraged employers to monitor and pay attention to, because that's where people feel free and open to speak their minds.
We saw a similar situation on TikTok earlier this year with mass layoffs happening across a number of industries and impacted employees hopping on there and sort of just documenting their experiences in a real-time direct camera format that hasn't really existed in layoff cycles previous. It's just a lot of interesting stuff happening on TikTok everywhere, but definitely lots of workplace, career, corporate America conversations happening there as well, and I think that they're worth paying attention to.
Definitely. Those are some really good points.
I do want to back up a little bit because you potentially just changed my life. What is a Bare Minimum Monday?
It's a hashtag on TikTok. I'll just encourage you to look up videos under it to really capture the essence, but it's the idea that, I think there's a Friday counterpart to it as well, but in our hybrid culture now, Mondays and Fridays have been adopted as the default work-from-home days.
I think it encourages folks to take their liberties with those days and really, as the name implies, only do what they have to do: answer critical emails, move the mouse, if you will, to keep showing up as green on Teams or Slack or whatever.
That's the gist of all of those trends, is to basically do your work adequately and show up when you show up, but not really overextend yourself to the point where it's not necessary.
Excellent. I love that. You've got a really fun beat going on over at Morning Consult. Do you want to talk a little bit about that and then tell folks where they can find you and where they can find your work?
Yeah, absolutely. I'm a brand analyst at Morning Consult. We have a wonderful team of other industry analysts that cover everything from health to politics to energy and autos. But as a brand analyst, I kind of have largest, broadest beat, really anything that happens. The focus and gist of it is with brands, marketing and advertising activities, but we're also getting a ton of reader interest in this type of work culture content.
We're going to continue to do research on this and really anything; I see it as the intersection of pop culture and brands.
We did a big story on Barbie, tracking awareness of that movie, and of the brand partnerships Mattel put out in association with it. Really just a large scale of things that we cover here on my beat, but folks can find me at Morning Consult. I have an author page; I believe it's just backslash my name, which is Ellyn Briggs. My Twitter handle is the same name there. Also, my inbox is always open as well for feedback. We have a newsletter — I'm just throwing 10 different things out there — but the Morning Consult’s Brands newsletter can be accessed via our website as well, and we send that out five days a week. Definitely lots of ways to find us.