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Encore: The 4-day workweek comes to Vermont

Symbol for a 4 day work week.
Fokusiert/Getty Images/iStockphoto
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iStockphoto
Results from a pilot program involving dozens of employers in the United Kingdom show a shorter workweek increases productivity and improves employee health.

This text is based on a Vermont Edition conversation that originally aired in March.

Do you wish you had another day to decompress this weekend? Some workers have long weekends every week, as their companies offer four-day workweeks.

The pandemic, the Great Resignation and a tight labor market have led many companies to reconsider their staffing and office structures. And the concept of a four-day workweek is being adopted by businesses across the country, including in Vermont. Results from a pilot programinvolving dozens of employers in the United Kingdom last year show a shorter workweek increases productivity and improves employee health.

Peter Varkonyi, co-owner and executive chef at Brownsville Butcher & Pantry in West Windsor, is experimenting with this locally. He decided to test the work model to help support the work/life balance of his employees.

The system was designed with the employees in mind. One employee works four days on, with three days off, while another is doing a 2-1-2-2 model, splitting their four days on with one day off in the middle.

These employees still work 40 hours a week. Varkonyi wanted to support the work/life balance a four-day workweek can provide, without limiting someone’s hours, but did have concerns due to the service industry requiring so much time standing and moving, and in such a fast-paced environment.

“That is a really hard thing, you know, to be on your feet or to be focused for such a long term during a singular day is not for everyone,” he said on Vermont Edition. “And that was probably our greatest hesitation is, you know, in consideration of burnout and fatigue.”

However, the experiment has been positive. The shortened workweek has brought in more employees for Varkonyi and has also allowed him to advocate for employees in other ways, like providing paid time off for the majority of tenured employees — a somewhat unique opportunity in the service industry.

What research shows

Wen Fan, an associate professor of sociology at Boston College, is part of a team studying global data from employees and companies involved in a trial of the four-day workweek.

Fan said that while the four-day workweek isn’t anything new, it only recently became more practical for political, cultural and social reasons. Fan’s team studied companies that switched to a work model with no change in pay and a 20% decrease in hours. They found that overall wellbeing and life satisfaction increased, and people reported lower rates of burnout and fatigue as well as better family and life balance. Initial research is also looking at the environmental impact of a shorter workweek.

Fan’s team had concerns similar to Varkonyi about “job intensification,” but found that it wasn’t overwhelmingly the case that people were working more to make up for lost time.

While some industries are more likely to hop on the trend, and some employers will be more open to the idea than others, Fan says starting a conversation and making small adjustments could be a good place to start.

“At the very least, what we can do is to try to initiate a conversation … how we can just restructure work or reorganize work to make it possible to be more productive.” Fan recommended options like minimizing meetings that don’t provide value, or changing communication to limit distractions.

“So these are small changes,” Fan said, “but I think if these small changes build up, it could lead to, eventually, the adoption of a four-day workweek.”

Rebroadcast at noon on Thursday, June 29, 2023; rebroadcast at 7 p.m. This episode originally aired on March 20, 2023.

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Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Tedra joined Vermont Public as a producer for Vermont Edition in January 2022 and now serves as the Managing Editor and Senior Producer. Before moving to Vermont, she was a journalist in New York City for 20 years. She has a master’s degree in journalism from New York University.