A map of the world with various items super-imposed on top to denote a shorter workweek
5-second summary
  • The “four-day workweek” label has become shorthand for any effort to make the standard workweek shorter.
  • Companies, political parties, and labor unions are exploring shorter workweeks in several countries, mainly in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
  • But that Iceland experiment everyone got so excited about? Don’t believe the hype.

When the pandemic forced us to reimagine how we worked, loads of commentators and scholars started talking about a four-day workweek. That prompted or amplified conversations all over the globe, primarily in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

In some places, individual companies are testing the waters on their own. In other places, national political parties are leading the charge.

Could this trend impact you? Scroll through the list below to see what’s happening, country-by-country.


Current average workweek: 36 hours

What’s happening?

A handful of companies across Australia have adopted four-day weeks or moved to shorter workdays on a five-day-per-week schedule. In some cases, pay has been reduced.

The government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is investigating the feasibility of a shorter workweek. They are currently seeking input from the academic, labor, and business communities with an open call for papers on the subject. While the ACT committee hasn’t landed on a particular point of view yet, the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work and the Australian Industry Group have already voiced opposition to reducing hours without reducing pay, citing concerns over job loss.

Who’s advocating?

Progress in Political Economy, a group of academics, students, and journalists connected with the University of Sydney, published a paper arguing for a four-day workweek throughout Australia. However, there doesn’t appear to be a concerted, coordinated nationwide effort to make it a reality.

England, Northern Ireland, and Wales

Current average workweek: 36.5 hours

What’s happening?

Britain’s Labour party pledged to cut working hours a few years ago when John McDonnell was shadow chancellor. (For the uninitiated, the shadow chancellor is the opposition party’s lead spokesperson on economic matters. Less exciting than the Batman-style role you probably envisioned, but still useful.) Their aims largely revolve around economic equality and environmental concerns.

They’ve yet to make good on their pledge, possibly because they face formidable opposition and they’re not the party currently in power. The Confederation of British Industry, Britain’s most powerful business lobbying group, argues that a four-day week would be a “step in the wrong direction.” And some right-of-center economists believe it would lead to a lower standard of living.

That hasn’t stopped some businesses, however. Elektra Lighting, Think Productive, and Portcullis Legals have all successfully switched to a four-day week.

Who’s advocating?

The Labour party appears to continue to support the idea, but to say they’re actively advocating for it would be a stretch. However, the Trades Union Congress is calling for four-day workweeks with what they call “fair pay for all.”

The data doesn’t lie: what we learned when we tried a 4-day workweek


Current average workweek: 34.5 hours

What’s happening?

Not much…yet. A coalition of politicians from across Europe sent letters to their respective heads of government in late 2020 calling for a four-day workweek with no reduction in pay. The coalition included Katja Kipping, chair of the Die Linke party, who put a copy on Angela Merkel’s desk.

Although the German labor minister is open to the idea, it’s hard to say whether it’ll go anywhere. Merkel’s Chancellorship is coming to an end, for one thing. Plus, Germany already has one of Europe’s shortest average workweeks at 34.5 hours. This may be why the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations, whose members employ roughly 70 percent of the German workforce, is staunchly opposed. They say a four-day week would only worsen economic conditions without a commensurate reduction in pay.

Who’s advocating?

Aside from the Die Linke party, IG Metall, Germany’s largest trade union, is proposing its members call for a four-day week. Their goal is to offset the economic pressures brought on by the pandemic – job loss in particular. It’s unclear whether these proposals call for employers to bear the cost of hiring extra workers to fill the remaining hours, or whether that would be handled some other way.

side note


Current average workweek: 38 hours

What’s happening?

Spoiler alert: the national experiment that recently got a lot of press coverage and was celebrated as an “overwhelming success” was a teeeeeeeeeeeeeny bit over-hyped. From 2015 to 2019, a pair of trials covering 66 workplaces and about 2,500 workers (about 1.3 percent of their workforce) cut the workweek from 40 hours down to 35-36 hours. Some participants chose to pack those hours into four days and take Fridays off. Others worked shorter days, Monday to Friday.

One participant said their company managed it through shorter meetings and ditching non-critical tasks. Other workplaces reduced coffee breaks. But in some cases, the work couldn’t simply go away. The Icelandic government had to hire more healthcare workers to support the trial, for example. The trials included many public sector jobs like city maintenance, schools, and police stations.

Who’s advocating?

Just about everyone in Iceland. That may be related to the fact that they’re not talking about a drastic change. Working hours were reduced after the trials, but for some job roles, only by as little as 13 minutes per day.


Current average workweek: 40 hours

What’s happening?

Lawmakers passed a bill in 2018 to improve work-life balance in the country. Measures included caps on working hours, a minimum of five paid vacation days annually, and fines for non-compliance.

Still, Japanese business culture remains notorious for its extreme demands. The fact that there’s a Japanese word for “death by overwork” (karoshi) is telling. So in 2019, when Microsoft tried giving employees in its Japan office Fridays off with no pay cut, it’s no surprise that 90 percent of workers liked the change. Sales per employee also went up during the trial, and power consumption dropped by 23 percent. Still, the company didn’t make the change permanent.

In June 2021, the Japanese government began calling for companies to make corporate life more humane by voluntarily reducing working hours. They also hope this would boost leisure spending and even drive up marriage and birth rates. But, in a stunning display of mixed messaging, they’re also encouraging workers to use the extra time to take on a second job or learn a new skill. So, yeah.

Who’s advocating?

Mostly the Japanese government. While many younger workers and couples with small children like the idea of more time at home, middle-aged men aren’t so sure – they’re concerned about losing the overtime pay they’re accustomed to.

People tend to think big companies will have to lead the way if the idea is to gain any traction in Japan. Structural changes are needed, too: healthcare plans would get more expensive for many workers if they work fewer hours, and the nursery school admissions process favors parents who work longer hours.

New Zealand

Current average workweek: 38 hours

What’s happening?

In May 2020, there was some chatter around four-day workweeks as a way to boost domestic travel and leisure spending during the pandemic-induced border closures. It started as a seemingly off-hand comment by Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, and was quickly amplified by the press and on social media.

Perhaps in response (or perhaps independently), Unilever is conducting a year-long trial of four-day workweeks with no reduction in pay in their New Zealand office, which has a staff of 81. The company is based in Holland, where the average workweek is already only about 30 hours according to World Economic Forum data.

Who’s advocating?

The most outspoken is Andrew Barnes, CEO of Perpetual Guardian. This 200+ person financial firm adopted four-day workweeks in 2018, one of the first (if not the first) companies in New Zealand to do so. He’s even co-founded a global organization with Charlotte Lockhart called 4-Day Week to help rally other companies to his cause.

The truth about compressed workweeks, according to people who’ve done it


Current average workweek: 38 hours

What’s happening?

The governing party, the Scottish National Party (SNP), said in September 2021 that it was making good on a campaign promise to experiment with four-day workweeks. Workers’ pay won’t be reduced, and the SNP is pledging 10 million GBP ($13.8 million U.S.) to compensate for the truncated workweeks. Unfortunately, further details on how many workers will participate and when the trial will take place are scarce.

But that hasn’t stopped a handful of Scottish businesses from shortening their workweeks independently. UPAC and Orocco, based in Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively, recently announced their employees will work four-day weeks with no reduction in pay.

Who’s advocating?

About 80% of Scots, according to polling. Further, the Institute for Public Policy Research, a Scottish think tank, finds that residents overwhelmingly support fewer working days. They call for experimentation in a variety of sectors (retail, technology, utilities, etc.) to see how it would affect each differently.


Current average workweek: 36 hours

In March 2021, the Spanish government announced a pilot project to begin late this year or early next. The three-year program, originally proposed by the Más País party, will see around 200 employers shift to a four-day workweek. But the switch comes with costs such as hiring additional workers or adopting new technology to maintain productivity. So the government will use €50 million from the EU’s Covid Recovery Fund to reimburse employers.

Meanwhile, Software Delsol recently adopted four-day weeks – the first company in Spain to do so. They report reduced absenteeism, along with improved employee well-being and productivity. Telecom firm Telefonica is also planning a three-month trial in which workers can move to four-day weeks in exchange for a 15 percent reduction in pay. The program is voluntary and open only to certain roles.

Who’s advocating?

The Más País party is the big player here.


Current average workweek: 36 hours

What’s happening?

Not much at the moment. But things were hot a few years ago. Several experiments around six-hour working days were set up in 2015… with mixed results. Seventy nurses in Gothenburg tried it for two years. They loved it, and patients benefited from having nurses who were better rested and more engaged in their jobs. But the city had to bring in additional nurses at a cost of $1.3 million, so it ultimately deemed a city-wide program too expensive. A similar trial at a start-up ended after only a month. Employees complained about having to choose between working at a break-neck pace or leaving work unfinished (and then falling behind).

Today, most companies in Stockholm allow flexible hours, requiring workers to be in the office (or online from home) between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Who’s advocating?

The Left Party is the only national-level advocate for making the standard workweek shorter. Don’t hold your breath for their platform to be activated, though. They won only six percent of the vote in the 2017 election.


Current average workweek: 39 hours

What’s happening?

If you live in the States and consume any amount of news media, you’ve probably heard about the bill California Congressman Mark Takano introduced. And the headlines you saw probably called it a “four-day workweek” bill. It’s not.

It’s actually about making hourly workers eligible for overtime pay after a 32-hour workweek instead of 40. The bill would not affect independent contractors, gig-economy workers, and some domestic workers. Nor does it say anything about salaried workers standardizing on a 32-hour workweek.

That said, there are (mostly small, mostly tech-flavored) companies adopting bona fide four-day weeks. Kickstarter and Buffer both made headlines recently for their experiments, while software firms Palmetto and Wildbit have adopted four-day workweeks permanently. There’s also Metro Plastics Technologies, which instituted six-hour shifts back in the 1990s as a recruiting tactic and has stuck with it because it has helped insulate them from labor shortages.

Who’s advocating?

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang is a longtime supporter. Before his campaign, as chief executive of an educational company, he frequently let employees go home early on Friday. He did acknowledge, however, that if he’d run his campaign only four days a week, it never would have gotten off the ground.

Author Cal Newport is also an advocate of shorter workweeks, as are the Economic Policy Institute, the Service Employees International Union, the National Employment Law Project, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and America’s largest federation of unions, the AFL-CIO.

Watch this space

The whole discussion around shorter workweeks has been increasingly active recently and things change quickly. I’ll do my best to update this page as events warrant.

For now, head over to Atlassian Community and join the discussion thread there. If you know of other companies, organizations, or governments getting active in this space, please put on your “citizen journalist” had and add that to the conversation.

Thank you to the good people at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Economic Forum (WEF) for collecting and sharing all the data on average workweeks.

Could a shorter workweek be in your future?