4-day workweeks could help solve burnout—but getting there will be challenging, according to a professor aiming to overturn the 5-day ‘social construct’

January 28, 2022, 4:10 PM UTC

What if the solution to a burnout epidemic is clear and obvious, but just unthinkable because of a cultural stigma?

That might be the four-day workweek. 

“The five-day workweek is a social construct that we agreed upon, saying we’re going to be working for five days and then off for two. This is something we collectively agreed on, but it is not set in stone.” 

So says Laura Giurge, assistant professor of behavioral science at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She’s done a wealth of research on the benefits of the four-day workweek, and has even become an advocate for it—she sits on the board of 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit advocating for four-day workweeks.

It might be worth listening to her, because all the benefits of lengthening the weekend could take care of the gripes that many workers worldwide are expressing as they join the Great Resignation amid a historic labor shortage.

Resignations hit a high of 4.5 million in November, according to the most recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And although there are several reasons that Americans are leaving or changing jobs in record numbers, burnout is certainly one of them, as people grapple with feeling disconnected, exhausted, and hopeless


A recent survey by HR technology firm Limeade found that 40% of respondents cited burnout as the main motive behind quitting their job. Giurge says a correctly implemented four-day workweek would directly address burnout more than anything.

“[Four-day workweeks] allow employees to recharge, to spend time with their loved ones before coming back energized and ready to work more efficiently,” she told Fortune.

She cited a wealth of research that shows how much time is wasted in the current five-day setup, and argued for the same salaries to be applied to four days of work, with less time-wasting and more, well, work. 

The late anthropologist David Graeber collected dozens of stories about the kind of meaningless modern work that leads to burnout in his aptly titled 2019 book, Bullshit Jobs.

A four-day workweek with less of this type of work is “a change in how you approach your work,” Giurge said. “You are working four days, but are getting paid for five, so it’s not a change in your income.”

The number of companies actually trying four-day schedules is vanishingly rare, but it’s showing signs of success where it’s in place. Four-day workweek trials have recently been done in Japan, Spain, and the U.K., and a study in Iceland last year looked at how four-day workweeks affected over 2,500 workers across a variety of sectors. It found that worker well-being increased noticeably while productivity was the same or better. 

Tech giant Panasonic announced a voluntary four-day workweek for employees, joining a small but growing number of companies in Japan experimenting with this model. San Francisco–based e-commerce company Bolt recently announced it would be permanently shifting to four-day workweeks after a trial period yielded positive results and 94% of employees wanted it to continue, CNBC reported.

One of the benefits of a four-day workweek is that it allows employees to more fully unplug from their work outside business hours, compared with a five-day workweek.

Giurge points out that with five-day workweeks, most people don’t have any chance to disconnect, as many administrative tasks that can’t be accomplished during the workweek, such as shopping, housework, and other errands, need to be crammed into just two days, allowing very little time to recuperate.


In addition to burnout, workers are also leaving their jobs because they don’t feel sufficiently valued in the workplace, according to a recent McKinsey report. Long working hours can lead to a loss of efficiency and stagnation, resulting in a sense of losing purpose and a lack of meaningful work.

Giurge said this is another benefit of a shorter workweek. Once it starts up and employers see they are getting the same outcome, with an extra day off for workers, they will value workers more. 

She acknowledged there is a lack of research about how the model would work when applied to a large company over an extended period of time. Another drawback is that some employers may use it as an opportunity to cut wages, and there is bound to be cultural resistance to it in the U.S., where constant work is often considered the norm. 

Still, the values of a four-day workweek could be at least part of the antidote to worker burnout, improving employee well-being without sacrificing productivity.

“It’s not about having a day off, or paying employees less to do the same work. It’s about delivering productivity without compromising well-being,” Giurge concluded.

Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.