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Why are more and more companies prioritising a shorter workweek? Erika Page, Laurent Belsie and Shafi Musaddique investigate for The Christian Science Monitor

On most Monday mornings, while many of her friends are at work logging into their laptops, Nancy Walters heads to an art studio near the beach in Newport, Rhode Island. She sets up her easel and begins to sketch out her latest watercolour alongside her dad. 

“It’s prioritising what’s really important in life,” she says. “It’s nice to have that time to make a concerted effort to see family, be creative, and spend that time with my father.”

For many workers, Mondays or Fridays are morphing into something other than a regular workday. It may be as simple as making it a day of no meetings or as extensive as a companywide move to a 32-hour week.

In January, the United Arab Emirates became the first nation to adopt a 4.5-day week. In February, Belgium allowed workers to choose a four-day week but with more hours per day. In June, the United Kingdom began a six-month experiment with a four-day workweek involving more than 3,300 employees at 70 companies. A nonprofit coalition, 4 Day Week Global, is coordinating pilot programs in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – encouraging companies worldwide to adopt a 32-hour workweek with no cut in pay.

Historian Benjamin Hunnicutt at the University of Iowa calls the push for more free time the forgotten American dream: “That freedom we have to realise the better parts of our existence … self-expression, community, spirituality.” But somewhere along the way, that vision was replaced by a conception of work and wealth as ends in themselves, he adds. “The dream is necessary to reawaken the awareness of what is possible.”

But some studies suggest more free time can create space for pursuits that aren’t as creative or community-oriented as some proponents hope. When Japan ratcheted down working hours from 48 to 40 per week in the late 1980s and 1990s, their notoriously hardworking denizens watched more TV, says Dr. Hamermesh of the University of Texas. When South Korea made similar cuts in the 2000s, workers spent more time on personal grooming, he adds.

“A four-day week is an opportunity to fit work around life”

Andrew Cross, Goosechase founder

The new four-day schedule at Goosechase, a Canadian-founded startup with a London base, has given Natasha Delisle-Barrow more time for the circus. 

“I sometimes train in activities like aerial hoop,” she says of her circus acts. Her spare Friday also gives her the flexibility to stage-manage cabaret and circus shows and festivals.

There’s a generation of workers who want more life in their work-life balance, says her boss, Andrew Cross: “A four-day week is an opportunity to fit work around life” and not the other way around.

Back at the Newport gallery, Ms. Walters and her dad, Richard C. Grosvenor, reflect on the time they’ve gained back. The four-day week “is something they promised us in the ’50s and ’60s,” he says. “And it never came about.” 

So he designed his own in the 1990s, working long hours at an early web company in New Jersey Monday through Thursday so he could dedicate Fridays through Sundays to his family. Now, with a long career in real estate mostly behind him, he’s had time to reevaluate what really matters: things like family, art, and nature.  

“That change of activity is so critical I think, to work, to love, to life, to everything,” he says. “It’s being able to take that time and explore what’s going on in yourself.” 

This story is part of the SoJo Exchange from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

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