Los Altos leads the way in California's four-day workweek revolution

Los Altos leads the way in California's four-day workweek revolution
By Tony Ng - Published on May 15, 2023.

Los Altos city employees may soon begin clocking in for a four-day workweek, a change that aims for better work-life balance and improved employee satisfaction. This alternative work schedule is known as the "4/10" schedule, which calculates to working 10 hours a day for four days in exchange for another day off each week, as originally reported by Palo Alto Daily Post.

Instead of tracking employees' hours, the city shifted its focus on ensuring that the work is completed, leaving the responsibility of employee management to the supervisors. Los Altos City Council had approved a "Total Compensation Philosophy" in March last year, which ultimately guided labor negotiations and introduced the alternative schedule offering, enhancing the city's ability to attract and retain high-performing employees.

Evidence from various pilot programs globally suggests that a shorter workweek without reducing pay contributes to happier and healthier employees without negatively affecting revenues. In fact, most businesses who have adopted this schedule seem to be sticking to it, as stated in an article from Calmatters. However, opponents of the idea argue that most businesses would incur increased costs they couldn't bear as a result.

While achieving a four-day workweek has been a long-standing goal for some, California lawmakers have previously encountered obstacles such as opposition from business groups and labor unions. But recent successful trials across the world, like ones conducted in United Kingdom and Iceland, are reviving interest on this matter.

In Iceland, trials in 2015 and 2017 shifted workers to 35- or 36-hour weeks without a reduction in pay. The tests spanned government agencies, schools, police stations, hospital departments, and more. Worker well-being and work-life balance improved while productivity was maintained or increased across the majority of workplaces, according to a report from progressive think tank Autonomy.

Similarly, a more recent trial in the United Kingdom found that employees' stress levels decreased on average while maintaining their pay. Most workers found it easier to balance work and caregiving commitments, via Calmatters. Moreover, the rate of workers quitting decreased during the trial, and revenue remained essentially steady, increasing by 1.4% on average. By the end of the seven-month trial, 92% of the companies reported they would continue the policy.

However, skeptics argue that a four-day workweek may not be universally beneficial. According to Matthew Bidwell, a professor of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, though productivity per hour might go up, it's uncertain whether such increases would offset the reduction in hours. He contends that a reduced workweek may result in lower pay for some employees, as mentioned in an article from KQED News.

Despite these concerns, more proposals are in the works, as more lawmakers across California and the nation at large are considering legislation to encourage or require shortened workweeks. This renewed interest, bolstered by successful trials and businesses who have embraced the four-day workweek, could signal a shift towards flexible working practices that bring us closer to a long-sought-after work-life balance.