At Bocoup we shifted to a four-day work week at the start of 2023, and so far we’re loving it. We wanted to share the history of the labor movement that got us here, and how we’ve adjusted as a company to our new 32-hour weeks.

The roots of the modern 40-hour work week can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. As factories and manufacturing processes flourished, the traditional agrarian-based work schedule no longer fit the demands of the rapidly growing industrial economy.

During this era, it was not uncommon for workers, including children, to toil for up to 16 hours a day, six or seven days a week, in dangerous and often grueling conditions. The labor movement gained momentum in response to these harsh conditions, advocating for improved working conditions, shorter hours, and better pay (primarily for white men). It was on-the-ground activists that forced the government to pass legislation entrenching these rights.

Throughout the 20th century, labor unions played a pivotal role in advocating for workers’ rights and improved work conditions. Their efforts led to the establishment of laws and regulations that further defined the workweek. In 1938, the United States passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which set the maximum work week at 44 hours. This was later reduced to the now-familiar 40-hour workweek, ensuring fair compensation for overtime hours. It’s also important to note that the 40-hour work week is deeply rooted in heteropatriarchy- with the expectation that household labor and paying the bills would be split between a married couple, with the man bringing home the bacon and the woman spending the day keeping house and raising the children. It’s also important to note that this “neat” division of labor has historically excluded women of color, disabled people, and low-income households.

Over the last several decades the 9-5 for salaried employees has largely remained unchanged. However the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic illuminated that many of the once immutable aspects of work could in fact change. Shifts like working from home (which disabled people had long been arguing for) and offering more flexible schedules grew to be more common. With these changes came some companies shifting to the four-day work week model.

Iceland conducted a study from 2015 to 2019 testing a shift away from the 40-hour work week, and now 86% of the country has adopted the 4-day work week. In 2022 the non-profit 4 Day Week Global launched a study where 33 companies agreed to try out the four-day work week. 96.9% of employees wanted to continue following the four-day work trial, 67% of employees said they were less burned-out, and benefits in gendered labor were uncovered like men reporting spending 22% more time looking after children and 23% more on housework while the amount of time women spent on these responsibilities decreased (it’s unclear if the study offered more than two gender options for participants).

The idea continues to gather steam and conversations around shortening the work week are now appearing in newly proposed legislation. This year, Massauchesettes, Maryland, and California lawmakers introduced legislation related to the four-day work week. Just last week, State Representative G. Ronni Green introduced a bill that would mandate a 32-hour, four-day work week for Pennsylvania companies with 500 employees or more. Green says, “A four-day workweek would provide hardworking individuals with more time for rest, family obligations, and focus on both physical and mental health. Rested, happy and healthy workers in turn can better focus on work and accomplish more in a workday.”

At the start of 2023 Bocoup shifted fully to a four-day work model. We made the change incrementally, beginning with a four-day billable work week, allowing Fridays to be a catch-up day or a day to focus on professional development. As we adjusted our financial models to this four-day model it was easier to shift our entire operations to Monday through Thursday. We polled employees before, during, and after the transition and it’s safe to say we’re pretty darn pleased with this new 32-hour week.

As a result of the additional day, our employees say that they’ve been spending more time on hobbies, in nature, catching up on housework, connecting with friends and family, or working on furthering their education. As many of the studies have indicated, it appears that our productivity has increased as well. Mitigating burnout and providing time for brains and bodies to recharge has been extremely beneficial to us as a company and as individuals.

Like any substantial change there’s definitely some growing pains. Learning to adapt to getting work done in less time and coordinating calendars has been a bit tricky, as well as finding time for professional development – but for us the benefits greatly outweigh these learning curves. We look forward to continuing to adapt and experiment with new structures, like carving out one day a month specifically for professional development. We’re grateful for the labor activists that continue to push for a world with better work life balance, and we look forward to sharing more about our journey to becoming a co-op soon.