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While relatively few companies have shifted to a four-day workweek, the advent of artificial intelligence apps like ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini could hasten the shift. A recent survey by Tech.co of 1,000 U.S.-based business leaders found that the companies that had extensive experience using AI were more than twice as likely to be open to a four-day workweek than those who didn’t.

That was a point made last week by Steve Cohen, the billionaire hedge fund manager and owner of the New York Mets, who said on CNBC he does see a future where a true four-day workweek becomes a reality for most workers (not his own though, as long as the stock market remains open five days). Cohen thinks the increasing presence of artificial intelligence — which has already saved his firm $25 million — would lead him to bet on more companies adopting the approach.

There are two factors driving the push for a four-day workweek, according to Josh Bersin, a research analyst whose firm focuses on human resources. “People are still burned out from the pandemic, believe it or not, and they’re looking for more flexibility in their lives,” he said. Another is that top management is pushing productivity — Cohen cited among his reasons for expecting more companies to adopt the move that productivity levels are generally lower on Fridays.

Bernie Sanders recently introduced legislation to formalize a 32-hour workweek.

But don’t count peer billionaire Barry Diller, the IAC and Expedia chairman, among the believers. He said while he doesn’t see a four-day workweek happening, he is predicting that many companies will shift to a different form of flexible work moving forward — with work time concentrated even more so on in-person appearances. 

“Not necessarily a four-day work week, but four days in the office, and Fridays you can work from home or work at your own schedule,” Diller said Thursday on “Squawk Box.” 

Calling the range of work-from-home and in-person combinations that many companies are navigating “madness,” Diller said, “I think that is going to be the sensible evolution of all this, but it has to be standardized. You can’t have 17,000 different programs, because how do you deal with all the things around it?” 

Corporate wellness company Exos, which works with large organizations such as JetBlue, says burnout has gone down significantly among employees at firms which have made Fridays more flexible. But even at companies which don’t have the option to eliminate a workday, like an airline, there are methods of breaking up every workday in ways that increase employee productivity, building “recovery breaks” into the day, its CEO Sarah Robb O’Hagan said during a recent “Squawk Box” interview.

Business leaders are worried about productivity, even though it’s been on a recent rise for three quarters.

A recent PriceWaterhouseCooper survey of 4,702 CEOs found that the C-suite is worried about inefficiency at work. And in early 2024, as many companies prepare for an economy that could slow down, everyone is looking for productivity advantages, Bersin said. “So you’ve got business leaders telling their teams to be more productive and employees saying, ‘I’m burned out and I want my life back.'”

While the movement towards a four-day workweek picked up as far back as 2018 and then gained steam as a result of Covid, according to Brendan Burchell, a sociology professor at the University of Cambridge, the gap between workers and leaders on the issue remains wide. “I think maybe one of the things that’s really made it catch on is that people in Covid realize that work their working lives could be very different,” he said.

But institutional opposition to change is significant. “Lots of people just assume that working five days a week is normal,” Burchell said. “It’s almost like it was written in the book of Genesis and was never going to change. [But] with modern technologies, we have no doubt we can be a lot more productive than our grandparents.”

Mike Neundorfer, the CEO and owner of Advanced RV in Willoughby, Ohio — which builds custom RVs using a Mercedes Sprinter chassis — took his company to a four-day workweek about 18 months ago. He said it has made a big difference. “It’s huge,” he said. “It’s enabled people to just improve the things they do in their lives, whether it’s a gardening, spending time with kids, with family. It’s just been great.”

Neundorfer acknowledges that there are some downsides. “We’re still not quite 100 percent of what we did in 40 hours, but we’re really close,” he said. “So you could argue that if we made those same improvements in productivity, and stayed with a 40 hour week, we, you know, we might have another 10 or 20 percent return. I think we’ll get to that point where we’re at 10 or 20 percent on 32 hours, but we’re not quite there now.”

Mike Arney runs Halftone Digital, a digital product design studio headquartered in Minneapolis, which has nine full-time employees scattered across the U.S. Two years ago, he decided to switch Halftone to a four-day week. There have been a few hiccups since then, but not enough to change his mind. “If we do have to do something on Friday, then we spend a few hours here in there on Fridays, but it’s very rare. … It’s been quite a quite a ride for the last two years,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going back.”

Stepan Solovev, CEO & Co-founder of software company SOAX, agreed. “This whole journey has shown us that embracing a four-day work week isn’t just a nice-to-have,” he said. “It’s a powerful strategic move. It forces us to cut the fluff and focus on what matters.”

Around the world, the idea is becoming more popular. Panasonic — based in Japan, where the government encouraged the shift — has experimented with the concept. Iceland piloted a 36-hour workweek in 2015 with 2,500 people and since then, 90 percent of the country’s population has cut their hours back. Germany, Finland and Portugal have experimented with a four-day workweek and the United Arab Emirates initiated a four-and-a-half day workweek in 2023. Lamborghini announced it is moving ahead with a four-day workweek for its production workers in Italy. In February, 45 companies in Germany said they will introduce a four-day workweek for half the year and the Dominican Republic has announced a four-day workweek trial, also for a half year.

The fact that disparate nations have embraced the four-day workweek “gives us a little confidence that this is not a movement that is going to be confined to one kind of political system or one sort of labor market,” said Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, program director for 4 Day Week Global, an organization charged with “changing the future or work through working smarter, not longer,” according to its charter.

In 2022, a study in the UK of 2,900 workers revealed that a four-day workweek significantly increased work-life balance and job satisfaction and reduced employee stress. Reducing the workweek also meant fewer absences and sick days, the study found.

ThredUp, the online consignment and thrift company, shifted to a four-day workweek in 2021. An employee survey in 2022 found that 93 percent of respondents said the four-day workweek increased their productivity.

Natalie Breece, ThredUp’s chief people and diversity officer, said that new technology “will enable companies that are interested in a four-day workweek to challenge the status quo.”

“I think people will become just even more efficient in how they get work done, which I think is going to allow employees to focus on higher impact work,” said Breece. “They’ll be able to get more done in a shorter amount of time.”

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