Over the past year, the movement toward a four-day workweek has gained significant traction. After successful pilot programs in countries such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand, many lawmakers all over the world are re-examining our relationship with work. In the United States, a handful of states are considering bills that embrace this idea of a four-day workweek, including Massachusetts. Earlier this week, state Reps. Josh Cutler and Dylan Fernandez filed legislation that would create a pilot program to let businesses transition employees to a shorter workweek without a reduction in pay. GBH's All Things Considered host Arun Rath spoke with representative Cutler about the legislation. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Arun Rath: To start off, if someone has never heard of this concept or it just seems crazy to think about, tell us a bit more about the thinking behind a four-day workweek and what that would mean for state workers.
Rep. Josh Cutler: A four-day workweek is as it sounds: four days of work rather than a traditional five.
If you look back throughout history and think about it, we really haven't had a meaningful change in our work schedules since the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1939, since before World War II. So, it's been 80-plus years with basically the same 40-hour workweek. That historically hasn't always been the case and I think if you step back, we're kind of at an inflection point, partly because of the pandemic and partly because of the labor challenges that we're seeing with our economy. I think it's an appropriate time — really a perfect time — to take a look at a more creative look at our workforce and [think about] how we can move forward with our workforce in a way that respects and appreciates the work-life balance that we all want [for our] mental health, the needs of our workers, and the productivity needs of our businesses.
We think that looking at a four-day workweek has really held a lot of promise in other jurisdictions, both in Europe and in the U.K. Here in Massachusetts, we want to study it a little bit more because we think it potentially could be very beneficial to our economy. So, we're proposing a two-year pilot program to allow businesses voluntarily to enter into a program in which they would reduce their employee hours in a meaningful way — not not just an hour or two, but in a meaningful way — and in return have a more compressed work schedule. We think that based on what we've learned, there's a good chance this will increase productivity, give businesses a competitive edge, and also help workers basically be happier at work, which is what we all want.
Rath: Interesting. So, based on what we've learned at this point, both from these pilot programs in other countries and as you mentioned from the couple of years of people working through the pandemic, what do you hope to learn from the study in terms of how this might apply specifically in Massachusetts?
Cutler: The study would apply to any business. They voluntarily could enroll in the study, a two-year pilot program that would be run by the state. Businesses that participated would be agreeing to provide data about their participation, about their employees, and about how well it is perceived and what the productivity changes are. In return, they could be eligible for a tax credit. We would take that data and we'd have two years of data.
We hope to have a really robust amount of data across some broad sectors of our economy, not just for instance, a four-day workweek as is commonly talked about in white collar tech circles. We want to make sure we're looking far beyond that into all different sectors of our economy and workers of all different types, sizes, geographies and so forth. We hope that this data will really help us to serve as proof of concept, if you will, of whether a four-day workweek works. We think it does, but we want the data to prove it.
Rath: Do you have a sense of how much support there is for these ideas among your colleagues in the State House? I guess I'm asking how tough do you think it might be to get this bill to pass?
Cutler: I think there's a lot of support for this. I think people recognize the natural changes that have occurred as a result of the pandemic with people looking at a hybrid workforce. And because of the changes and the labor crunch that many businesses are already facing, they're looking for creative solutions. This is the kind of creative solution I think we need to look at. I can tell you anecdotally, just this morning when I opened up my email box before work, I already had two businesses that had reached out to me having seen news coverage about this and wanted to see where they could go to sign up — and we haven't even passed the bill yet. That told me that at least anecdotally, there's definitely some support out there for doing something like this.
Rath: That was actually what my next question was going to be. What kind of buy in has there been or interest from employers? It sounds like there is some.
Cutler: I think there is. We've made a point that this isn't a mandate, this is a voluntary program that businesses could opt into. We've made a point to reach out to a number of business advocacy organizations, because I think it's an important partnership that we have to have here. So, I think many businesses will look at this in a warm way and embrace it. That's why we're offering the tax credit and that's why we're structuring it with a lot of flexibility: to be appropriate for everybody. Now time will tell, of course. We still have a lot of steps in the process to get a bill to a law and that's never easy, but I think there's a lot of support for the concept in general.
Rath: A lot to get there and then a lot to learn. But still, if you wouldn't mind playing imagination a little bit, imagine that two years hence there's been a successful pilot program and it shows that it's worked for a significant number of businesses, what then?
Cutler: I think that would be a great day, because then we'd have the data to support our proof of concept. Then we could be prepared to take some more concrete steps. Looking at what sectors of the economy it's really worked in, obviously, for those employers that decided to stick with the four-day workweek. That in and of itself will be great evidence of that in terms of looking at evidence-based practices. We might need to look at other areas of our labor laws and see where we can help to nudge it along even further. First step is obviously the study to make sure that it is going to be well received and then find places where we can help nudge it even further and hopefully find broad acceptance.
Rath: Rep. Cutler, this is fascinating. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk it through with us.
Cutler: Thank you. It's been a great conversation and I look forward to talking more about this topic.