When more than 30 companies spent six months testing a four-day workweek last year—changing their schedules without reducing salaries—they overwhelmingly reported positive results. Productivity went up. It was easier to hire and retain employees. And workers, unsurprisingly, were happier with their jobs and reported better work-life balance.
In Maryland, a new bill aims to convince companies to make the switch, offering tax credits of up to $750,000 per year, for up to two years, to companies that shift at least 30 employees from a 40-hour workweek to a 32-hour workweek. The bill also asks the state labor department to look for ways to incentivize the public sector to try adopting shorter schedules.
“We have a real opportunity here to create a win-win,” says Vaughn Stewart, a Maryland state delegate who sponsored the bill in the House after learning about the global trial. “We can make a shift toward reducing working hours without harming productivity, and possibly even boosting companies’ bottom line because they not only have improved productivity but retention and recruitment.”
While some companies, like those in the global trial, have already started testing a shorter workweek, the bill is designed to convince more to try it. “I talk to a lot of companies who are still on the fence about this, because inertia is a powerful force,” Stewart says. “We’re hoping that the tax credit can be a gentle nudge in the direction of trying this for companies that are already thinking about it but haven’t actually pulled the trigger.”
Data from the companies that have tested a four-day workweek suggests that businesses won’t lose money by making the change. But the tax credit is designed to help businesses cover the cost of collecting data about each pilot so that it can be shared with the state and evaluated. The pilot program would wrap up in 2028.
An adjusted schedule wouldn’t necessarily mean that everyone gets a three-day weekend; for some businesses or workers, a shift to six-hour days might make more sense. “I have a 4-year-old, and I think a lot of parents, for example, would appreciate working five days a week but just leaving a few hours before 5 so that they can arrive when their kids get off from school,” Stewart says. (Companies that offer employees fewer but longer workdays, such as four 10-hour days, wouldn’t qualify for the program.)
The Maryland Legislature will hold hearings on the bill in February. If it passes, it would be the first of its kind in the U.S. Last year, lawmakers in California introduced a bill that would have changed the definition of a “standard” workweek to 32 hours and required overtime pay for more work; that bill stalled. Similar legislation introduced nationally also failed. The federal government hasn’t changed the workweek since 1940, when the minimum standard shrank from 44 hours to 40.
The bill comes at a time when Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with work; in a recent survey, more than half of respondents said they’re experiencing burnout. In other surveys, people cite long working hours as one of the top reasons they’re leaving their jobs. Stewart believes a change in schedule could help people get closer to an ideal work-life balance, noting, “I think when the average Marylander hears about it, their mind immediately goes to, ‘Man, there are so many different things I could do to make my life more rich with those extra hours.’”