A new bill in the Maryland General Assembly could mean some companies begin shifting to a four-day workweek.

If passed, the Four-Day Workweek Act of 2023 would create a pilot program encouraging companies to decrease their employees’ weekly hours from 40 to 32, without reducing benefits and salaries.

“What the bill represents is a real opportunity for a win-win situation,” said Del. Vaughn Stewart, the act’s lead sponsor in the state’s House of Delegates. “We can make Maryland workers’ lives more rich and fulfilling by allowing them to take eight more hours out of their workday and into their leisure time while at the same time, not harming the bottom line of companies.”

The Maryland Department of Labor would administer the program — which would begin July 1 and would last through June 30, 2028 — and provide tax credits to eligible participating public and private companies. Companies must have at least 30 employees to take part.

The labor department would also collect data from the companies about the results of the program.

Stewart, a Democrat from Montgomery County, was inspired to pursue the bill following a study by 4 Day Week Global, an organization dedicated to researching and furthering the idea of a four-day workweek.

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A report from the organization found that of 27 companies that participated in a four-day workweek pilot program and reported their experiences, 96.9 percent of employees wanted to continue the trial, and employers rated their experience at an average of nine out of 10, with 10 being “very positive.”

State Sen. Shelly Hettleman, a Democrat from Baltimore County, crossfiled Stewart’s bill in the Maryland Senate after she was impressed by the research he sent her. After the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she thinks people are taking the time to examine their life priorities amid a changing workforce — something she hopes the bill will help allow Marylanders to do.

The 40-hour workweek became a U.S. law in 1938 with the Fair Labor Standards Act, Hettleman said.

“We are in 2023,” she said. “It’s a really different place from what society looked like back in 1940.”

Maryland’s bill is not the first in the country to encourage a four-day workweek. Bills in California and in the U.S. Congress attempted to mandate shorter workweeks, but failed to gain traction, Stewart said. In crafting his bill, Stewart made sure to leave the decision of switching to shorter workweeks up to companies so it would have a more realistic chance of passing.

Outside of the U.S., the four-day workweek movement has picked up momentum in recent years, according to Jack Kellam, lead editor at Autonomy.

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Autonomy, a research organization that focuses on the future of work and economic planning, has been leading the movement in Europe by conducting research and consulting companies and governments interested in transitioning to four-day work weeks.

Despite the benefits, there are some concerns about this new way of work. Companies fear they will not be as productive if employees work fewer hours, and four-day workweeks are not feasible in every sector of the economy, Kellam explained.

But research shows productivity usually improves when employees have a better work-life balance, he said. Additionally, Autonomy has worked with a variety of organizations — such as insurance companies, restaurants and schools — who have seen success shifting to shorter working weeks.

Dr. Gilad Chen, a professor and associate dean for research at the University of Maryland’s business school who conducts research on organizational effectiveness and employee motivation, said the four-day workweek is only one part of an ongoing conversation about balancing employee productivity and well-being.

Working from home or telecommuting could be other possible solutions with even better environmental benefits, Chen explained.

While both Stewart and Hettleman are uncertain of their bill’s fate this legislative session, both said it contributes to an important conversation about workplace issues.

“Legislators’ phones are ringing off the hook with folks who are supportive of this bill,” Stewart said. “We’re hopeful that the overwhelming level of interest among the general public will translate into some legislative success for the bill.”