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Published: Sep 04, 2018 4 min read
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Here’s a thought experiment for your fuzzy little post-Labor day brain:

What if, like, every weekend was a three-day weekend?

Game changer, right? Thing is, according to a growing body of research, a shorter worker week actually makes way more sense than a "traditional" one.

Most employees say they could get their work done in less than seven hours a day, according to a new study from the employment think tank the Workforce Institute at Kronos and the research firm Future Workplace. Of the 3,000 participants polled across North America, Europe, Australia, and India, 45% say that, if they worked uninterrupted, they could could do their jobs in less than five hours a day.

Now, that’s a big “if” — modern distractions, which range from getting sucked into a Facebook wormhole to sitting in a meeting that runs far too long, are hard to avoid. But as new technology automates administrative tasks (sorting emails, scheduling conference calls), and new ways of thinking about work continue to gain traction (remote shifts, flexible schedules), an abridged 9-5 isn't outside the realm of possibility.

“Work is everywhere — there are no limits now,” says Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace. “Your job is about the work you do, and less about your location, and the time you spend doing it. That will play out in the coming years.”

Last year, a New Zealand estate planning firm called Perpetual Garden started allowing all of its 240 employees to work four days a week, at the same pay rate. Under the shortened schedule, researchers found, workers were actually more productive, opting for hyper-focused meetings, and less water cooler chitchat.The experiment was so successful, Perpetual Garden plans to make the new schedule permanent, the New York Times reported in July.

The study also found that a global four day week isn't just plausible — it’s preferable. 34% of workers told the Workforce Institute that’s the schedule they’d pick if their pay didn't change, compared to 20% who said they'd work three days a week, and 28% said they'd work the traditional five-day week. Here in the U.S., some people would opt for a four day week even if it did mean less pay — 24% of U.S. respondents said they'd take a 20% salary cut to work one day less per week.

Like any other schedule, the logistics of the four-day week is malleable: People will work longer, occasionally, when they have to. But the new research builds on ample evidence that suggests untethering employees from a 40-hour week—and trusting them to make their own schedule—translates to better retention, happier employees, and increased revenue.

“Just as with a 9-to-5 job, recognize that there will be times when you want or need to work an extra-long day,” wrote Stephan Aarstol, the CEO of a San Diego-based paddle board company that moved to a five-hour workday in Business Insider. “But when you can leave the office at 1 p.m. to go surfing or pick your kids up from school, work isn't separate from life; it's all just living.”