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State lawmakers consider tax break for businesses with four-day work week

The State House in Annapolis, Maryland is where the Maryland General Assembly convenes each year.
Matt Bush
The State House in Annapolis, Maryland is where the Maryland General Assembly convenes each year.

Tricerat, a Baltimore-based software company, reduced its work week from five days to four in October 2021. According to CEO John Byrne, the experiment was a resounding success.

“All I can say is my staff absolutely loves this,” Byrne said with a chuckle.

Byrne’s 25 employees work out with their managers which day of the week they want to take off. Salaries and benefits don’t change.

Byrne said his staff use the day off primarily to spend time with their families, “as I had really hoped.” Meanwhile, productivity and staff retention are both up.

“We've literally had no turnover since we implemented the four-day work week,” Byrne said. “We do matches on 401(k), we have a liberal leave policy, we follow the federal holiday schedule, things of that nature, but this is the number one benefit that they [the staff] seem to really enjoy.”

After hearing about experiences like Byrne’s, state Del. Vaughn Stewart, a Democrat who represents part of Montgomery County, is sponsoring a bill to test a four-day work week across Maryland through a five-year pilot program. A version of the bill has a hearing in a state Senate committee Thursday.

If Maryland passes the bill, it will be the first U.S. state to encourage companies to implement a shortened work week.

The bill would provide qualifying companies a tax credit in exchange for reducing work hours from 40 to 32 hours a week and leaving pay the same.

As introduced, the bill limits the credit to businesses with at least 30 employees and caps the total amount of tax credits issued each year at $750,000. The Maryland Department of Labor would determine the amount of individual credits.

The bill also requires the Department of Labor to study not only the impact on participating Maryland businesses, but also the effects of a four-day work week elsewhere in the world.

Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College, has been doing similar research around the globe in partnership with the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global. One recent study looked at 33 companies, mostly in Ireland and the United States.

“We found really pretty remarkable results across the board,” Schor said.

The researchers asked the more than 900 participating employees a series of questions related to their well-being.

They asked about work-related well-being, such as work stress and burnout, as well as “physical and mental health, fatigue levels, positive and negative affect, exercise duration, sleep, and then life satisfaction, well-being, conflict between work and family,” Schor recounted. “Every single one of these people were better off at the end of the trial than they were at the beginning.”

Much like Byrne found with his experiment, the business effects were also positive. Schor said productivity, revenue, absenteeism and hiring all improved.

More than two-thirds of the participating companies said they definitely plan to continue the shortened work week at the end of the trial, while the rest said they were still working out their final plans.

Not a single company said they definitely plan to return to a five-day work week.

Likewise, the employees in the study were overwhelmingly happy with their new work schedules. At the end of the trial, the researchers asked how much additional pay workers would require to return to a five-day schedule at their next job.

“What we found is that the vast majority require a lot more pay,” Schor said. “Thirteen percent said no amount of pay could get them to go back to a five-day schedule.”

More than half of the participants said they would need at least 25% more pay to go back to a longer work week.

But companies in certain industries may be better suited to the 32-hour week than others, Schor said.

For example, teachers and people who work in hospitals would have a harder time making the switch. Those types of workplaces would likely need to hire additional staff to make the switch, she said.

“Over time, if the whole economy shifts to a four-day week, then everyone will be able to do it, because they'll have to,” Schor said, “or they won't be able to get workers.”

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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