KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Not everyone is an expert in human resources or business management and there are terms used among professionals in these industries that could be useful to others whom are employed; emerging data on the four-day workweek calls attention to some terms used among management experts and the history of the American workweek.

Academics and business industry professionals are talking more about the four-day workweek and discussions have been happening for years. Tim Munyon, associate professor of management at UT Haslam College of Business, offered both a history lesson on the topic as well as what some of the terms used actually mean. Munyon also touched on some recent studies and academic literature aimed at not only employee productivity but also the historical effects.

Recently, the shortened American workweek became a trending topic among international media and on social media when a study out of Iceland called the four-day workweek a success and a California congressman introduced legislation to modify the workweek last summer that was endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus in December.

Terms defined

Business researchers are finding that more companies are considering or switching to a results-only work environment, or ROWE that focuses on complete autonomy and accountability for outcomes only.

A broader approach to ROWE some companies are taking includes flexible work practices or FWP, which have seen positive effects according to research prior to the coronavirus pandemic – and after – but meta-analyses (“studies of studies, as Munyon put it) on these practices are still being developed that aim to reduce error and bias.

A peer-reviewed business research study published in late 2017 explored the different avenues of FWP and how companies attract potential employees – and keep them – utilizing FWPs. Overall, FWPs produce positive results, according to the meta-analyses, and Munyon summarizes this when asked about FWPs and ROWEs.

“People like and indeed require some degree of autonomy and control in their lives,” Munyon said. “For example,  Humphrey, Nahrgang, and Morgeson in a 2007 study found that autonomy – giving employees the choice of when, where, how to work – was one of the most important drivers of performance, satisfaction, and internal work motivation of any work characteristic. I realize that the study is dated, but it’s a meta-analysis and these effects tend to be quite stable over time.”

Additional studies shared by Munyon also include terms like ” strategic planning at work” or SPW; “continually connecting” or CC; and “inspiring happiness at work” or IHW.

Time is all people really have, yet simultaneously, do not.

Brief history of the American workweek

Munyon says traditionally, the standard five-day workweek began with a mill in South Carolina that wanted to accommodate employees who practiced Judaism so they could observe Shabbat. The five-day workweek was popularized by Henry Ford in 1926 when he made it standard practice at the Ford Motor Company, almost 100 years ago.

A little over a decade later, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 set the 40-hour, five-day workweek in the U.S.

Since then, technological advances have been made in the manufacturing and information industries. Some experts argue that these are the tools that can advance the American workweek to be shortened.

International business expert and professor Robert Grosse, author of “The Four-Day Workweek” book published in 2018 said the four-day workweek can benefit both the organization and employee and to implement such a change would take significant collaboration. His book also scrutinizes the barriers to achieving it.

“The logic in favor of the four-day week is fundamentally based on the idea of personal choice of time use among work, leisure, sleep, recreation, studies, and other possible activities,” Grosse writes in the book introduction. “Given that in the 21st century there is no need to work just to obtain subsistence-level food, clothing and shelter, the question is: how much time should be dedicated to work for income and how much should be allocated to other activities, including rest and leisure?”

Grosse also clarifies that the underlying intent for his book is to demonstrative why a four-day workweek is desirable and how the reduced workweek will lead to better health and greater life satisfaction for people today.

A research paper published in March 2022 in the Management and Labour Studies journal titled, “The Subtle Art of Effecting a Four-Day Workweek to Drive Performance” states the issue of the condensed workweek “has become increasingly relevant due to the changes imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal is not just to reduce the number of working hours; it is to add value to the work schedule and thus improve the overall performance. It would instill a growth mindset among employees who would look for new ways to innovate and leverage their potential.”

The article went on to share that during the pandemic, as employees have been unable to focus wholly on work responsibilities, SPW can encourage brainstorming among the employees to find ways to stay productive.

“A four-day workweek motivates employees to work smarter,” the research authors argue. “Working long hours does not guarantee quality work.”

How American companies can experiment, as some already are, and further implement a four-day workweek in hours, pay and benefits are related topics researchers and organizations are still exploring.