What It Means That Kickstarter Is Trying a 4-Day Workweek

The experiment will be a valuable test of the theory that a shorter schedule can be good, or at least neutral, for businesses’ bottom line.

An illustration of four office chairs overlaid on a weekly calendar
Getty; The Atlantic

Updated at 12:10 p.m. ET on June 22, 2021.

Next year, Kickstarter, the 12-year-old crowdfunding platform, will experiment with a four-day workweek, a spokesperson for the company told The Atlantic. The unconventional move of reducing its employees’ hours without reducing their pay will be a valuable test of the theory that a shorter schedule can—on top of improving workers’ lives—be good, or at least neutral, for businesses’ bottom line.

Kickstarter will join a handful of other household-name companies that have tried shaving a day off the standard workweek. The burger chain Shake Shack tried the schedule out with some employees (though the pandemic put the trial on hold, and the company hasn’t disclosed its future intentions), and right now, the New Zealand offices of the consumer-goods corporation Unilever are halfway through a 12-month test run of their own.

Still, paying employees for five days when they work just four is exceedingly rare—perhaps only a few dozen companies in the United States do so. Kickstarter shares the characteristics of many of them: It is small (it has 90 employees), its work is primarily computer-based, and one of its founders is still directly involved with the company. An additional distinction is that Kickstarter is a “public-benefit corporation,” a legal designation that binds companies to pursuing some element of the greater good.

But as I wrote last week in my argument for the four-day workweek, shortening weekly schedules has worked for all sorts of businesses, including factories and nursing homes. Anecdotally, workers seem to be happier and more focused, and businesses report getting just as much done. “There’s more than enough evidence that suggests that [more companies] should at least try it,” Jon Leland, Kickstarter’s head of data and analytics, told me. (A spokesperson said that the company hasn’t yet decided how long the test will last or what outcomes would qualify as a success.)

Kickstarter is the first company to commit to a broader pilot program coordinated by the 4 Day Workweek campaign, which Leland is involved with and which launches next week. The campaign, part of a wider global push for companies to try out the schedule, aims to enlist other employers to participate in trials next year, in order to build up a more rigorous set of data.

Lower-paid and hourly workers would likely benefit from a shorter week even more than white-collar office workers like those at Kickstarter. Juliet Schor, a sociologist at Boston College who has studied the history of working hours, recently told me that although the four-day week is catching on first at small, boutique employers, it could spread to larger ones and begin to reach everyone else. That spread may never happen, and the four-day week could become another perk associated with offbeat tech companies. But examples such as Kickstarter’s could, potentially, erode the cultural dominance of the five-day week and make employers more open to different ways of working, so that sometime in the future, a three-day weekend will seem like nothing special.