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Bellingham business sees growth of 35% after implementing 4-day workweek

"Happier employees equate to more productive employees," Brist Manufacturing Owner Brendan Pape said.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Lucas Merklinghaus manages the warehouse for Bellingham's Brist Manufacturing.

He knows time is money, but to him, time with his wife and kids is much more valuable.

"I've got two little boys, 1-and-a-half and 4. That family time is really precious," Merklinghaus said.

So, when workers needed a morale boost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, someone suggested moving to a four-day workweek.

Owner Brendan Pape was reluctant.

"I couldn't see how it could work," Pape said. "This doesn't pencil out. No way."

But Pape eventually agreed -- switching his 50 employees to a work week of four, 10-hour days.

The experiment was supposed to last six weeks. That was two years ago.

"I think at that six-week mark we didn't even really circle back because things were working," said Pape. "We were able to maintain numbers and output. Everything was great."

Under the four-day plan, Brist saw growth increase by 35%, and employee happiness go off the charts.

That falls in line with a a trend seen around the world.

In the first large scale study of the four-day workweek, the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global partnered with Harvard Business School, Oxford University and the University of Pennsylvania.

They looked at 33 companies in the U.S. and Europe involving 903 workers.

Researchers found job satisfaction up 45%, stress levels down 32% and revenues up more than 8%.

At Brist, productivity has remained steady.

"Happier employees equate to more productive employees," Pape said.

Potential drawbacks at Brist include focus and fatigue issues over the course of a 10-hour day, but Merklinghaus said the allure of regular three-day weekends is a great motivator.

"It doesn't feel like we're doing extra work, but we get an extra day off," he says.

The now standard five-day workweek didn't take hold in America until the Great Depression. 

Prior to that, six days was the norm.

The future of the four-day workweek likely lies in the hands of managers who may be uncomfortable with change. 

"This is as much a management style discussion as it is worker output," says James McCafferty, co-director of the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University. "Some managers have a strong preference for in-person and manage by proximity. Some manage by output metrics. Some manage by some mixture. You are not likely to ever convince a proximity manager anything else works."

At Brist, Brendan Pape said the experiment has been so successful he's even considering moving to four eight-hour days, as opposed to 10.

The onetime skeptic now says there is no way his company is turning back.

"Definitely not. My head would be on a spike if we did that," he laughs. "We are all about the four-day week."

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