Beauty inside

Lessons from the four-day week: Inside beauty and fashion brand essays

To receive the Vogue Business newsletter, register here.

What would you do with a three-day weekend? Workers around the world are urged to take heed, as trials for a four-day work week are explored internationally. Early adopters include Microsoft in Japan; Unilever in New Zealand; and a host of other small and medium fashion and beauty brands.

Extensive trials in Iceland – which affected up to 1% of its working population from 2015 to 2019 – found that shorter weeks gave workers more time for family, leisure and rest, with particularly positive results for single parents and women in heterosexual relationships, whose partners have taken on a more equitable sharing of domestic responsibilities. As a result of these trials, 86 per cent of the entire working population in Iceland either won the right to shorter hours or actually moved there.

The potential benefits go beyond individual happiness and productivity. A study found that a four-day week could reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes a year by 2025. British skincare brand Inlight Beauty claims to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions greenhouse by 14.6% since dropping to 4.5 days, with further savings on his energy and water bills. Other fashion and beauty brands are experimenting with it, from Spanish fashion brand Desigual to US fintech start-up Bolt, a one-click payment provider used by Forever21 and Badgley Mischka. Proponents of degrowth – a planned shrinking of the economy to bring it back within planetary boundaries – argue that cutting working hours can also help curb the production and consumption of new goods.

Coupled with remote and flexible working, a four-day week could also lead to more jobs for disabled talent. It’s a growing pool after the pandemic, points out Ellen Jones, a change facilitator at inclusive workplace consultancy Utopia. “The high levels of burnout and absenteeism during the pandemic have shown that people are not machines, but the disability community has been talking about it for years,” she says.

“A four-day week with no loss of pay for workers is a long-standing demand of the labor movement, which brought us the two-day weekend nearly a century ago,” says Joe Ryle, director of campaign at Advocacy and Consulting. group Four Day Week Campaign in the UK. More than 500 UK-based businesses have expressed interest in the organization’s next trial, which will run over six months from June. The end goal is for government legislation to put in place a maximum work week of 32 hours (the limit is currently 48 hours, averaged over 17 weeks).

Short-term pilots help solve problems

A big driver of the four-day week puts productivity above presenteeism, the culture of showing up to the workplace to be seen without necessarily being productive. Before pilots, companies should audit their working practices, says Jack Kellam of independent research organization Autonomy. This can help determine which meetings could be replaced by email exchanges, which processes could be streamlined, and which employees are carrying too much of the workload.