Senior Client Partner, Global Human Resources Center of Excellence
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A Three-Day Workweek?
Increasingly, companies and workers alike across the globe have been discussing whether a four-day workweek makes sense. But forget about four days: How about three?
Thanks to artificial intelligence, some business leaders are openly talking about the end of the five-day, 40-plus-hour workweek. On a recent podcast, Bill Gates predicted that the rise of AI could result “in a society where you only have to work three days a week.” The Microsoft co-founder added that because of AI, people won’t have to work so hard to earn a living wage. Gates’s remarks echo those of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who said people will “probably be working three and a half days per week” in the future.
The idea of a three-day week underscores how rapidly AI is altering work—and how companies need to evolve their talent strategies just as quickly, says Ron Porter, senior client partner in the Global Human Resources Center of Excellence at Korn Ferry. “AI is already shifting the workforce,” says Porter. “What the shift ultimately looks like is the million-dollar question.” For its part, Goldman Sachs estimates that 300 million jobs could be affected by AI, and other studies show one in five workers hold jobs with “high exposure” to the technology. Yet, while much of the AI discussion is around the creation or elimination of jobs, there's been less focus on how positions that remain will be altered, beyond improving productivity and cutting costs.
But questions are emerging: How would a three-day workweek impact compensation, for instance? While most workers would love the flexibility of a shortened week, the reality is that few could afford the pay cut that is likely to accompany one. Or, as John Long, North America retail sector leader for Korn Ferry, puts it, “Companies aren’t going to pay people for the days not worked.”
At most companies, the four-day workweek is all but unknown—and, as return-to-office mandates show, leaders still aren’t entirely comfortable with remote or hybrid work either. But unlike those flexible structures, which were more about work-life balance in the face of a global pandemic, an AI-shortened week is all about financial and operational efficiency, says Brian Bloom, vice president of global benefits and mobility operations at Korn Ferry. He says that as AI strategies develop, leaders may realize they need fewer roles that are full-time or salaried and more that are contract or hourly. They could then redeploy that capital into learning and development, or pay high-quality talent more. “Reward and incentive plans need to be reevaluated against efficiencies created by AI,” Bloom says.
Leaders could also reinvest the savings from the lower labor costs of a three-day workweek in other ways. They could use it to offset their investment in AI, for instance. Or public companies could reward shareholders in the form of higher profits or a dividend. “There needs to be a balance between dropping savings to the bottom line and sharing it with employees,” says Porter.
Dennis Deans, vice president of global human resources at Korn Ferry, says the binary conversation around AI is creating anxiety for workers. As AI is deployed and roles evolve, he says, something like a three-day workweek could serve as a bridge for people to learn new skills, go back to school, or supplement their income. “People either think ‘It helps my job’ or ‘It eliminates my job,’” he says. “They’re not understanding the full breadth of what’s happening.”
Learn more about Korn Ferry’s Future of Work capabilities.