Is a Four-Day Work Week in Your Future?

Have you noticed the change in TV culture over the last two decades? At least here in the US, there has been a seismic shift from 22-episode a year network dramas (created for syndication and reruns) to 6-8 episode ‘prestige’ dramas (created for streaming). Suddenly it’s a lot easier to catch up on a show someone has recommended – it’s no longer a 100+ hour commitment to watch a full series; in most cases you can watch the full thing in a fraction of that time, and perhaps feel that it was a more worthwhile use of your time. In education too, a number of schools and educational organizations that used to offer year-long or semester-long classes are now offering more condensed courses; six weeks, eight weeks; even weekend intensives. This smaller time commitment offers a reduced barrier for entry; you may not want to commit two evenings a week for the rest of the year, but a weekend a month for the next three months? Sure! And a similar shift in how we look at our time seems to be happening in the workplace too.

A recent six-month study in the UK followed 61 organizations – as varied as non-profits, a brewery, a fish and chip shop, and private firms in recruitment, software, and manufacturing – as they implemented a four-day work week for their employees. In many cases, the organizations didn’t lengthen those four days to “make up” for the fifth day (10 hour days instead of 8, for example), and they kept their employees’ salaries the same. As one news article put it, “100% of the pay for 80% of the hours.” But what the study showed is that, in fact, 80% of the hours didn’t equal 80% of the work; in fact they continued to do 100%, but in less time. The study’s report also showed extensive benefits for employees’ well-being. One company reported that the team was happier and that “absenteeism [had] dropped by two-thirds.” “Staff were much less inclined to call in sick, and more inclined to stay with their employer, reducing recruitment costs and making it more worthwhile training staff.” Of the 61 companies that took part, 56 said they would continue with the four-day week – at least for now – and 18 said the policy was a permanent change.

Such a change allows employees more time for hobbies, rest, and creativity, all of which contributes to more focus during the four workdays themselves. Being free to ‘play’ more in your non-work time also gives you eyes to see where you can be more creative in your work – where you can do things differently than they’ve traditionally been done. “Fundamentally, if you give people this incredible incentive of a whole day of their time a week, they are going to work really hard to make it work,” says Simon Ursell, managing director of Tyler Grange, an environmental consultancy that took part in the trial. This isn’t to say it adds more stress; just more focus. “It’ll take those extra few minutes of scrolling through the internet out of your day because you have to be just that bit more focused to get what you need done in the time you have,” said one participant. Of course, the nature of retail, customer service, or essential services means that a four-day week may not be feasible in many cases, but perhaps there’s value for all of us to consider if spending less time working might actually help us be more productive?

This Week’s Tip:

  • Take a project that might usually sit for the next two weeks, and set aside a 2-hour block this week to work on it – and only on that. Turn off all distractions, pop-ups, notifications, and put away your phone – use the #Writesprint model, or the Pomodoro technique. See what happens when you focus in a concentrated period of time, even if you don’t complete the project in one sitting.
  • If you’re in a position to consider a shift to a four-day work week for your team, do some more research about what that might look like for your organization, and initiate some conversations with your higher-ups about the possibility. Exploring the possibility doesn’t commit you to anything, and just like the prestige dramas and the educational models talked about above, you could run a 6-8 week trial run with a clear ending. Then take some time to reflect on it as a company before committing further.

Try these out this week, and let us know how it goes! We’d love to hear from you.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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