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Why four-day workweeks are best

In her book “White Collar Sweatshop,” author Jill Andresky Fraser writes about a culture of American workers being on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even as salaries and benefits decrease. That’s because, despite the evidence, we’re programmed to believe that working longer and harder begets great achievement. But what if working less is the real key to success?

via Opinion: Why four-day workweeks are best – CNN.com.

In this article on CNN.com, Peggy Drexler wrote about the experiences of some companies (and the State of Utah) when they switched to a four day work week. For the most part, the experiences reported were very positive with benefits to the employees (happier at work) and the organization (increased productivity and better talent retention).

How could this be?

“They were using the extra day off to spend time with their families, do errands and take long weekends away, but also to schedule appointments they might otherwise have taken an afternoon off to attend,” Gina said. People ended up taking fewer vacations days, and sick days disappeared almost entirely.

The article reports that we have been talking about a 4-day work week since 1950!

Yet we, in America, typically work well over 40 hours a week. Some jobs (like production support DBAs) are effectively 24×7 jobs with no real breaks. And with the advent of secure VPN and now smart phones it seems to be getting worse.

ve-workweek

Hopefully, that is just an impression I have and not what is really happening.

What do you think?

I for one, am all for everybody cutting back to four days at the office.

(BTW – Don’t forget to read the whole article).

Kent

P.S. Thanks to Jonathan Fields for tweeting this article.

P.P.S. Want more – check out my earlier rant on a this topic.

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6 thoughts on “Why four-day workweeks are best

  1. As top athletes know, physical restitution is vital for the body to work at it’s best. Likewise mental restitution is vital for your brain to do top work.

    The many people who answer work emails at night and do extra work from home in the weekends don’t realize that they only get stress and their work will become below par due to lack of restitution (both kinds, actually.)

    Just a simple thing as continuously getting insufficient sleep may harm your health. Studies show that lack of sleep can cause diabetes II by impacting body hormone activity. Studies of 14.000 people in Holland show that sufficient sleep lowers chances of cardiac illness.

    The four day week described in the CNN article does a lot to improve restitution. It reduces stress by giving the workers that extra day to get “other things done” (like doctors appointments and big shopping and so on.) So at work they can concentrate on work entirely, which allows them to relax more and not think of work in the days off because they know they’ve done good at work, which in turn allows them to work better and more efficiently because of good restitution. Positive feedback circle – all good :-)

    But the flip side is that to really work, it cannot be “everybody in the country works monday to thursday.” Because then the friday off will not be as helpful, because doctors appointments can’t be taken on the extra off day because the doctor also has taken that day off. It will need to be in some sort of rotation so business does not just shut down for a longer weekend as usual – but then the good effect of four day week will not be quite as big.

    I say that the big benefits the company in the article has seen from a four day week is real, it is good, but much of it is depending on “the others” to still work normally. Four day weeks will be great (and should be encouraged) as long as it does not become a majority of the businesses doing it :-)

    And much of it really is a matter of mindset. You can do a lot yourself even when working five days if you try to divert your mind and think of something else when you are not at work. Don’t read work mails at night. Don’t do extra work from home in the weekend. Clear your mind by doing something completely different – a hobby that you love. You’ll be much better at your work and with much less stress.

    The four day week makes it a lot easier to achieve that mindset, but it can be done in a five day week also – if you really want it. It’ll help if the company allows time off for doctors appointments and similar things so that can be done without “guilty conscience.”

    There… I think I’ve written my thoughts on this now – sorry about the length of the reply ;-)

    • Appreciate the reply Kim! I agree with your last bit for sure – even with a 5 day work week we would all do well to leave the work at the office at the end of the day and focus on family, friends, and self in our off hours. That it what I think of as work-life balance (especially in our line of work in IT). Our minds and our bodies need time to renew and refresh for us to be healthy.

  2. I have been a long-time advocate and fan of 4-day work weeks, both in concept and in reality. I worked 4-10 and 9-9 schedules for the US government back in the early 80s.

    I have found them harder and harder to advocate for as business has pushed the envelope in the other direction (5-10 schedules, even if unofficial) … seeking ever more productivity.

    The promise from business, in return, has been more reward and more security … neither of which has proven out. Business has, at the same time, also virtually eliminated the concept of loyalty and reward … again in the name of productivity and efficiency.

    So, we as laborers (whether an employee or not) cut our own throats collectively as we work harder and longer and get less in return. Likewise, business cuts its own throat by not acknowledging lots of evidence that content and loyal workers really do benefit the business.

    As for the 4-day workweek, I must also confess that there is some evidence out there that worker productivity falls off after about 7 hours on the job. I (like the rest of you, I’m sure) swear this is not the case for me, but we are data people after all and must come to grips with such findings. 4 days of 8 hours each? Maybe. If business really needs more help, then they can hire more folks to do the rest and the employment rate goes up.

    • Agreed Chip. What a concept – business actually hiring enough people to do the work required in an 8 hour day. Solves many problems. And I agree to that the 4 day work week should be 8 hours days as well. The four 10 hour day schedule never worked for me as there was never time to do anything after work, and it appeared most people were just trying to “gut it out” for those last two hours anyway.

  3. And you are probably in the same boat as my company – we get paid by hours worked. If I work 4×8, even if I am on salary and my company doesn’t cut that salary, my company can only charge the client for 32 hours of my time. Even if I get the same amount of work done in my 32 hours as I was in 40, my company makes less.

    Of course, some clients have noted that we have an incentive to work longer without actually accomplishing more. There have been attempts to change contracts to a fixed fee plus sometimes a bonus for early delivery of a particular product – say, an application system with documentation. I’d love to do it that way, EXCEPT that it turns out to be an enormous risk for us. The problem is that sometimes you don’t know what the product is until you do it – find out it isn’t what they wanted, re-do it, and iterate until it is right. Very hard to succeed on fixed fee with a fuzzy product.

    • Yup – fixed fee ends up being more “expensive” in the long run for everybody (the sales folks will pad for that very risk).

      Better to be paid by the hour with a bonus for coming in under a certain threshold. Maybe the company will bill less $$ on a single project but the consultants are less stressed, happier and produce better deliverables. That leads to happier customers, more referrals, and therefore more business which means more $$.

      Everyone wins.

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