The four day work week just doesn’t go far enough

The concept of a four-day working week has been generating a lot of attention on social media recently.

The four day work week just doesn't go far enough

The concept of a four-day working week has been generating a lot of attention on social media recently. There have been successful schemes testing the idea in places as far apart as New Zealand, Scandinavia and Spain, showing it can be implemented successfully. So what is it? And why do I think it really doesn’t go far enough in giving people the freedom to be human at work and enjoy a healthy work-life balance?

What is the four-day working week?

It’s important to remember that the idea behind the four-day working week isn’t simply to move hours into fewer days. In the past some companies (like the BBC) have shifted their work patterns so that employees can work their 40 hours spread over only 4 days, meaning longer working days, but also longer weekends. This is more harmful than helpful!

By contrast, four-day working week programmes aim to reduce the number of hours worked. Typically to 32-36 hours. This reduces burnout and promotes wellbeing.

The results of pilot studies show that people actually produce the same amount of output in the four day work week. This means that their hours can be reduced without any impact on productivity, performance or profit. The bottom line is this: people can be contracted to work fewer hours on the same pay without impacting profits. 

What are the benefits? 

The ability to be fully human both outside and inside the workplace has a huge impact on employee happiness, engagement and productivity. Having more time out of the office really lets people capitalise on this. 

The traditional 9-5 has remained mostly unchanged since the industrial revolution. It’s absolutely mad that no one has thought to change this for nearly 200 years. Challenging perceived ideas of what the workplace should look like is very welcome in my eyes, and something I wrote about in my book, Freedom to be Human, which is a business case for happiness. 

Where are the shortfalls?

I agree, in some situations, working fewer hours is going to help many employees be happier and more engaged. But it does depend on the starting point. And, I don’t think a four-day work week offers true flexibility. Any more than a five-day working week does. 

This is because everyone is different. Some people will want to crank out 32 hours in 3 days, working longer hours, and then take up mountain climbing in their free time. Others might prefer to work only a few hours per day, between school pick up and drop off but spread the hours across the full working week. 

To allow people to work when and how they want, it’s important to listen to the individuals you have within your organisation, and not make blanket decisions for them. 

So, what’s the solution?

For those with office jobs it really shouldn’t matter when or where your people are working. If you’ve employed the right people for the job, you must trust them to get on with their work and deliver the results you want. Otherwise you’ve hired poorly.

Even with colleagues working shift patterns, you might find they’re able to achieve more and even produce better results with a more flexible approach. This might include the ability to switch or earmark certain shifts for example. Clearly this may not be possible in every case but it’s something to explore. 

Ultimately, my belief is that there isn’t a simple, blanket solution for every organisation. You need to talk to the individuals on your team and see what works best for your organisation and all its stakeholders. 

One thing is certain. You should definitely be challenging the arbitrary 40-hour, 9-5, 5-day work pattern in your organisation.

Matt Phelan
Matt Phelan

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