Why the 4-day week is doomed to fail when it comes to sales

The UK has just launched the world's largest 4-day week trial.

Why the 4-day week is doomed to fail when it comes to sales

The UK has just launched the world’s largest 4-day week trial. Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College are working with 4 Day Week Global, the 4 Day Week Campaign and the Autonomy thinktank to see whether a new working pattern could be the secret to a better work/life balance – with no loss of productivity. 

The idea is based on a 100:80:100 model (100% pay – 80% time – 100% productivity). More than 3,300 workers are taking part, spread across 70 businesses in the UK, from tiny independent firms to major players. 

Those taking part have committed to a trial of the 4-day work week that will last for six months. However, I suspect that – for sales teams at least – the 4-day week will be doomed from the outset. Here’s why.

The flaw with reduced accessibility 

A lot of sales work is already tough to fit around the days and times we want it. Clients want access to salespeople when it suits them. Reducing salespeople’s accessibility by 20%, through a 4-day week, doesn’t meet that need. 

There are also some dangerous assumptions around the ability of a 4-day week to deliver the same as a 5-day week. Will people really become more productive overnight? 20% more productive, just like that!? If so, this suggests that they’re only working at 80% capacity (or less) right now. Or else they’re at 100% now and are going to increase to 120% (clearly impossible).

If salespeople are working at 80% capacity, why is that?. If they’re not already motivated to be 100% productive, are they suddenly going to find motivation to work 20% harder? For the reward of an extra day off, maybe they will at first. However, 4 days will soon become their norm – just like a pay rise feels great for a month or two, then becomes normal. Once 4 days is normal, motivation will drop to its former level. That means 80% effectiveness for 80% of the week instead of 100%.

Then there’s the issue of using feedback as evidence of efficacy. Productivity takes a long time to show itself (we already have low productivity in UK compared to similar economies). Feedback from people reducing to 4-day weeks will almost definitely be positive: “I feel so much more productive / I’m getting much more work done!” 

However, people see the evidence they want to see. I think this is true for working from home for many people –  I say I’m more productive working from home because I want it to be true rather than because of any meaningful evidence. 

Unintended consequences 

There will also be unintended consequences of a 4-day week. Different departments in the same company will work different working weeks, some 4 days and some 5. Marketing, for example, might be easier to turn into 4 days; sales less so. That doesn’t create much company unity.

Some markets, requiring 5-day working weeks, will find it even harder to recruit good people, as those people will be looking for 4-day a week jobs.

Seismic change (and this is a big change) has seismic consequences. Once we let it out of the bag, it might be hard to put it back in again. We saw that with working from home.  

Underlying motivations 

Much of this depends on why people work: do they work to live or live to work? Those who want to earn enough money to facilitate a lifestyle will likely find 4 days a week is a winner. However, those for whom work is a big part of their life, and who want to commit fully to the mission of their role and company will likely find it harder to achieve what they want while losing 20% of their working week.

Finally, and on a separate note, there’s the potential that it will be a false working week reduction – a bit like those ‘holidays’ that result in phone calls and emails from the office. Will you theoretically be off work but plagued by an expectation that you’re available if needed? This will almost certainly happen in sales, if not with your employer, then with your clients.

Paul Owen
Paul Owen

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