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Who’s afraid of the Four Day Work Week?

Here’s an enchanting idea. Being able to go to places open the same hours as I work. Being able to make appointments during weekdays. Not always trying to manage the rest of my life around the time I spend yelling at computers and bending them too my will.

If you’re a “full-time” employee, your work week is likely five days (if not more), and spans 40 hours (if not more). You might be paid by the hour, or you might be on salary, but you probably have two days “officially” off every week (although work might slide into those days) and they probably land on Saturday and Sunday.

Now imagine that your salary and benefits stayed the same, your responsibilities at work stayed the same, but everyone at your company only worked four days a week. Think about your current life, and the current make-up of your week, and what you usually have to smush into the weekend. What would you do with extra day off, every week of the year, for the rest of your working life?

Who’s Afraid of the Four Day Work Week? – by Anne Helen Petersen – Culture Study

When you have time away from work, you’re able to refresh yourself and return to work with renewed vigor and focus. I work in a white collar industry that involves computers all over the place. My job isn’t physical. I’m not moving, lifting, running, or carrying things around. Thought that can absolutely be part of a computer job. Technical Support isn’t just 1s and 0s.

My job is mental. It’s keeping systems and information flows in my head. It’s remembering how different variables work together within a greater system to perform tasks. It’s knowing where the limits exist. And a simple Yes/No answer could be the result of an hour of work researching and testing.

Time away from work to unwind my brain and let is breathe and focus on other things is vital to my performance. I dive deeply into hobbies because I need the break. I need the time to unwind and unstressed and build up reserves for another five days of 8 (or more) hour days diving into complex problems and stuffing flowcharts, settings, variables and options back into my head.

Findings from Iceland support this. I didn’t read the full report (PDF) but the same answer appears whenever experiments like this take place.

Worn down by long hours spent at work, the Icelandic workforce is often fatigued, which takes a toll on its productivity. In a vicious circle, this lower productivity ends up necessitating longer working days to ‘make up’ the lost output, lowering ‘per-hour productivity’ even further.

Sound familiar? Replace Icelandic in this sentence with United States and the same applies.

And we don’t even have any of the following (emphasis mine):

But if you don’t have time for an 82-page report, the highlights are as follows: Iceland has a strong social safety net, with low income inequality, significant parental leave, and a robust universal health care.

How many weeks have you really only worked four days? Slow Monday. Taking it easy from a rough weekend. Friday hits and you’re so exhausted you coast through the day counting the hours until the salvation of a too-short weekend arrives.

This is the principle at the heart of the four day week: working less can actually mean working better. That idea is particularly difficult for Americans, who fetishize long hours for many ideologically tangled reasons, to understand. It’s true in knowledge work, it’s true in medical fields, it’s true in construction. You’re just a better worker — a safer worker, a more creative worker, a more astute and alert worker — when you’re not exhausted.

There’s so much in this article to unpack. But it’s time to start thinking about how we work and why we work like we do. Work has expanded through technology to reach into your homes, vacations and every moment of our lives. Long commutes take more and more of our personal time out of our hands and place them into the realm of working hours. But aren’t counted as such.

As a society, we’ve repeatedly shifted our understanding of the “standard” work week. We’ve shifted — through union force, through governmental edict, through business leadership — when it’s made sense. When the work could be done in fewer hours, when employees demanded it for their own health, when societies realized the way things are doesn’t have to be the way things will be. And now is one of those times.

Anne Helen Petersen has quickly become one of my favorite writers and Who’s Afraid of the Four Day Work Week? is this week’s reason to keep loving her work.

Published inLinkedObservations