- While the 4-day work week is currently one of the most popular alternatives to the usual work-week structure, it’s not the only one.
- While four eight-hour workdays might not be a suitable format for some organizations, shortening all five workdays might work better.
- In July, Charlotte Lockhart, CEO of the non-profit organization 4 Day Week Global, joined Allwork.Space’s Future of Work podcast to talk about how organizations can be 20% more productive by giving their employees more time off work.
With workplace burnout on the up, employers’ focus on wellness is sharpening. But employers are also preoccupied with maintaining — or in some instances, increasing — employee productivity. Can wellness and productivity coexist comfortably?
In short: Yes. In a bid to boost the two simultaneously, organizations are trialling new approaches to the working week.
One of the most popular options is the four-day week, where employees work four out of their usual five work days and have the remaining day off to do with as they please. While the four-day week is currently one of the most popular alternatives to the usual workweek structure, it’s not the only one. Have you heard of the nine-day fortnight, for instance?
What are the equivalents of a four-day week?
In July, Charlotte Lockhart, CEO of the non-profit organization 4 Day Week Global, joined Allwork.Space’s Future of Work podcast to talk about how organizations can be 20% more productive by giving their employees more time off work.
4 Day Week Global is a research and pilot program advocating for a reduced hour workplace. The idea may seem radical to some, yet the research shows that it works. Lockhart also sits on the board of the Wellbeing Research Centre at Oxford University and the advisory boards of the US campaign and the Ireland campaign for the four-day week.
After implementing a successful 4-day week initiative in her role at the financial firm Perpetual Guardian, Lockhart and her partner Andrew Barnes started talking to businesses, academics and organizations like the Trades Union Congress (TUC) about what reduced hour working could look like.
“It became clear that there was a real need for a proper conversation, so we established 4 Day Week Global and the 4 Day Week Global Foundation as an entity to have those conversations with,” said Lockhart in the Future of Work podcast.
The non-profit runs four-day week pilot programmes around the world. It’s a process — the team spends time with businesses to get them “pilot-ready” by helping them identify their purpose and productivity measures. Access to academic research enables business leaders to benchmark themselves as a way of measuring success.
The day off can be allocated in a way that suits everyone, according to Lockhart.
“It’s about reducing work time and being flexible…not all businesses can close their doors on a single day…and having a whole day off doesn’t necessarily suit all of your staff. If you’re a parent, being able to come in at ten in the morning every day might suit you better,” said Lockhart.
1. Shorter workdays
While four eight-hour work days might not be a suitable format for some organizations, shortening the five work days might work better.
Speaking with BBC Worklife, Celeste Headlee, author of Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving, explains that we’re not built for long days.
“Cognitively, we really only have a limited amount of focus time per day. When you are trying to force your brain to focus outside of that window, you’re going to see really diminishing returns, and end up in burnout,” she said.
Writing in Harvard Business Review, author and accelerator founder Steve Glaveski argues the case for a 6-hour workday.
“I’d be willing to bet that in most jobs, people would get more done in six focused hours than eight unfocused hours,” he said.
Could working less hours sharpen our ability to focus?
“I conducted a two-week, six-hour workday experiment with my team at Collective Campus, an innovation accelerator based in Melbourne, Australia,” said Glaveski. “The shorter workday forced the team to prioritize effectively, limit interruptions, and operate at a much more deliberate level for the first few hours of the day.”
2. Flexible Fridays
Mathilde Collin is the CEO and co-founder of Front, a customer communication platform.
After deciding against the 4-days a week model, Front decided to run a two-quarter trial dubbed Flexible Fridays. Employees have total freedom over how they spend the last day of the traditional working week. They aren’t expected to be online, but they can work if they want to. Just under 44% of their employees take Friday as a mixed-use day.
3. Nine-day fortnight
Charlie, a human resources company, decided the four-day work week model wouldn’t work for them either.
“Customer-facing teams would have become isolated and out of sync,” writes CharlieHR’s Culture Operations Associate Chantelle Ebhogiaye.
“Our HR Advice and customer teams need to be available Monday to Friday to support our customers…we would have had to put a rota system in place and give a lot of time off in-lieu. The risk was to end up operating almost as two separate companies — HR Advice and Customer Support on one side, and the rest of the team on the other,” she said.
Charlie finds that a nine-day fortnight, where employees have every other Friday off, works well for them. The company has also introduced Deep Work Wednesdays, where meetings are kept to a minimum and people work as productively as they can.
Focus on productivity, not presence
The four-day week requires us to challenge our assumptions about the amount of time we spend working. Some leaders fixate on presence: they want their employees to be logged on and on task by 9 a.m. Remote workers are bearing the brunt of this attitude.
In 2021, 60% of companies with employees who work remotely used monitoring software to track employee activity. These technologies can track data from keystrokes, communication with colleagues and logins. Unsurprisingly, it damages employee morale.
The four-day week concept values productivity over physical presence.
“Don’t talk about ‘busy,’ talk about what is ‘productive,’” said Lockhart, who employs the 100-80-100 rule (100% pay, 80% time at work, as long as 100% productivity is achieved).
Awareness is the first step towards being more productive.
“It’s being clear about why you’re there and how you’re using your time…it might result in running meetings better or a better use of software, or redesigning the way your production line works,” Lockhart explained. “How many times have you been to a meeting where you didn’t feel like you needed to be there? It’s about making sure you have an agenda, sticking to it, and starting and finishing on time. These are simple time management things we all know but don’t tend to use with discipline and practice. It’s a business improvement strategy.”
More time off can benefit society, too
“We need to remember as leaders that we borrow people from their lives,” said Lockhart.
The four-day week model allows people to spend more time with family, take up a hobby, upskill, and generally become a more fulfilled human being.
People who feel more “rounded” and “whole” as a person are happier, more likely to be healthier, and perform better at work.
Lockhart wants to get to the point where the four-day week — in its various guises and iterations — becomes the norm and is written into government legislation. Yes, there are naysayers, but the four-day week has proven successful in a range of sectors.
In the words of Lockhart, “it comes down to the mental agility of the leaderships’ mind.”