The idea of a 4-day workweek has grown significantly within the past few years. There are many organizations and businesses that have decided to either start testing it or implement it for good. The concept seems to be a win-win solution for both employers and employees. The latter will enjoy better work-life balance, working only 32 hours per week with the same pay, whereas companies will consequently benefit from better productivity. Is it a dream come true?
The idea seems really noble – there’s no doubt about it. Who wouldn’t like to work less (except a genuine workaholic)? In a world that has been forcing us to be more efficient, more successful, faster, better and always striving for perfection, we feel exhausted. People need more free time. Being overworked isn’t anything to be proud of. The corporate rat race no longer seems attractive as “running” to climb career ladders often doesn’t do us well. And although the approach of working 4 days per week is a good way to break up with old patters, I feel extremely tempted to challenge it.
Working wherever and whenever we want
I’ve been working remotely for many years now. I also lead a remote lifestyle which means that it doesn’t really matter where I am. Delivering on time is crucial. It may happen that I take a break on a Tuesday as Monday was tough. I sometimes feel like having a day off on a Wednesday. It makes sense as I often have no meetings scheduled and I’ve completed all my tasks the day before. At the same time, I’m often full of energy on Sundays and that’s when I prefer to work. I don’t want anyone to tell me when I have to take a break as I know best when I’m tired. I also feel accountable for all the projects that I’m working on, so I’ll always make sure to hand them in before I leave for the day.
Labor laws as we know them were originally introduced in the beginning on the 20th century. People were overworked back then. There were no limits and no paid time off. Then, a 6-day working week became standard to eventually introduce a 40-hour workweek. And well, it’s definitely served its purpose during industrialism but is this approach still justified for knowledge workers in the digital era? Should we tell all people on which days to work? What about introducing a work system that’s based on results and the output rather than just tracking time? Of course, we need systemic guidelines as we’re not willing to generate chaos but maybe it should be something more agile and scalable?
How does a 4-day workweek address employees’ choice to perform their tasks when they’re most productive?
Let’s take a look at parents, for example. Children attend day care every day and it’s quite a struggle to pick them up during working hours. Would this change during a 4-day workweek? Not really. Also, some people prefer to work in the morning whereas others are night owls. Will the 4-day workweek support the times when they’re most productive? I don’t think so. Additionally, does this new approach solve the fact that people usually tend to have too much on their plates? Only partially, in my humble opinion. It may happen that employees will feel overwhelmed for 4 days a week to completely switch off for 3 days a week. They’ll still suffer terrible sufferings on Sunday nights thinking about going to work on Monday morning. The only thing that’s positive is they’ll have something pleasant to look forward to – extra free time.
Maintaining business operations across the globe
I’ve worked with numerous companies and individuals all around the world. People from different departments like customer service, IT, marketing or even HR usually work on a task-based approach. If we impose a 4-day workweek on them, it may be challenging to maintain business operations. Also, I know that most of these roles don’t require to stare at their laptops for 8 hours non-stop. I’ve spoken to many people and they claimed that more flexibility like being able to finish earlier or take longer breaks during the day would make a huge difference.
In the USA, there’s a crime called “time theft“. There are numerous articles out there, trying to prove that remote work causes employees to “steal time”. I can’t stop but wonder how such ideas even come up. I believe that remote workers should embrace flexibility in the first place. Allowing someone to work from home on a fixed schedule isn’t the way to go. Mouse-tracking software, video monitoring or mandatory clocking in and out seems rather scary. How does such a logic in the service industry support true productivity? Actually, research proves that we tend to be productive for approximately 4,5 hours per day. Shouldn’t it then make sense to track results rather than time?
“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”
The concept of a 4-day workweek seems to be a good direction towards innovation. However, it’s not just work-life balance that is key to happiness these days. We’re now experiencing an increase of notions such as “work-life integration” or “work-life fit”. If we want to truly respond to people’s needs, wouldn’t it be wise to give them a choice? Isn’t the 4-day workweek advocating for a one-size-fits-all approach for everyone?
Let’s imagine a company where people are able to switch off their laptops based on their true needs. Even if a company decides to stay open for 5 days a week, can’t some employees just decide for themselves? If everything is on time, there are no meetings and no urgent deliverables, some individuals could just take a longer break. What’s wrong with that?
One day, I’m hoping to see a world where the word “work” isn’t both a place and activity. A world where people will be able to work according to schedules that make sense for them and the business. A reality where discussions such as “going back to the office” or “mandatory office work” won’t exist. A “new normal” that will tailor a human-centric approach towards businesses’ operational needs. Instead of thinking about the number of working days – let’s try to imagine work as getting things done anytime, anywhere and in people’s own ways.