5 Things We Learned from the 4-Day Week Trials
Working shorter weeks was a success - but came at a price
Last week there was a flurry of coverage about firms who had implemented experiments with a 4-day work week. Trials in Ireland and the US reported official results, accompanied by unofficial anecdotal coverage of British firms who were trialing the approach.
What is clear is that the clear benefits of working a shorter week come with some trade-offs, and some compromises that some firms (and workers) might find uncomfortable.
Here are 5 things we learned from the trials - with links to find out more:
Firms who implemented the 4-day work week saw no decline in total productivity - but it wasn’t easy
The whole premise of the 4-day week is the idea that by rationalising the approach to getting stuff done the same amount can be completed in a more focussed shorter period - with the upside that workers feel refreshed for their next round, the following Monday.
The FT’s outstanding podcast Working It last week ran a series of episodes focussing on the Four-Day Week. What was clear from the testimonies of the firms interviewed was that to produce the same amount in a compressed period required focus and a fair degree of ruthlessness.
In this (first) episode firms discussed having to make meetings shorter and tackling the knotty issue of uninviting some colleagues from meetings. Some workers felt their status was undermined by being disinvited from some meetings.
Some firms experimented with having the day off as a ‘gift day’ that was lost if productivity dipped
One of the challenges of a compressed week was to deliver results for the business while trying to improve the workplace experience for employees.
One approach was to style the day off as a ‘Gift Day’ and to remove it from employees who dipped behind in their output. While that initially was seen as a worthwhile experiment the firm involved chose to reframe the expression of this after seeing an unwelcoming response from workers. Hear more on FT Working It episode 4.
Interestingly in the US study employees didn’t report that ‘work intensity’ increased
In other words four-day workers didn’t feel more stressed but participants reported that the collective focus was on collaborating to get the job done. There were interesting accommodations, where doctors appointments or personal commitments generally moved to the fifth/non work day to get the job done. Hear more on Derek Thompson’s podcast Plain English:
The one thing that really seemed to suffer was social time (and team building)
Teams reported that the condensed week left little time for personal connection and the human interactions that help us form bonds with colleagues. While some firms took steps to re-energise these aspects of teamwork it was felt that this had to be more deliberate than had previously been the case.
The sense of team was seen to suffer at games company firm Hutch. Hear more about the social time issue on the second special episode of Working It.
The four-day project requires continuous buy-in and renewal
One of the firms in the UK trials was an in-person business (a chip shop) that had workers on site, serving customers. By going down to four days saw a number of the employees choosing to take on another job on their fifth day and weekends. The end result of that was that employees reported feeling more tired and burned out by the changes to their working lives.
In the US experiment elements like moving doctors appointments to the fifth day was a behaviour that was more commonly observed by those who had committed to the experiment at the outset, rather than those who joined and saw four days as the norm. One way this was framed was a distinction between gratitude and entitlement - raising the question of whether we should feel constantly grateful to our firm? Or whether firms can expect this cap doffing in the long-term. Hear more on the third episode of the Working It special.
More about the 4 Day week: