All over the world, employers are trying out a four-day workweek. The goal isn’t just to provide their employees with a nice perk. These companies are also trying to boost productivity while reducing burnout.
Yes, you read that right: in order to get more done, these employers are asking their people to put in fewer workdays. This four-day workweek plan has three very important parts:
- No extra hours! You operate on a four-day workweek. Each workday is eight hours long, as usual.
- No shorter to-do lists! You still have to get the same amount of work done each week.
- No pay cuts! You get paid the same amount you used to for a five-day workweek.
How Does This Magic Happen? With Focus.
To make this work, you obviously have to convince the boss — and more on that in a moment. But you have to figure out your priorities.
Do you want to spend two hours each day in long meetings that don’t resolve much? Or do you want to get lean and mean and get out of there as fast as possible? Thought so.
Let’s do away with the extra stuff that’s not productive. Finding your focus may mean more time at your desk, less time micromanaging or more delegating.
Ways you can fight the existing time vortex that is the common workday:
- Make your meetings lightning fast: Plan agendas, keep to talking points, leave with clear plans of action.
- Cancel team time-wasting: That daily check-in call, those weekly roundups, that “meeting that could have been an email” — ditch them.
- Do without the social media: Make a plan for yourself to abandon the time-wasting you do so well. No mindless ventures into an internet black hole. You’ve got stuff to do!
- Say “no”: That’s right. Find ways to not add another useless task or conversation to your plate in order to get more productive.
- Put out the red flags: Use apps, do not disturb signs, or even just work away from others to find peace, quiet and productivity.
Rest More, Rest Better
Just because you’re going to get more focused in order to get your work done, doesn’t mean that you never get a coffee break (or a potty break). It just means you work on your awareness and mindfulness. When you’re more mindful and present at work, you’re able to crank out those tasks.
Staying mindful can be a great way to get your work done, even when you’re not aiming for a four-day workweek.
Find ways to take meaningful breaks, like pausing for 10 minutes of mindful meditation before starting a big task. Taking a pause can better refocus your attention and make you more productive. Not sure how? Try a meditation app or a website like Calm.com or some quick work meditation practices.
You can even use lunch as a real break, setting yourself up for a more productive afternoon. Instead of multitasking your way through your midday meal, take time to chew and savor. You can also use it as a chance to truly connect and catch up with coworkers, instead of wasting multiple breaks doing desk drop-ins. The bonus is more attentive conversations when you all have time to spare, instead of taking someone out of their work groove.
For most people, true multitasking is not possible. You simply can’t be in two places or do two things at once. But you can be more present where you are. If you’re not sure where your time is a-wasting, then try keeping a log of your workday for a few days. Note all breaks, meetings, true “work time,” and how you feel about each task. Where could you change things up for the sake of productivity?
What Do Employees Get From Working Less?
When you have more focused work time and an extra day off, the quick result might mean more sleep. But truly, having a focused “on” period and completely “off” downtime can boost workers’ feelings of contentment at work.
When you’re tottering on the edge of burnout, you’ll feel pretty terrible. You might have work burnout symptoms like depression, insomnia, anger, or even a rise in alcohol or drug abuse. Burnout is hard to pinpoint, but at some point, you might have recognized it in yourself or a coworker.
Organizations are facing an employee burnout crisis. A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That means about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job.
Burnout can manifest itself in nasty work feelings like:
- Physical exhaustion
- Lack of accomplishment
When faced with work-related stress, we often say, “Whoa, I really need a vacation!” but then work around the clock for the entire week. Instead of expecting all of your work problems to magically go away just by leaving home for a few days, try working less in general.
Establishing a true short workweek allows more time for that work-life balance wherein you leave work at work and home at home. Enjoying both sides of our lives can lead to (gasp) feelings of contentment and fulfillment, without the pitfalls of stress, fatigue, exhaustion, high blood pressure and insomnia.
How to Talk to Your Boss About a Pilot Program
If you want to make a four-day workweek a reality at your job, know how to broach the subject with the powers that be. Instead of asking for extra “time off” for yourself, make your plea with numbers and science on your side:
- German workers just won the right to use a 28-hour workweek, including those at engineering firms like Daimler and Bosch.
- The French workweek (at an average of 28 hours already) enables many women to work longer, even after starting families.
- Japan — a country famous for its anti-time-wasting workforce — still averages a workweek of only 33 hours.
Other countries have shown that working less doesn’t have to mean lower productivity … it can actually mean more output. There’s “the often-quoted fact that a German or French worker could (in theory, and on average) go home for the week some time on Thursday afternoon and still produce as much as a Briton who kept working on through Friday,” writes David Wilson at The Financial Times.
If your boss wonders how the change will be perceived by those outside the company, have them refer to four-day workweek subscriber Jan Schulz-Hofen, founder of Berlin-based project management software company Planio. When they’re not at work on Fridays, callers hear a recorded message explaining what’s going on.
“We got an unexpected reaction from customers. Most of our clients did not complain. They were just jealous,” Schulz-Hofen says at U.S. News.
How to Find Employers Who Are Already On Board
Early adopters of the four-day workweek frequently toil in the tech or startup sphere in the U.S. and abroad. With more interest in bucking the status quo, smaller companies will often try out new methodologies to see what works best for their teams.
When you want a workplace that’s already trying out this kind of shift in productivity thinking, you can start by going to your favorite job search website and plugging in strategic keywords. Try looking for jobs that tout “work-life balance” or just a “four-day workweek.” But beware of the dreaded “4 10s” — four days a week, 10 hours a day — which would still put you at a 40-hour workweek. Those longer days could increase the risk of burnout, as you’d have even less time off during the workweek.
How to Manage a Short Week if You’re In Charge
If you’re trying to wrangle your team to get a four-day workweek experiment to work, there are definitely ground rules to follow.
- Ask for feedback before the experiment about where the team’s biggest time-wasting happens.
- This might mean cutting meetings or mandatory call-ins or reducing endless paperwork. Finding ways to streamline your team’s day for the sake of productivity should be top priority.
- Enable visual cues to signal “Do Not Disturb” working times.
- Did you know that it can take someone up to 20 minutes to refocus after an interruption? Try signalling with some literal red flags or just shut doors and enable “don’t interrupt” Slack messages.
- Don’t let them cheat!
- If you’re truly after the four-day workweek, don’t let workers go over. No late night email checking, no weekend work, no sneaking in.
- Allow experiment feedback and adjust as needed.
- After a certain trial period, have an honest conversation to see how the short week went. What worked and what didn’t? For example, you might find that Wednesdays are a better “off” day than Fridays. If so, you can switch it up. If one team was always getting interrupted by another team, then find ways to encourage productivity for both.
- Make sure to have your metrics.
- If you’re going to measure productivity, what will that look like? Sales? Hitting deadlines? Client satisfaction? Know how you’re going to measure before your experiment and keep a clear eye on those numbers.
Working less doesn’t have to mean reducing productivity or potential. Being able to bring that balance can help you feel more whole, whether you fill our new “non-work time” with self-help or just a little more time with family.
The connections you make as a result of having more balance can be truly rewarding. In any case, you’ll probably spend less time scrolling through Twitter during meetings.
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK
Does your company have a four-day workweek? We want to hear from you! Tell us your story in the comments or join the discussion on Twitter.