4 Day Work-Week & The Story Of Change

Welcome, in this edition of the Hybrid OWL let us try and go beyond the buzz of the 4-day-Work Week. We will explore historical trends which got us to this point of the work week. The pros and cons of a 4 Day Workweek. What are some principles and ideas you can take away from this study even if you are not planning to put in place a 4-day workweek any time soon.

Evolution of a work-week:

So how did we get here?

Let us start way back at the beginning. When we were hunters and foragers, we worked for as long as we needed to get fed. Even during the agriculture era, there was no distinction between the workplace and home. It was one seamless life.

The concept of working hours emerged during the industrial revolution. In the early 18th century, we started off with 100 hours of working every week. Protests led to the work hours being reduced to 70 hours per week. Economists like Robert Owen in 1817 itself believed that 70 hours was unsustainable.

We first moved to Sunday being off every week. But workers partied so hard that they invariably missed work on a Monday morning. It was called the Saint Monday phenomena :). Mill owners negotiated with workers for an additional half day off on Saturday, for the promise that workers would turn up sober on a Monday morning!

It was in 1920s that Henry Ford first moved to a 5-day week. It was finally made into a legislation in 1930s in the US. His reasons were counter-intuitive but proved accurate.

Interestingly John Millard Keynes, the economist had predicted way back in the 1920’s that we would work for 15 hours a week, due to the advances in technology. Today we are hovering between 30 to 50 hours across different countries. I am thinking of scenarios which will unfold when we reach Keynes predicted 15 hours. Fascinating and for a later post.

Research on 4 Day Work-Week

While the recent 6-month study by the 4 Day Week Global NGO has caught attention worldwide. It is not the first or only study on this concept. More such researches are available here and here. By looking at all these research a few pros and cons clearly emerge

Pros of the 4 Day workweek based on research
Cons of the 4-Day Work-week based on research

Nevertheless, the recent study conducted across 61 companies for 6 months has been declared a success. 92% of these companies plan to continue the 4-day work-week experiment. As business leaders and team managers even if you are not planning to implement the 4-day work-week, there are trends and ideas from the study that you could consider to make your work week more effective.

Trends and ideas from the 4-Day Work-Week research

1. Same level of output in reduced time.

First up, the study kept the output and outcome levels the same across all roles. Which meant it was possible for employees to achieve the same outcomes in 4 days instead of 5. Because they worked differently. We talk more about this a little later.

2. Adopters were start-ups and SME’s

Most of the 61 organisations who were part of the study were start-ups, founder led, small and medium enterprises. This trend could be a function of many things. More agility, lesser infrastructure investments, better grip of the overall impact of 4 days working.

3. COVID showed them it was possible.

Many companies who were part of the study said COVID and remote work showed them that they could trust their employees. A culture of trust between the team members, between management and teams is critical if you need to make a 4-Day work-week successful.

4. Different ways of working

All the companies that moved to the 4-Day work week as part of this study, did these 3 big -critical things very differently.

  1. One they radically changed the way they conducted meetings. Who was invited to meetings? How long were the meetings? What outcomes did they get from the meetings? Meetings are an important lever for leaders to consider closely.
  2. They used technology more thoughtfully and mindfully.
  3. They redesigned the work day itself to build in different aspects of focused work, meetings and social time.

In conclusion, a 4-Day Work-week is a tool. A how. Like many other tools that are available – a 9-day fortnight, a 5 hour work day, no-meetings day etc etc. 

Organisations will need to adopt a mindset of focusing on the well-being of employees. Of aligning the employees better with the purpose of the organisation, the ‘why’ of their jobs. And let the teams choose the how and the tools, depending on their needs and context.

There are more than a dozen research links we have quoted here available in this edition of the Hybrid OWL.  The link for the same is in the comments section. Do sign up to receive these OWL editions. Thank you.

Research and References

4-Day work-week research data:
  1. Improvements in health and well being
  2. Bamboo HR study on 4-Day work week with examples.
  3. HBR – What leaders must know before trying a 4-Day Work-week.
  4. Microsoft study of 4-Day Work-Week.
  5. Wired – Four Day Burnout
  6. Helen Delaney and Catherine Casey Increased performance monitoring in 4-day workweek.
  7. 4 Day Week NGO – Research results
40-hour work week:
  1. History
  2. Saint Monday – BBC
  3. Henry Ford announcement in 1926
  4. Work week by country
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