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Work less, get more: New Zealand firm's four-day week an 'unmitigated success' (theguardian.com)
301 points by GordonS 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 178 comments

I've actually been working a 4-day week for the past 2.5 years now, working 30 hours a week instead of 37.5.

My employer has got the better end of the deal by far - I'm as productive as I was working a 5-day week, but had to take a 20% pay cut. Still, it works for me, giving me extra time for family and side projects.

I negotiated this with previous employers. I do consulting work now and I've negotiated this with myself as well :)

I think I'm more productive this way, because, after a 3-day weekend I generally have a fresh perspective and feel like I'm looking at the same tasks with new enthusiasm. When I worked 5 day weeks, even interesting tasks became drudgery and I'd stare at the clock continuously even when I wasn't working a strict 'clock-in' style job.

Someone mentioned earlier - it's Wednesday you should take off, so you only work 2 days in a row :)

Can confirm. I have this schedule at my job now. It is amazing. I get all my grocery shopping and various errands done Wednesday morning when everyone else is at work, and have more time on the weekends. I highly recommend people trying it out if they get the chance.

Or at least work from home that day.

I used to work from home every Tuesday. Couldn't do Weds because we had our team meeting on that day. Have to say though it really took the edge off Mondays and made the remainder of the week a breeze!

But then I can't go on long-weekend trips

Statutory holidays tend to fall on Monday’s where I am - if you don’t work that day you don’t get to be paid for them.

Really? Where I am they're legally required to factor it in. So if you're working Tue-Fri for instance you get a quarter day holiday or something ... there's a few other nuances to it - pension entitlements and the like and it's a bit of a headache for payroll but that's what they're paid to do!

It isn’t as bad as I thought, 4 out of 11 are on Monday, Easter Friday and the rest wonder about. https://www.govt.nz/browse/work/public-holidays-and-work/pub...

So having a flexibility is best then.

Yeah. I worked a 3-day week for 6-7 years, and overall it worked really well for both my employer (who got a more productive employee) and me.

From my side, the biggest drawback was that it was a sort of golden handcuffs - I almost certainly stayed there longer than I otherwise would have because getting an equivalent setup elsewhere would have such a pain.

My impression was that the biggest drawback on my employer's side (after hashing out the initial bureaucracy/paperwork) was my more limited availability for meetings.

> I almost certainly stayed there longer than I otherwise would have because getting an equivalent setup elsewhere would have such a pain.

Would you consider freelancing? It usually affords more flexible working hours.

As the saying goes, when you work for yourself, while in theory you can "work your own hours", in practise what generally happens (at least initially) is you work all the hours.

This is pretty interesting. Did you feel overworked working 37.5 hours?

I spend more than 40 hours a week at work, but I actually work less than that whole time, because I have to wait for certain processes, or certain people, filling the gaps with activities like reading HN (as in right now).

That's really where the productivity gains of the next 20 years will be: free employees from the tyranny of workplace attendance, so that they will not resent these gaps and actually concentrate on end-product.

The need for attendance is coordination.

I worked remotely for 3 years in a high-profile company. Being remote helps control your time better. Coordinating anything with other people takes more effort, though, because you can't just walk around, see if somebody is busy, or out for a coffee, etc.

This is definitely solvable with technology, and will increasingly be solved.

There's also economy in employees providing their own computers, internet connectivity, and (most importantly) office space.

I've worked a variety of schedules in my time. When I'm doing around 30 hours a week - whether it was from 6 hour days or from 4 days a week - there is so much more time to get things done during the week. I no longer feel rushed in general. I sleep better and wind up eating better. I can plan doctor appointments outside of work hours. The difference isnt so much being overworked, but reasonably being able do do things in life.

The only time I really felt overworked was while working 4 ten-hour days every week. I had zero time and needed one day of relaxation to make up for it, so the day was wasted nonetheless. I'll aslo mention that slews of people aren't lucky enough to do anything but work-related things during work. This is especially true if doing a low-paying job, even if there is downtime. "If you have time to talk, you have time to clean". Looking busy enough to earn your keep is a major theme to many jobs.

The next best schedule was weirdly retail, though. Around 40 hours per week, but I usually only worked 2-3 days in a row before having a day off, plus I got every other weekend off. Downside was working holidays - it was a pharmacy, after all. It just wasn't as productive as having 30-hour workweeks.

When you are waiting for certain processes, you are in work. You are unavailable for other activities such as gardening, picking up the kids from school or meeting friends. Well strictly speaking anyway ... but even if you can wangle your way to these things you're still on the hook for work and if something comes up you have to respond. This is all billable time IMO.

Sometimes, but largely no, and I (mainly) enjoy my work too. But I now have a young family, and was feeling like I didn't have enough time for them or my side projects.

The CEO of this company also said that he wished we could move to productivity based pay and that he thought this would be better for women because when they come back to work from having children they work less hours but in his opinion often still contributed the same as someone working full time.

> often still contributed the same as someone working full time.

Sounds like they are due a rise.

Is it something easily negotiable in big tech companies?

Depends on the company culture. I tried recently negotiating something like this, but they wouldn't even listen to me. I decided to quit.

I'm in the UK, and was working for a medium-sized Norwegian-based company that has since been gobbled up by an enormous Indian outsourcing company. I'm not sure how easy it would be to negotiate at the new company, but at the time all I had to do was ask. I also doubt it would have been quite so easy at most companies in the UK.

In the UK, employers are required by law to consider requests of flexible time arrangements like yours. They can refuse it, of course, but they have to do it in a reasonable manner and can be held accountable to a tribunal.

Legally, yes, but realistically I just can't see it being so easy in most companies. I'd like to think I was being too cynical though!

My ex-wife went to a 4-day workweek (with longer hours per day) for a few years, when our kids were smaller. A friend of mine did the same for a bit (albeit, to be fair, in a pretty small company).

I'm sure there are plenty of people who were refused the chance (some companies can be atrociously dickensian even today...); but on average, flexible arrangements are less uncommon than you might think.

Good point, I was forgetting that not everyone may have the luxury that I had of dropping 20% of my salary without any real problem.

  I just can't see it being so easy in most companies.
At my employer, there are more new mothers working 2-3 days a week in the HR department than in any other department in the company - so making it easy is in their interests :)

a similar arrangement is of great interest to me.

I've found one or two resources online [0] that discusses how to set up an arrangement like this, as it obviously requires some delicacy and evidence of competence, etc.

I am quite junior in the industry, but I am working in the direction of an official four-day work week.

I wonder if you might be able to share some resources that were useful to you, in working in this direction.

Thanks, /u/GordonS!

[0] https://codewithoutrules.com/saneworkweek/

I'd love to help, but honestly, the only resource I used was the company's 'employee handbook'! All I did was ask HR and my Norwegian manager if it was OK, and they said 'no problem!'.

There are 3 factors I think made it so easy for me:

1. I'd been with the company a long time, had a senior architect role, and at the time there had been something of an employee exodus - I think they were a bit afraid of losing me at an important time in various customer projects, and wanted to keep me happy!

2. The company was Norwegian, and the Norwegians are famously liberal on employee welfare

3. In the UK, employers legally must seriously consider requests for part-time working

Thanks for this extra information! It makes sense.

I'm in the US - there's a trend to over-work here, but I'm already comfortable pushing against that.

Now, I just have to get really really good at delivering value.

Then figure out some unique work arrangements!

Thanks again!

Depends on the workplace culture.

Some places you can't negotiate down to 40 hours a week. Those places you quit.

It's somewhat surprising (and not really) that more companies are not competing with each other seriously on real benefits like this to attract and keep talent.

Most jobs provide no real extra benefit. They have a bunch of fake gimmicks like "snack room" or "monthly social event" (read: mandatory team building event but free for the company).

Four-day week for five-day pay is a serious and tangible benefit that a smart company could provide and it would give them a strong hiring/culture advantage for a long time.

That's a 20% reduction in work hours. To me it seems very doable if you build a good high-productivity culture in the company. Meaning everyone kind of knows they have less time to screw around so you save all that for your 3 days off work, and 4 days it's high productivity work.

If this increases productivity by 10%, the cost to the company is the other 10%.

Also consider that 1.5 hours is 18% of the work day. Many companies easily and carelessly waste that much every day.

The wage suppression and funneling of profits back up to the executive level already demonstrates that companies aren't really interested in keeping or attracting talent.

Large corporations have succeeded at crushing working-class unions and convinced most white collar workers that they're not in their interests, even as working conditions and compensation for white collar workers slide downward (either directly, through abuse of things like salaried status to get unpaid overtime, or as they're extracted by various forms of rent-seeking like healthcare or housing costs).

Since there's essentially no check on their power and the American economy is tilting more and more towards favoring corrupt monopolies, why offer anything more than what they absolutely have to?

I know some people who do that in big techs, but I've always wondered how that works. My work doesn't really fit in a well defined bucket of "days". Sometimes we have deadlines and Ill work on Sunday. Sometimes I'll have a meeting with someone in an international office and have to accommodate their schedule (sometimes they do the reverse). Sometimes I just have bad days and say "f it" and just stay home. The job gets done, everyone's happy.

Changing from that fluid "as long as shit gets done" schedule to a specific "you now work for days" gets really weird to me. Do I have to work at least 4 days now? What happens with crunch time? What happens if there's an emergency and I end up working on the 5th day, do I get overtime?

Then what happens during perf review? there's already a 500% difference in output between 2 random engineers, and it's already hard to figure out if they're just better, working longer, or what. Comparing the output of a 4 day/week vs a 5 day/week one to make sure the former doesn't get penalized gets tricky.

I mean, if it works at the likes of Google, so I assume people have the answers to these questions. I'm genuinely curious.

" What happens with crunch time? "

Managers actually plan, and stop relying on it. Crunch time is not something that should exist, as it's just punishing employees for the inability of management to make a sane schedule.

The majority of the time, totally agree with you. But the real world has certain dates that matter, and something things go wrong. Someone gets sick. Someone gets pregnant (I guess something might have gone right rather than wrong here, but you get the point). A server goes down. Shit happens. There's only so much buffer time that's practical to allocate. And black Friday doesn't move.

Require "crunch time" to be fairly compensated as it should be (overtime rate) and see how quickly and suddenly crunch time is not needed anymore.

At most companies "crunch time" is just a label stuck on "squeezing salaried employees for every last drop of juice".

When there's no penalty on the company for needing crunch time, suddenly they find themselves needing a lot of it.

You can easily see how nonsensical all of this corporate garbage is by hypothetically flipping it around to the benefit of employees and think about how they would react instead.

Hey boss it's "quiet time" can I go home an hour early for 2 weeks? No ... DING DING!

So don't expect it to be ok to ask me to stay an hour late because it's "crunch time".

Same thing applies to "as long as shit gets done". They always adjust that so that somehow the amount of shit that is expected to get done is more than you can manage in a day. Never the other way around.

No company says "hey enough shit got done for today and it's 3PM so go home and see you tomorrow". No in that case you keep working and get more shit done.

Let's not dress it up, it's all corporate psychological warfare.

Your post reminds me of just how spoiled I am, and I understand the problem with my understanding of the situation might be exactly that. I totally worked for companies that match what you describe.

My current employer though? If we had crunch time and then told my boss I was gonna go home an hour early and do 4 days a week for the next 2 weeks to make up for it? No brainer, they'll say yes. It's also not that uncommon for managers to send people home if they shipped a lot of stuff that day.

I'm a manager myself, and I frequently had to have the talk with my reports to tone it down. The last thing I want is burnt out employees. I've actively told some to calm down and work less.

Then start earlier. I have no sympathy whatsoever for managers that push crunch on their employees. If the date doesn't get met, that's entirely on management.

Your working hours may be fluid, but the workload can't be arbitrary; when you say "as long as shit gets done", someone must have an idea of how much shit you should be able to get done in a regular week. So it's just a case of reducing that expectation by 20%.

I'll be honest, while I've worked at companies that were pretty darn good at estimation, I've never worked somewhere where people were able to guess within a 20% error margin how long arbitrary tasks should take. Especially since any given task has a potentially infinite amount of solutions, and solution picks depend on time constraints. If you constrain that time by an extra 20%, it might just be that a weaker solution ends up picked...and without doing the work myself, I can't always easily tell if the right one was picked or not and have to just trust that the person did things right.

Which for an individual totally works and solves the problem. Just trust. Unfortunately people also like fairness in pay and compensation...and that start making things tricky.

"Four-day week for five-day pay is a serious and tangible benefit that a smart company could provide and it would give them a strong hiring/culture advantage for a long time."

Plus you can rent out the office on Fridays as shared office space. WIN.

It doesn't suprise me - at least in the UK (and I get the impression it's basically the same outside of SV), companies don't seriously compete on benefits other than pay at all.

Not to be that guy, but we all knew that "Less stress" and "better work life balance" would result from working one day less a week, but it doesn't talk about productivity or revenue or any of that. I don't think you can realistically call this a "success" if it's not something most businesses could afford to do, and if there was a productivity loss on par with the 20% of work missed then...they're just paying more for less? Am I missing something here?

I've been doing a four day week since starting at a place that was willing to put up with my shit. You'd have to talk to my boss for actual numbers, but I feel much more productive:

* I usually have one or two major goals for the week, and four days to get there. I find it easier to reason about what I'm going to get done and how when there are fewer, longer days to work with, and I feel less interest in wasting time.

* I'm more comfortable focusing on days when I'm at work, and I'm more comfortable working a bit longer to get my stuff done, because I don't have to try to do my laundry and sweep the floors and get the groceries when I get home. (Although I realize it helps not having kids to look after, yet, so ymmv).

* I can do my dentist appointments and haircuts on my weekday off, so I rarely have to mess with my schedule or take off early.

* My weekends feel long enough. I always get back to work with a clear head. Mondays feel nice.

* I have not once told someone at work "nope, I can't do that, I don't have enough time." Will update if that changes :)

* I get to spend Friday hacking on personal projects when I feel like it. I haven't been able to do this in years, and sometimes it even benefits my employer. Free training!

I once worked at a place where everyone did a four day work week, and it was awesome. The big meetings were always on Tuesday, and we worked lengthy days (8:30-ish am to 5:30 pm), but that meant there was always room to do stuff right, without rushing. That includes taking time for tea.

I've also recently made the change to a four day week, working from home, after years of a five day, work from office job. My experience mirrors that of the study. I'm more focused during work and don't feel that my productivity has dropped at all. The company I work for has been running with this model for over 5 years successfully with a high levels of morale and productivity.

From: https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/aud...

They've apparently reported no drop in overall productivity, i.e. Four days' work is equal to the old five days work, an increase in productivity per day.

That doesn't make any sense. A 32 hour work week is not nearly enough hours to make an additional 8 hours pointless. That's a full 25% of your work week so far. Maybe if we were talking reducing 60-80 hour weeks to 40, maybe. But come on.

You're assuming those 40 hours are used all productively. I don't think it's wildly off to assume that 8 hours of the 40 hour week are basically wasted because people like playing around once their concentration is gone.

Plus on friday, people tend to be a lot less productive.

It absolutely does. In modern companies many employees spend at least an hour a day (and in many cases 2-3 hours for less motivated employees) dicking about on social media, reading the news etc. If the change in working conditions comes with a reduction of this kind of messing around and more work focus, I could see it easily having a profound impact on productivity.

This definitely seems like it's true. I wonder if there have been any reputable studies or surveys on how much time office employees waste on average like this?

There isn't a single human being in this world working 40 hours/week being productive for every single hour of their workweek.

That's a ridiculous claim.

Mine? If so... It's called "hyperbole". If not, well, yeah, claiming that anyone can be productive for 40 hours a week in a desk job for their whole lives is pretty ridiculous.

I'm honestly not surprised by the results, and believe them. Especially for things like programming

Everybody at my job is always complaining about how busy they are, yet the office is suspiciously empty on Fridays.

It is a shame that we live in that culture in which you need to constantly pretend to be overworked in order to be seen as productive and efficient.

I agree with you, a lot of people in Silicon Valley are taking it easy one or two days at week while working from home, or leaving early while still pretending they are working 15 hours a day.

We should have a healthy debate about that

Unfortunately businesses (and especially those in Silicon Valley) are obsessed with the idea of looking productive. The amount of work done doesn't particularly matter; it's far easier to point to the plucky young SDE killing themselves by working 80 hour weeks at lower productivity levels rather than the developer who does his 40, gets shit done and then goes home.

There's this strong concept of self-sacrifice as a way of ensuring company success. Sacrifice your life, sacrifice your friends and family for the sake of the company mission. It's only when people start demanding better hours and less abuse will a debate start to arise. And it likely won't be one with a respectful tone.

I agree, but in tech and other highly paid job, workers are actually PROUD to work long hours (and sometimes weekend).

There is that whole narrative that was created that working in a startup/big tech company for long hour is really cool.

People are lying to themselves and to each other to fit into that narrative (Some are really working like crazy, but not the majority of the ones saying so).

I don't think it is going to change anytime soon.

I see this mentality a lot and I just don't understand it.

It's an especially odd thing to say when you're all working on the same team, doing similar work: it kind of translates as "I'm so inefficient it takes me twice as many hours to do the same work as the rest of you! Go me!"

Looking very busy makes people feel needed and non-replaceable.

Also work is the only activity portrayed as useful and therefore meaningful, while spare time is expected to be filled with mindless entertainment.

No amount of debate, or even enthusiastic agreement, on the part of the "we" that would see this message, would ever result in meaningful changes, if this trend is being driven/caused by upper management.

I posit that it is, much like the trend toward open office plans (which have seen plenty of discussion, if not healthy debate).

Come the end of the day I'm way less productive that the start. It has nothing to do with pretending. I'm just not able to think as clearly or solve problems as quickly.

It's not about being productive and efficient. It's about the company wanting to make sure they've got full value out of you. If you're not working at capacity then they're wasting money.

> complaining about how busy they are

It's an excellent way to protect yourself from actually having to work too much : always act and pretends like you're super busy. People will bother you less. My productivity increased a lot since I started acting busy to deflect non sensical requests and questions

> Everybody at my job is always complaining about how busy they are

Probably busy browsing social media and updating their pinterest. It's a lot more exhausting than people give it credit for.

It's probably not a full 20% loss, but I think your point still stands. To expand a bit:

It seems to me that the only way they could work a day less and not affect the companies productivity is if those employees did nothing during that day anyway. Say that in a work week an employee produced 100 units of work (feel free to substitute this with your favorite productivity microbenchmark). Thus, with the 5 day work-week each day the employee must produce around 20 units of work. Say you reduce that to 4 days, so now each day the worker must produce 25 units of work to be as productive. It follows that in order to work one less day per week the worker must work 25% more per day or overall productivity will suffer.

Imagine that your company implements something like this, suddenly per-day expectations go way up. Can you complete that meeting at 125% speed? Will your builds finish 25% faster? Can you increase your typing speed by 25%? Can you dig that ditch in 3 hours instead of 4? Can you clear tables 25% faster? I don't think anyone wants the consequences of this.

The only way I can remotely see this working out is for the employers of salaried info-workers in high profit-margin industries. For someone employed in a manual or skilled labor position it may be impossible or outright dangerous to attempt to complete tasks at 125% speed. I could however see this being a neat benefit that employers like the Silicon Valley types offer to outbid the competition, but I don't think this is practical for the economy in general.

>It seems to me that the only way they could work a day less and not affect the companies productivity is if those employees did nothing during that day anyway.

An alternative would be that the 4-day schedule boosted employee efficiency by enough to make up for missing day 5.

Stress often degrades performance, particularly when it's chronic. I don't find it incredible that giving employees an extra day for their non-work duties/joys might increase their efficiency 20%.

>I don't find it incredible that giving employees an extra day for their non-work duties/joys might increase their efficiency 20%.

Note that the employees must improve their efficiency by more than 25% for this to benefit the employer, and that they must do this every single day.

I can easily imagine that Monday mornings would be much more pleasant with a 4-day work week, but beyond that first morning I think it would increase stress. If every day I came to work knowing that my employer expected 125% out of me that day I think I would burnout much faster.

"Can you complete that meeting at 125% speed"

I think everyone who ever has had a tech job knows that yes, you can. Parkinson's law is a thing.

I can run 1 mile much faster than I can run 3 miles. And that holds true day after day.

Another way to look at things is to use the 4-day week as the baseline. Add another day of work and people can only consistently perform at 80% without burning out.

Now, I'm not saying that I believe this is the case--that most companies can cut down to a 4-day week without hurting productivity long-term. Just that your argument isn't intuitive or obvious on its face, and I could see the data going both ways, or simply being a mixed bag.

>I can run 1 mile much faster than I can run 3 miles.

This ignores the fact that employers don't pay you for how fast you run, but actually by how far you run in a day. Only the employee cares about how fast they can run.

Can you get by with 20% fewer meetings? Hells yes. How about 30% fewer to leave more time for work within the four days? Even better

Your analysis is numerical nonsense.

Work is not divided into even units completed at a constant linear rate over the course of the day. It's a wide variety of different actions, and the time taken to complete each will vary wildly depending on tiredness, stress and morale.

Some tasks may take the same amount of time regardless, but some can drastically reduce. A well rested developer may realise the solution to a bug in a few minutes that would take them hours to solve on less sleep. Or indeed, avoid causing the bug in the first place.

>Work is not divided into even units completed at a constant linear rate over the course of the day

You are correct, work is not distributed evenly throughout the day. But this doesn't matter to the employer. Your employer could care less how fast you complete a "days worth of work", all that matters is that each day you complete a "days worth of work". For employers of mostly hourly workers, this will change to an "hours worth of work", but the concept remains the same: the rate at which work gets done is unimportant next to the amount of work that gets done.

The criteria you give as affecting the productivity of workers is tiredness, stress, and morale, all of which I would assert decrease throughout the day. Wouldn't it then be more productive then for the employer to simply send the employee home earlier once they have lost their productivity? I think so, but employers would start to wonder why they ever paid for those non-productive hours in the first place, and that might have more sinister consequences for the worker.

It's not obvious to me that taking a day out of the work week is the best way to approach this. I think just talking with your employees to see how they're doing then adjusting their hours accordingly would be vastly more effective.

Havent RTFA but I heard an interview with the CEO where he said he read that the average employee is only productive for 2-3 hours per day. Thats why he decided to give this a try.

>...the average employee is only productive for 2-3 hours per day

This sounds true to me, so let's assume that it is. If the average employee was unproductive for most of their day it stands to reason that employers would have a great incentive to only employ workers during their productive hours. Assuming the average employee is only productive for three hours a day, the employer is overpaying their employees by about 60%.

The problem seems to be how to eliminate the unproductive hours in a way that also benefits the worker. The way I see things working out is employers asking more of their employees for a smaller amount of compensation. Great for the employer, but I really don't think this is the kind of worker empowerment people are hoping for.

"It seems to me that the only way they could work a day less and not affect the companies productivity is if those employees did nothing during that day anyway."

OR, if work-disrupting absences (appointments, etc) were all scheduled for the weekday off, rather than being distributed through the week and interfering with meetings, collaboration, etc.

“Employees designed a number of innovations and initiatives to work in a more productive and efficient manner, from automating manual processes to reducing or eliminating non-work-related internet usage,”

I’d be more interested in studies showing that you get more productivity by leaving at 4pm than 5pm since that’s when everyone stereotypically starts to slack and goof around on until 5pm anyway.

> Am I missing something here?

You missed:

"Staff stress levels decreased by 7% across the board as a result of the trial, while stimulation, commitment and a sense of empowerment at work all improved significantly, with overall life satisfaction increasing by 5%."


"Employees designed a number of innovations and initiatives to work in a more productive and efficient manner, from automating manual processes to reducing or eliminating non-work-related internet usage,"

tl;dr: (Sometimes, maybe, for some time) decrease of work time is compensated by increase in productivity,

Neither of these quotes, nor anything in the article, claims that productivity levels were equal to what they were with a 5 day week, let alone increased.

How you derived that tl;dr is beyond me, you can't just draw your own conclusions and call it a summary.

> Academics studied the trial before, during and after its implementation, collecting qualitative and quantitative data

All the quantitative measurements given in the article are about the employees' happiness. Of course they felt they had a better work/life balance! Of course they felt less stressed! Of course they said they had more time to spend with their family!

They'd probably feel even better getting paid for five days and working three - and why stop there? Why not two, or one, or zero?

I don't doubt that most people in white collar jobs can be just as productive in four days, with the right incentives, as they currently are in five. But it would be nice, if only to justify the headline, to see metrics from the company's side rather than the parenthetical mention of "employees performing better in their jobs". Did they set up more trusts? Did they draft more legally rigorous wills? Did their customers report higher satisfaction and bring more repeat or referral business? If the "studies" aren't complete nonsense, the numbers were measured for these things. But then why aren't they reported with the same breathlessness as "overall life satisfaction increased by 5%"?

> They'd probably feel even better getting paid for five days and working three - and why stop there? Why not two, or one, or zero?

As someone who went from working a 5-day week to a 4-day week, I feel like a 4-day week is a 'sweet spot' - I'm just as productive as I was working a 5-day week, but when I work any less than 30 hours a week (e.g. when I take a day off), my productivity always goes down.

I agree. Three days is too little (the "weekend" is too long), but four days is just right. I've worked four days for years, now I'm temporarily working five, and I am looking forward to going back. Two days aren't long enough to unwind from the other five, I keep feeling that the week is too long and the weekend too short.

Working four day weeks, every week I'd think "damn, is it the Thursday already?" and on Sunday I'd be looking forward to going to work on Monday

I always feel like I need at least one day to unwind and recover from working hard all week. But then it's Sunday and I need to get ready for the next week already. Would be great to have one day to not be recovering or preparing for the next work week.

It sounds like every week there's a holiday. Weeks with a holiday are awesome.

Yeah, it's exactly like that. Every Friday is a holiday.

But without the holiday traffic.

> As someone who went from working a 5-day week to a 4-day week, I feel like a 4-day week is a 'sweet spot' - I'm just as productive as I was working a 5-day week, but when I work any less than 30 hours a week (e.g. when I take a day off), my productivity always goes down.

Perhaps - but I suspect it depends on the person and the details of both job and workplace.

I spent about 6 years working a 3-day, and it went really well. However, it was more vulnerable to constant-cost outside factors like "unneeded meetings".

> The data is bad

Let me support with an anecdote!

These studies always seem to make an implicit assumption of memorylessness which I don't think is well justified. It's the same with things like the Laffer curve - why would we assume that any specific days-per-week (or tax rate) has a specific output?

It seems much more likely to me that the act of changing it has a positive affect on productivity - but this is obviously a more short term gain.

The Laffer curve is actually based on sound economics though. A reduced tax rate keeps money invested in the market, as well as increasing investment incentives. I don't see the similar underlying logic here. The employee has less resources (hours in the week), and their incentives remain mostly unchanged.

Based on the reported outcomes it seems like it may have tapped into some discretionary effort, but doing that over a short period isn't especially remarkable, and I'd say there are easier and more sustainable ways to achieve that.

Because most people reading it are employees, and as such, really are not going to care about the business side of things. Especially given the last 30 years of business gobbling up all the gains of increased productivity, and leaving workers the scraps.

Society should definitely have a debate about working less. Right now we are very productively warming up the planet 40 hours a week. Just working less is a big part of the solution.

As I was writing this comment I opened [0]. Fascinating read.

"The front runners for lowest average weekly work hours are the Netherlands with 27 hours,..."

"The New Economics Foundation has recommended moving to a 21-hour standard work week to address problems with unemployment, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, overworking, family care, and the general lack of free time."

Let's get away from the notion that 40 hours is the norm.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_time

Assuming that cutting work hours per position would allow for more positions. How would this achieve both less unemployment and less carbon emissions? Would you not need to choose one over the other?

Moving to 21-hour week is almost 50% reduction from the current level. But unemployment is not 50%, it's much much lower. I guess it's a matter of degree. If reduction of working hours is radical enough it could reduce both unemployment and emissions.

I have been thinking about this a lot.

On average, each year I use some of my PTO to be able to take some 3 day weekends which I really enjoy for going outdoor.

This means that I have had some ground to compare 4 day weeks and 5 day weeks. Based on my observation, my output is almost exactly the same. I feel like in a 5 day week, there is at least one day where I feel unproductive, or just wait to coordinate with other people. Since I'm officially paid on that day, it feels like an unproductive day at work.

In a 4 day week, I usually feel like each day has been productive. I sometimes agree to connect on the 5th day, for very specific events, but with no guarantees or expectations on my side. As such, the 5th day feels like I'm 100% off.

This sounds awesome but it only works for time-insensitive service provision. Where there's a relatively fixed amount of work to do, but you don't have to constantly be in contact with your customer.

I'm a contractor. I have to pick up the phone any time of day or night or I lose a client. Most of my friends and family work at varying levels of healthcare provision. They can't just send everybody home on Friday. They can't even do that at the weekend. And retail faces similar issues. Plus they're still fighting online sales.

Estate planners are basically the slowest possible service. They could probably work a two day week and let the answerphone and inboxes pick up the grunt work. It's neat that this works for them, but —and this isn't just jealousy— I don't expect this to become widespread any time soon.

Not everyone would be off the same days. In one position I worked we did 12 hour shifts that included a paid lunch. The schedule was 3 days work 4 days off, then 4 days work 3 days off. In a two week period you actually worked 84 hours instead of the normal 80 hours in two week. The difference though was we accomplished a lot in the 3 or 4 days of work because there wasn't enough time in the week to procrastinate too much. Keep in mind this was a 24/7 team environment and it was organized so that your alternates (people on opposite schedule) would take over anything you didn't finish and vice versa.

They could hire enough people to where there would be enough people for every day, yet everyone still gets to work 4 days.

Hire more people to handle the same workload? How are you paying for that?

The NHS in the UK —where the employees would most benefit from something like this— is right at the other end of the spectrum in terms of capacity. They are s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d. Long rotas. Unsociable hours. Poor cover. Almost no redundancy.

Throwing more people at the problem would certainly help and there are other issues to do with training and retention, but even if you fix that, it'll eventually come down to money.

It's not just the employees who would benefit. There's a structural debt building up which will need to be paid and patients are suffering, too. It's false economy.

I feel 3 days, minimum, makes the most sense. You have a day for personal errands, a day dedicated to family activities, and a day for rest and relaxation. As it is, time is hyper squished on the weekends, at least for me it is.

Back in 1974 there was a six month spell where the UK worked 3 days a week - to conserve power and coal during a miners strike.

With a 40% reduction in working hours, UK productivity dropped just 4%. (Government's own figures)

I'm not in the least surprised this experiment is a success. I am surprised such things haven't become more common.

I seriously belive if work weeks were 4 days a lot of the world’s problems would be resolved.

> Two-hundred-and-forty staff at Perpetual Guardian, a company which manages trusts, wills and estate planning, trialled a four-day working week over March and April, working four, eight-hour days but getting paid for five.

Similar trails were conducted in the eldercare in Sweden or Finland, I have forgot exactly where. The conclusion was that a shorter work week meant that less work got done, resulting in worse service for the citizens. Which seems intuitive. This exercise can't be replicated in other sectors, like construction, teaching, social work or garbage collection, without resulting in worse service or product.

However I do believe that there vast amount of worthless work being done. If you ever worked at a large cooperation you properly shuck your head on multiple occasions when reports, evaluations, surveys and such were being carried out involving multiple departments and requiring multiple approvals only to end unused in the trashcan. I have heard a number as high as 40% of work being done is essentially worthless, it serves no meaningful purpose and the people who made it could as well go home. Perhaps the example in the article is exactly this, the company were simply doing too much worthless work and the real success is realising this, stopping the madness and branding it as a success.

The problem is that this extra day will allow them to think of/execute their own plan... but I need them to be part of my plan and have the weekends JUST be for rest.

I can’t tell if this is satire, bald cynicism, or a heady mix of both :)

Same reason why there's plenty fud about universal basic income: it gives the workers leverage. When the people who do the worst jobs in terms of pay / working conditions / satisfaction could walk out any day and not be bankrupt you can't treat them like shit anymore.

What do you think I'm doing all day at work? Planning my own venture.

I actually do this too but I have to say it's hard to work 12h days and then work out and then hang out with the woman/friends/family and then build a business plan. I am a big fan of what three of my friends have done which is take a sabbatical to build a business plan and get fit. I'm not really complaining about my job but I am planning this for 2019 or 2020.

Most of the world isn't made up of Silicon Valley startup maniac types.

I've been working part-time for the past 6-7 years. I cannot even begin to imagine going back to full-time. 4-5 hours a day is maximum for intellectually-heavy job. Anything else is pure waste of time playing pretend. I could have been rich by working full-time all this time, but it's simply not worth to me. Even if I have nothing to do, it beats slaving away my time for someone else.

The place I'm working at right now doesn't calculate work hours by the week, but by the month. So you have a lot of freedom in moving your hours around. You could do 4x10h and take a day off each week, work on weekends and take another day off instead and so on.

I would be much happier if I could do 4x8h and have a 3-day weekend, but 4x10h works for now as well.

For maximum flexibility, and hopefully also some productivity gains, I'd implement a four-day work week by giving the employee ongoing discretion to use Monday, Wednesday, or Friday as their third "weekend" day, and encourage limiting meetings to Tuesdays and Thursdays, as much as possible.

This caters for everyone -- some employees would prefer to take Wednesdays off, while others would prefer three-day weekends. Some of the "work hard play hard" workers, though, would alternate between Mondays and Fridays off so every second weekend is four days long, giving plenty of time for hiking or travel. Others in the "work-life balance" crowd would want to continue working a 5-day week but only 6 hours each day, giving time for daily pickups from school or late night hobbies. Better limit those Tuesday and Thursday meetings to between 10am to 3pm, excluding lunch.

3 day weekends should be mandatory no matter what. Whether that's 4x10 or 4x8, I'm fine with either.

Four tens is a pretty great schedule. Those two extra hours somewhere in the day when there's usually not anybody working are almost as good for productivity as the other eight. And a day off during the week is worth its weight in gold for getting errands and all the other nagging little things that are a huge drag working the whole week.

If you work 8 hours a day, plus have to commute into a major city, your evenings are sort of already shot anyways. Working the extra two hours doesn't feel like much extra work and really doesn't feel like it interferes with evenings any worse. Plus usually one way on your commute is not during rush hour, so you save extra time that way too.

And yeah, the 10 hour days really give you a chance to spend longer periods of time being productive. You can get your meetings done and have bigger blocks of productive time during the day.

Unless you need to pick up or drop off kids at childcare services. An eight hour day, with commute time is often a rush against traffic to get to the centre before it closes. An extra two hours at the head of the day would mean I’d have to drop the kids off before the centre opens.

Obviously not an issue for everyone, but makes things complicated for a large part of the population with child caring obligations.

I would need at least 30 hours/week to be considered full-time and thus qualify for a visa.

In some countries that rule is 35 hours/week. So there is a difference between 4x8=32 or 4x10=40.

Presumably, that number would change.

Or, if the government in charge is hostile to immigration, it might not.

If you want to reduce the work week, support political candidates who advocate for that or run yourself. Progress is a function of effort put forth, not time.

This can also be achieved without political action.

E.g. in 3 last companies I worked for they have an unlimited vacation policy. It is not required by any legislation, but it's somehow in vogue now, I heard about many companies doing the same.

Unlimited vacation is a scam, where people end up taking less vacation either through fear, or pressure from peers and management. MANDATORY vacation is what should be the policy. You MUST take all of your vacation, no buy backs, no coming to work. The corporate world will amazingly survive without your presence, I promise.

My old job required me to take a minimum block of 2 weeks of vacation every year.

However, I don't think it was for altruistic reasons. In New Zealand, if you don't take your leave it accumulates. You could take no leave for 3 years, and you'd have 12 weeks of annual leave accumulated.

I've heard that a lot of financial companies require staff to take at least 1 block of leave per year, during which they are forcibly offline and their work is covered by a colleague. If someone is hiding something in their numbers, having someone else take over for a week or two is a really good way to uncover it...

Then if you resign without taking a single day of leave in 5 years, you receive 6 months of pay checks at once.

Which is why they want you to take your leave. It becomes a liability to the company to have that much owing.

Yeah, they would have forced me to take it, but I was the only person who knew how to keep all their legacy systems stable. I eventually managed to upgrade all of them, and resigned a week later after only taking about two weeks of leave over 5 years. I got a very nice final check out of it.

I just asked about it in my current company.

They said that taking 2 weeks as a single slab is OK at any time, taking more than that requires a bit of coordination and paperwork. Taking smaller pieces along the year is trivial; I did it many times on a reasonably short notice.

That is, sometimes it's not a scam.

If it is not enforced by law, it can be taken from you at anytime, and interpreted in any way the company sees fit.

Your vacation time is whatever the company is required by law to pay out upon your separation from the org. Anything above that is “graciously” provided to you, at their discretion.

It's written in a contract between me and the company, and cannot be unilaterally changed. The language is pretty clear, and matches the company's actions. It's not "graciously provided", it's contractually obligatory.

You're trying to remind me that the company is not my friend, it's a machine. I fully agree. But certain things, like not making me leave the company just to have a 3 months of vacation, are just profitable for the company. The same way paying me my salary is profitable for the company, and they won't cut it unless things would go really bad for the company.

> it can be taken from you at anytime, and interpreted in any way the company sees fit.

I worked at a company with a not-unlimited vacation policy and this is roughly how shutdown periods worked anyways. You were forced to spend vacation or take the period unpaid. Unfortunately they rarely seemed to be communicated more than a couple of months in advance..

Taking unpaid leave works pretty well in New Zealand.

A few years ago, I interviewed with a company that did both: unlimited PTO with an enforced minimum.

> The corporate world will amazingly survive without your presence, I promise.

I wonder why do they pay me so much for my presence then.

Because you provide value, even though you are replaceable at the drop of a hat and can backfilled by others while temporarily on vacation.

Make no mistake, you’re out the door the moment you’re considered to no longer provide value.

Backfilling is of course doable, though not as easy; maybe it's because neither me nor those who I backfill hold junior positions.

> you’re out the door the moment you’re considered to no longer provide value.

I'm totally fine with that. My job is not my family. I'm not my job. I always keep a healthy distance.

Unlimited vacation is in vogue because it allows a company to avoid accruing a liability for unused leave.

Were those small companies? Where they software (or some other digital work) companies?

We live in a world where companies go to extreme lengths to screw their employees over - everything from paying for overtime to healthcare. It might not be easy to change their mindset.

But I do agree it would be nice if good changes like this are achieved voluntarily, and not through legislation

Some small, some big. Yes, they were software companies.

Indeed, where workforce is hard to acquire, companies' best interest is to make it comfortable for that workforce to work. Where the workforce is abundant, there's no such incentive. This can be inside the same company, e.g. I bet Amazon has different conditions for its senior-position software developers and junior-position warehouse workers.

Which is exactly why it must be codified into law (versus “This can also be achieved without political action.”).

In addition to the other issues brought up, if you're the one constantly taking vacation, despite all of your other work being top-notch, you may be looked over for promotions/raises/etc.

It does sound like your company is trying to do well by it's workers, so hopefully they'll not be giving into that bias.

From TFA I could see that work-life balance is now considered good by 74% of employees, 24% up from the 5-day week. Still pretty far from 100%.

The article does not seem to mention the resulting performance of the company as a whole. I think that should be as front and center as the work-life balance satisfaction figure.

> Employees designed a number of innovations and initiatives to work in a more productive and efficient manner, from automating manual processes to reducing or eliminating non-work-related internet usage,” said Delaney.

Employees eliminating non-work Internet usage on their own accord sound a bit implausible, adding to the general feeling of not listing all the salient points that the article invokes in me.

Really? I eould certainly do this if it contributed to the company continuing with a 4 day week!

Would you suggest it?

I mean, I can see how it could be an employer's initiative. If it's the employees' initiative, I think the situation might be a bit complicated inside. The complications could be an important part of how the experiment went on.

I'd be happy to get a five-day work week.

Source: salaried American software engineer.

Ignored this when it first showed up, but Hacker Newsletter resurfaced it for me.

Given a sub-40 hour week, and my own penchant to follow the path of least resistance, I think a happy medium between employer/employee would be making sure the employees are using the time help them help themselves. E.g., use the extra time for a massage, yoga, hiking, cooking class, or whatever usually gets ignored because of work/life interference.

Most comments seem to focus on productivity. I have been working 3-4 days a week for the last 5 years. Not sure about productivity but I am definitely happier this way.

Curious if 37signals still does this during the summer.

People working 10 hours a day or more should have this option as they are already putting in 40 hours in 4 days. Really puts the absurdity of unpaid overtime into perspective. This idea of working only four days is only as absurd as the idea of working unpaid overtime. We're fine with one so we should be fine with the other.

The really unfortunate thing is that this is simply not a change that corporations will make on their own accord. It's game theory; without top-down labor regulation, companies that remain on five-day workweeks will have greater productivity than four-day work weeks. So it's everyone or no one.

You assume companies are actually effective at maximizing productivity, and make rational decisions towards that goal. But, for example, I work in an open-office environment, and studies have pretty conclusively shown open-office environments are bad across the board: disease, stress, worker unhappiness, and productivity. Yet, the fad has caught on in SV.

All of Dilbert is a testament to companies not being effective at maximizing productivity.

It's a big change. Big changes scare people, and people would rather assume the simple view that if four days is good, five must be better. Another mythical man-month.

In fact, if five is so clearly better than four, why not six? The first company to do it would have an advantage while the rest caught up!

You're not wrong. But I think companies are addicted to simple metrics, despite our industry's ballyhooed trust in data, and so face time trumps efficient use of time. My point was that it will take legislation at the top, whether pushed through via collective bargaining or other means, to force companies to adopt a four day week schedule.

Lots of US federal government agencies and contractors offer 4 day weeks on alternating weeks. I’ve heard it referred to as RDOs (regular days off) or 9 9s (9 9-hour days instead of 10 8-hour days). At the offices I’m familiar with, almost everyone does it.

If a serious percentage of companies started giving people Friday off (or maybe Monday, which is worse?) at some point everyone would do it since people wouldn't be able to get work done on that day. It could happen.

I work for a defense contractor in Los Angeles and that's exactly what's happened in our industry. I'm not sure which company was first, but nearly all the defense corporations here are on the 9/80 schedule where you work 9 hours/day (80 hours for the 2-week pay period) and get every-other Friday off.

This could calm the inevitable social unrest once the massive wealth inequality in the West (particularly) the US becomes more apparent to people.

I wish this would catch on, but the only way I feel like most companies could be convinced is to cut salaries by 20%

Does this simply reduce social mobility ?

If you are already with a strong employer (e.g. banks, google, utilities, monopolies, university) then yay for u.

But if u r in a 2nd tier employer - then u lose the opportunity to out-compete them and advance ?

I'm sorry I'm not following. Could you explain in depth a bit more?

Hypothetically, an economy will split into top tier employers (say 10%), and the rest.

The top employers, are usually quasi-monopoly or rent-seeking. So these employees can in fact be a bit less productive, and can enjoy the 4 day week, and the employer can remain highly profitable.

The rest of the economy is a lot more competitive. These employers already offer lower wages. With 4 -day weeks, these employers will basically get 20% less revenue per employee, and have to cut back even further.

So now, the inequality between these 2 sectors will simply become even larger.

This is obviously a very gross generalization.

EDIT: the counter argument is that in an advanced economy, many many more employers are service-oriented and in the 1st group.

Fridays off is the best argument for giving Islam greater influence in the US. And the US can water down just about any religion, though the public might enjoy a beheading.

I'd love a 30 hr week, then I could get 2 full time jobs.

But the employees will use that extra day to search for another job. Not good for business. It’s better that the employees have their time stretched thin so that commitment and dependence is kept high.

This is how we do it and it’s great. Honestly I don’t think employees even realize this is our reasoning.

Could you please work on making your comments more substantive? Broad claims without evidence just kick up silt.


You have to be joking right ? Because this is pure idiocy.

You can visit job sites through your mobile phone whilst your having coffee or lunch and attend interviews when you're claiming to be sick or have some family commitments.

If I am looking for another job I can assure you I am doing it 7 days a week and having an extra day off isn't going to change that.

...and then you reach your 30's and realize you're wasting your life in work.

Whoa, there. He didn't say they do that to management.

If only weeks were 8 days long then I could work two full-time jobs.

You must work for Apple :P

not sure if satire

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