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Four-day week trial: study finds lower stress but no cut in output (theguardian.com)
635 points by uxhacker on Feb 19, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 221 comments

At Mobile Jazz (7 years old now) and Bugfender (4-5 years old now) we always had the rule, that people could choose to work as much as they want and when they went. As long as the output and quality was there. Obviously to achieve high quality output you need to be there at certain times (overlap with other team members) and you need to do a certain amount of hours. The problems we had because of this are almost no-existent (specific people that then ended up not staying very long in the company) and the advantages by far outweigh the "loss of control". In the end myself as a business owner and managers have far less stress by trusting people and empowering them to do great work.

With this framework, people will take breaks whenever they feel like. They go doing sports, play with their kids, run errands. They even take whole days off to go surfing or skiing. And I really don't mind. Because I do the same.

But then, if a server goes down late at night, people all the sudden show up by themselves and fix problems. Also on a rainy Saturday or Sunday, people will all the sudden be online and working.

Give people the opportunity to be in charge of their own work schedule, give them the responsibility, make them feel that they're actually responsible and they will shine.

We also just released our company handbook which goes in a lot of detail on how we run a 20+ people remote business:

* https://mobilejazz.com/company-handbook (landing page, if you want to get email updates)

* https://mobilejazz.com/docs/company-handbook/mobile-jazz-com... (direct link to the PDF)

EDIT: Added some more details

How do employees know when good is good enough? When things get stressful and overwhelming at work, I look to my contractual hours per week and remind myself not to overdo it.

This is actually the downside of these "you decide" plans and why I absolutely hate "unlimited PTO" policies. Whenever it's up to me I end up taking less vacation than if I just had an allotted amount. People shortchange themselves because they don't want to inconvenience their team. And as an added insult, the company gets out of paying you for unused vacation when you finally burn out.

When I worked a Geckoboard they had a great system where you had unlimited paid time off, but you had to take at least 25 days off each year.

This, combined with colleagues visibly taking advantage of the time off available, helped ensure a healthy approach to unlimited time off.

>When I worked a Geckoboard they had a great system where you had unlimited paid time off, but you had to take at least 25 days off each year.

Thats doing it right. Or pay people for the vacation time they don't use.

I would expect that paying people for unused vacation would incentivize employees overworking themselves leading to reduced quality of output. In a sense, I expect that it would magnify the existing issues with unlimited PTO. It seems like this would be neither good for employee or employer.

Most companies only let you bank so many pto (Paid Time Off) hours and carry them over year to year. I think this came about because of accounting change where employee hours are considered a liability (Hours/Money owed for nothing in return), but I might be wrong on that.

As a result employees can't just bank their vacation hours and get a big payday when they leave. It tends to only take a couple years to get up to the max, and you end up with "use it or loose it" pto.

It's been accounting rules for a very long time. It's pretty much Accounting 101. If you accrue liabilities that you're obligated to provide (either in the form of employee time off or pay-out upon departure), that's a textbook liability.

Which is why employers almost always cap in some form or another; the exact mechanism is partially determined by state law.

I worked for a company once that, during a bad spell, eliminated an accrual cap to encourage people to bank vacation. The result was that a not small number of people who weren't really into taking vacation just let their balances balloon. The company eventually forced people to work down their balances.

>Hours/Money owed for nothing in return

From the business perspectice services rendered previously is "nothing", because you can't get any more value from that

People are technically already paid for their unused PTO when they leave a company with an allocated PTO/year (although this may vary between states). That was one of the reasons why I chose my current company, because I figured I'd make a little 'extra' money leaving after a year without taking any PTO. Personally, I did end up feeling a little burned out so I opted to actually start using my PTO, but it's nice to have the freedom either way.

What does it mean that you had to take 25 days off? What would they do to you if you didn’t?

> they don't want to inconvenience their team

This is is why it's important for team members to explicitly encourage each other to take breaks and vacations. I've often told a coworker, "stop working! Take a long weekend!".

I've seen companies set minimum time off, which can certainly simply the problem. (At risk of the Dilbert situation: "you need to get this done by end of year, and also take two weeks of holiday".) But ultimately, I think that's a road to this sort of cultural approach. Once people around you are taking time off, it becomes easy to justify taking time off. (And so, like most cultural things, you'd better have management doing it first.)

The best UPTO environment I've ever seen had managers who asked about time off in one-on-ones and pushed people who said "none" to take more. It also had a lot of acceptance for 'aimless' PTO; justifying your trip to the Andes is easy, but people take PTO more consistently if no one's expecting a better story than "sleep late and run some errands" or "play a new-release game".

> Once people around you are taking time off, it becomes easy to justify taking time off. (And so, like most cultural things, you'd better have management doing it first.)

Also once teams and management get used to people taking time off, the business processes also become more resilient to people missing for a week or two and taking PTO becomes less of a problem for everyone. Suddenly someone missing for a week is just not a big deal.

I'd never considered this explicitly, but it's an excellent point.

It occurs to me that Google somewhat famously adds artificial downtime to their services to make sure no one is relying on 24/7 uptime. I don't want to reduce people to server-equivalents, but I'll bet high vacation rates are a pretty good way of making sure no one relies too much on individual knowledge. Even from my personal experiences, lots of things get documented when the person who knows them well is heading out of town and there's a sudden scramble to formalize that knowledge.

You're generalizing based on your own behavior, but not everybody behaves that way.

I'm exactly opposite, and had no problem taking PTO when I worked at a company with an unlimited plan. Now that I have limited PTO again I hoard it and take less time off.

I don't feel inconvenienced when others take PTO, and I don't expect my taking PTO to inconvenience them.

The problem is, if it's not codified in law, there is no consistency. One person's gloriously well managed Unlimited PTO policy (congrats!) is another person's peer pressured non-usage.

"Unlimited PTO" is a marketing farce, no more, no less. If you want people to take 25 days a year off, give them 25 days of PTO and be on the hook for the liability if they leave. If you want to give them more time than that through an approval process, offer it! But don't say it's unlimited, because it isn't. And if you don't want one of your business perks to be pointed out as fraudulent, don't advertise it as such.

> The problem is, if it's not codified in law, there is no consistency.

A poorly codified policy is an implementation problem, and will be a problem for both limited and unlimited PTO policies.

> "Unlimited PTO" is a marketing farce, no more, no less. If you want people to take 25 days a year off, give them 25 days of PTO and be on the hook for the liability if they leave. If you want to give them more time than that through an approval process, offer it! But don't say it's unlimited, because it isn't. And if you don't want one of your business perks to be pointed out as fraudulent, don't advertise it as such.

The entire point is that the employer doesn't care how many days off people take each year. Employees can be responsible for deciding that for themselves. Some people don't want that extra responsibility, and I'd agree that they probably won't like unlimited PTO policies.

It would be ludicrous to outlaw unlimited PTO policies just because some people don't like them.

  The entire point is that the
  employer doesn't care how many
  days off people take each year.
Of course they do. Just they call it "abusing the policy" or "not getting your work done" and don't tell you what the lines you shouldn't cross are.

> Of course they do. Just they call it "abusing the policy" or "not getting your work done" and don't tell you what the lines you shouldn't cross are.

I don't know how many times I need to repeat this, but if your company doesn't communicate expectation it's a problem with the company, not with unlimited PTO policies in general.

If there's a trend that's affecting the industry as whole, and if most places are abusing that trend, then it's worth looking at the trend to see what's going not. It's not very helpful to say what you're saying when statistics speak otherwise. It's very lazy to say "it's an implementation problem" and is not giving the question enough thought.

So where are these statistics? All I've seen in this thread, and others on the topic, are anecdotes. If people are going to complain about how it didn't work for them then it's only fair to mention how well it worked for the company I was at.

I also disagree that my comments haven't been helpful. There's a difference between the concept of "unlimited PTO" and any particular implementation of it, and it's important to know where a problem is coming from. Perhaps there should be regulations around it, but getting rid of it entirely, as suggested elsewhere in this thread, isn't the answer.

We wouldn't ban all cars because one brand is unsafe, so let's not get rid of all unlimited PTO policies just because some companies do it wrong.

>All I've seen in this thread, and others on the topic, are anecdotes.

Great observation! Statistically, there are more anecdotes in this thread with employees with negative experiences with good ones. I think that's a great starting point.

And, as usual with self-reporting, accept that folks with experiences on the extreme are more likely to be motivated to speak up.

I don’t know about you, but any time off (even when unlimited) is still subject to approval by my manager.

If I take one day off 30 times a year nobody raises an eyebrow, but if I take 30 days off in one go it might.

> It would be ludicrous to outlaw unlimited PTO policies just because some people don't like them.

I can appreciate this opinion if you've had a good experience with an Unlimited PTO policy, but regulation isn't for the best experiences. Unlimited PTO is an HR/Marketing dark pattern.

EDIT: > It's disappointing so many people want to ruin things for everybody because they've worked at crappy companies in the past.

@jlarocco: I am disappointed you prioritize protecting your arrangement than the well being of others at crappy companies. As I mention in my other comments in-thread, you can still arrive at something similar to "Unlimited PTO" while still instituting regulations to prevent worker abuse (minimum PTO days issued + a process to request additional days). I do not understand the disdain for regulation that simply enforces what is being offered.

There has to be a limit somewhere though.

Say I booked the entirety of June off this year. Are they still cool with that? How about if I also decide I'd like July off too. That's an extreme I know but there's a limit somewhere.

I thought this was common sense, but can't you just ask? "Unlimited PTO" does not mean "do whatever you want". Your manager can deny requests when you have limited PTO, too, so I don't see what you're getting at.

FWIW we did have somebody take an entire month off to visit family in China. He was responsible for tons of code and functionality, and it worked fine because management knew about it and planned around it.

If you can't handle the responsibility, don't ruin it for everybody, just go work somewhere else.

I agree with you. I've seen people take 8 weeks for a similar reason. Over that time period they checked in, fixed a few bugs related to work they had done but were generally gone.

In a strict PTO environment that would have been almost impossible for them to do.

Some people are going to respond and be upset that they want to work exactly 8 hours, get exactly 41.5 hours of PTA and get paid that way. That's fine, although I hope they are giving the company back money for browsing HN.

I on the other hand like the freedom and flexibility that unlimited PTO provides along with a flexible work schedule. Do I end up working more? Probably, but I have way less stress. I much prefer working that hour on a rainy Saturday instead of the beautifully sunny Friday.

I've never worked at a place with unlimited PTO. I don't know. This is me asking :P

Only ever worked at UK companies where we get 5.6 weeks PTO as standard. Never had a request denied as long as I've given 2 weeks notice of a long'un

You're probably requesting with a degree of sense.

If you requested your 5.6 weeks off all at once and over an go-live date that you were 100% responsible for, you might receive a request to see if you could move those holidays a bit later

Booking those whole two months wouldn't even blow through standard 25 day allotment of PTO :) Which makes it even more obvious just how shortchanged you get with unlimited.

Unlimited PTO is not so much a marketing farce, though the ways it's promoted are. However, since it doesn't involve accrual and payout it's more of a tax scam on the back of employees (natch).

As a manager at various companies in the US, it's often been a struggle to get people to take their allotted PTO. And to get people to take 2 weeks off? Very infrequently. I had to make people take their PTOs.

Our European team colleagues? Not so much.

As others have mentioned, having a company minimum is a good idea. But you can also just give it to yourself: pick a number and make sure you take that many days off.

Current place I work has unlimited PTO, and I really like it. You do need to be careful not to fall into the trap of not using it, though.

I don’t understand this. Why would you not use it? There would be so many days where I just wake up and go: ‘No... not today.’ and stay in bed.

Then there’s still normal vacation trips to consider.

I can easily see myself using 40 days of PTO in a year.

With unlimited PTO and flexible schedule, I take way more time-off. Never will I give up my health, time-off for co-workers, they aren't family or friends, they are co-workers, who will replace you if you die tomorrow.

If I am on a limited PTO plan, California law guarantees me the right to cash out my unused vacation days when I leave the company.

It seems to me like it would be fair for companies to offer unlimited PTO as long as employees can cash out unlimited money when they leave. But for some reason, this is not often offered.

I currently have the most joyous of "unlimited PTO" policies. There's something in the handbook, which isn't that great, but I've been told that it's just there for documentation and we have no 'real' policy. YAY!

At trivago you can decide how many days to take off in a year, but German law stipulates that you have to take at least 24 (2 per month). One of my co-workers tried to never take vacation and HR made him stay home for all of December!

I've just started my first job with unlimited PTO, and I've never understood complaints like these. I can see how it isn't as amazing as a naive what's-on-the-tin reading would imply, but it seems to me that you can just set your bar at what a normal amount of vacation would be, plus a little bit if you feel like, since they're marketing it as "unlimited PTO". Eg, decide that three weeks is an appropriate, comparable amount, and then take three weeks off.

As I mentioned upthread, I've never had a job where I didn't work when and how much I wanted, go into the office when I felt like it, etc etc. I'm subject to the same pressures you describe, but it turns out they're really easy to handle: keep a rough eye on how many hours you're working.

The other day they had a rare beer release I wanted to go to in the middle of the day, on a Friday. I didn't have any meetings, so I "WFH" and worked 3-4 hours that day and spent the rest of the day drinking and getting dinner with a couple funemployed friends, including checking my email and responding to important ones for a few minutes every couple hours during the workday. I could've (and have in the past) written off those four lost hours of work as coming out of my effective productivity, but since this is a new job and I'm trying to hit the ground running, I just made it up in dribbles of an hour or two over the next week.

The dirty secret when people talk about being pressured at work is that 90% of the time, your employers are relying on you to do the work of pressuring yourself. If my employer wants me to work extra and go above and beyond, I make sure that it's explicit and metaphorically "on the record". Pulling all-nighters during crunch time or forgoing vacation for a long time should be banked as something you can draw on, giving you cover for taking a longer vacation or working shorter days after crunch time.

It's really up to you to set your work life balance, and the fears most people have about the consequences of doing so are largely (but not entirely) illusory.

The one major caveat here that I haven't ever had to face is if you're both at an abusive company and highly replaceable (eg feel like you couldn't get a similar quality job). In this case of effectively having a better job than you'd otherwise get, the power dynamic is markedly shifted and employers can get away with a lot. The only saving grace in this situation is if your more in-demand coworkers have healthy attitudes about work/life balance, since it's hard for management to crack down on individuals in a way that's perceived as unfair.

Come back in a year and tell us how this went.

Unlimited PTO can turn into unlimited working if your boss is really "good".

They don't, and there's a massive cultural imbalance. Buddy of mine works for a upto company in Portland but his colleague got a talking to for gasp taking 2.5 weeks off in a year. I too work for a up to company but I ALSO have a legally guaranteed minimum 21 days off a year.

There's ALWAYS a limit. Try taking a year long holiday and see how that goes. With UPTO the limit is up to your manager.

In an employment "at will" state(Oregon is one), there really is no such thing as a set amount of days. You could get 15 days off and be fired for taking 4 days off in the year.

So even if you have a set number of days, your manager can still fire you for taking them. Your manager can fire you or not fire you for any reason. So you could take 30 days off and not get fired if your manager doesn't want to.

With "at will" employment there really aren't any concrete rules in play. Everything is just at the discretion of the employer. Regardless of the employee handbook, PTO or really anything. You could be fired for coming in too early. Coming in too late. Not working on the weekends. Working on the weekends. Probably even something as silly as gaining too much weight. Really anything unless it is within a few specific protected classes such as race or sex.

The only variable that exists is whether or not the terminated employee would qualify for unemployment benefits.

Edit: I should mention this is US specific as most US states have "at will" employment laws.

You could get 15 days off and be fired for taking 4 days off in the year

For doing something that is specified in the employment agreement? Pretty sure that would fall under fraud/misrepresentation.

Absolutely not. I would encourage you to look into "at will" employment law in the US. The employee may have a case for receiving unemployment benefits in that situation, but it is completely within the legal rights of the employer to do that in the US if the state has employment "at will".

I would encourage you to look into "at will" employment law in the US

What makes you think I haven't, are you saying that there is no fraud exception? You don't go into any detail to support your "absolute" confidence.

It would be stupid though. They are better just firing for no reason.

Sure, but my point was that guidelines to expected pto help to make it clear what would be generally ok or not. Also unlimited pto means no cash out if indeed you are fired.

I think that where having a team comes in handy. When I used to be a freelancer I had exactly that problem. Being a perfectionist. But when working with a team, doing shared product testing and code reviews and other kind of evaluations gives over time a very clear measurement of what "the standard of good enough" is. And I guess that's different for each company. We definitely strive for excellent quality, but certainly not by sacrificing people or team happiness.

For me, having a clearly stated PTO policy saves me so much anxiety that I don't mind the minor(?) reduction in flexibility.

I'm mildly affected with Asperger's. There are many aspects of workplace culture that are obvious to other people, but which I take a long time to clue in regarding. This has included figuring out the reasonable boundaries for unlimited PTO in the past, especially when it required having to "read" my manager to figure out the acceptable timing and quantity of PTO.

My current employer strikes the perfect tone for me: they offer unlimited sick/family leave, but ask that we shoot for approximately N days of actual PTO per year. (Where N is clearly stated.)

I would hate that environment. I don't want to have to guess if I'm doing enough. I don't want to guess if I'm working 20 days more a year than another employee or 10 days less. I just want a negotiated amount of time off. If it's 10 days a year or 50 days a year at least know I can take them off 100% guilt free. If it's "take as much as you want" there will always be those who abuse the policy and those who under utilize.

What if 'enough' is not time-based? What if you just have to make sure that new versions are deployed and the service stays up and isn't being hacked? If you can do that with 2 days/week, more power to you. Or maybe you put 6 days/week in at the outset, as an investment so that in a few months you'll be able to work a lot less?

> Or maybe you put 6 days/week in at the outset, as an investment so that in a few months you'll be able to work a lot less?

There are two outcomes in that situation.

1. Great, so you've gotten Service Foo stable! It now needs minimal dev attention. Since there's no shortage of work that needs to be done, and you've got 3 days/week free, it sounds like you're free to work on Service Bar, in addition to Service Foo.

2. Great, so you've gotten Service Foo stable. Now that it needs half the development attention that it used to, we no longer need a full-time person on it. Since we don't have any more work, we're laying you off (Or, in a fairy tale, where, for whatever reason, your manager values your contributions for what they were, laying one of your co-workers off.)

Personally, I prefer outcome #1. I'm paid to be at work, and do things, and if I get my work done faster then estimated, I'll get more work. And that's fine. The alternative is much worse.

I think there's a happy medium. I have a personal target of 4 days/week (or equivalent), and so I don't mind optimizing existing work, and then taking on additional work, as long as it averages out to this healthy balance. I have found that the best motivator for me is a manager who is able to say "you've done great work, you can relax for a bit, take some time off". I'll work hard for them, knowing they have my back and I don't have to fight and scrape for well-deserved rest. If they won't say that, and will just let me work as much as I can, then I start making clear boundaries around my work; and overall I am less motivated to make things better.

I have never had a job that doesn't work like this (or rather, that I didn't treat like this) and frankly, it's a huge red flag for me to see an engineering job that doesn't. Given that engineering can require long periods of focused work, it's beyond me that a company would step in and decide the manner in which you get it done. Tangentially and less convincingly, I don't see a reason why if I'm twice as talented as someone else and want to work half as much, that shouldn't be okay, and we should be similarly compensated for having similar productivity.

It's to the point where it reminds me of jobs that force you to dress up in a certain way: I can't imagine your workplace respects you if they're enforcing how you get your work done or what you're wearing.

I should be clear that there are situations in both cases where it can actually make sense: anyone working customers doesn't get to decide that customers are irrational for judging attire, so dress codes are reasonable in that case. Similarly, if your work heavily involves constant communication, then enforcing work hours can make sense too. But there are a TON of jobs that enforce rules like work hours and dress code for no reason other than lack of trust and respect for their employees, and I just hope I continue to avoid ever being in a position like that.

Yes this sounds good. Have you noticed a risk of people over-working because of the lack of hours? Or feeling bad about taking vacations? (Something I've felt while having unlimited vacations).

As you are saying that, as the business owner/manager you do the same, I think it shows a great example and helps people feel they actually can do this.

The opposite might also be very true, where if the manager is working harder than what is expected/accepted, people will follow and do the same too. Do you think that is true?

The problems we see is when people are overloaded because of bad planning on our side or customers asking for too tight deadlines and we wanting to be nice and help them achieve it (again our fault). Then people actually tend to feel pressured doing more for the company's sake. Which is sometimes ok in my opinion and also appreciated when there's an emergency, but we try for it not to become the rule.

Regarding owners/managers working less, I see it the same as you: leading by example. And generally I don't see a problem with that, as everyone is mostly working very responsibly (in our case). However, what we've noticed over the years is that it still needs some people with a global company vision and also visionary mindset to push the company to new frontiers and help people to look beyond what they're currently working on and to think outside the box.

> The opposite might also be very true, where if the manager is working harder than what is expected/accepted, people will follow and do the same too.

I think this is a serious risk for unlimited PTO. It's easy to miss, because well-meaning managers are least likely to notice the problem. Sure they were busy and came in all year, but they genuinely wanted their reports to take more time off!

In that sense, it almost has to be a responsibility at the management level; visibly booking time off and disconnecting is part of making a PTO policy usable for everyone else. Fortunately, it's the sort of responsibility that also helps keep management and founders from burning out or already being exhausted when crunches do hit.

> Remember, work has to be fun. We value employees who live rich and rounded lives. We run a flexible workplace, and we have ever since we were a blacksmith shop that shut down whenever the waves were six feet, hot and glassy. Our policy has always allowed employees to work flexible hours, as long as the work gets done with no negative impacts on others. A serious surfer doesn't plan to go surfing next Tuesday at two o'clock. You go surfing when there are waves and the tide and wind are right.

From Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard.

Your handbook says you track work daily in Asana and have two stand ups. Along with an expectation to immediately respond to pings and vacation pre-approval is required. How does that fit into “work when you want”?

I don't work there, but it seems pretty clear to me.

Morning slack message (which isn't the same thing as a standup): "Hey, I'm going to do X,Y,Z today but I'm also going to run a few errands after lunch so I'll be MIA from 12-2 CET but available after until 6 CET".

"Work when you want" doesn't have to mean "I have no idea when you'll be available today".

> "Work when you want" doesn't have to mean "I have no idea when you'll be available today".

People confuse the two all the time! Flexibility and reliability have to go hand in hand, if you cannot be reliable when left unsupervised, you need to expect I cannot leave you unsupervised. On the plus side, when people are given this explanation they often self manage into a good routine.

But this is the problem. The current mindset is - as long as you are here, I trust you to do something productive.

The work-when-you-want is easily leading to a - show me the evidence on why I should trust you to have done something productive today.

It forces someone to just push for quick wins and avoid anything that is not leading to directly accountible results.

You should really know what you're doing all day. If you can't even summarize what you were doing all day, that sounds like a bad thing. The evidence is your story about what you actually did.

Here's a perfectly great update that didn't result in a quick win:

"I spent all day debugging that null pointer issue like we discussed. I thought maybe it was because the API was sending nulls across, but I looked at the logs and couldn't find any instance of that happening. I thought maybe it was a type coercion issue too, but I wrote a few tests to rule that out and it turned out not to be the case. Then I remembered reading about a memory corruption issue that sometimes happens in our runtime version, so I spent the rest of the day reading about the situations where that occurs and figuring out if it applies to us, but didn't get enough time to finish that up completely."

That's the thing - this works only when you have clearly task - solution based jobs. But when it is more creative and abstract this is not feasable.

You should still be able to recount what you did, past tense.

"This morning I sketched out three different possibilities for the new client check-in service. First draft of the spec is in progress, I expect to send it over to Jen and Andy tomorrow for their feedback."

"I made a dozen or so mockups for the new landing page. I have a couple more ideas I want to try out tomorrow, then I'll figure out what the best four or five are and show them to the team."

"Since we don't have any feature work pending right now, I've been experimenting on a branch with using $TOOL to do $THING better. It looks good because $X, although $Y might be a problem."

"We talked a while ago about doing $THING with the user's documents so they can $WHATEVER more easily, and I wasn't sure it was even possible. I've been looking into that today. It looks like there might be a way, so I'm continuing to investigate."

"We've wanted to replace $FRAMEWORK for a while now. I've identified the parts of it that we actually use, and I'm putting together a plan for what we can swap in and/or get rid of. It looks like, since we made $CHANGE last month, we can actually do most of it ourselves without much trouble."

That sure sounds like a day of productive work or a day of doing nothing being covered over with some made up fluff. One or the other.

Starting from the standpoint that your peers or reports are lying to you is never going to work. Treating people like kids means you'll get kid level responses.

If someone is lying, it will eventually come out. That fake report one day will turn into a week and eventually they will get fired. But, don't kill your entire team on the off chance that someone is trying to game the system.

Assuming that you really think that the members of your team are lying to you like this, it's easy enough to validate.

The first one says they're writing a spec. Well, three days later, where's that spec? Next one is producing some designs, so same. Sure someone saying "$TOOL/$NEW_FUNCTION/$REPLACE_FRAMEWORK just didn't work out", could be cover for "I was playing Pac-man all day", but if you ask for details, BS should become clear pretty quickly.

And again, that's starting from the position that you think your teammates are probably slackers who would rather lie than work. Which is not really a great position to hold, IMO.

It doesn't really matter which.

Look, if I'm leading a group like this, I'm going to have an idea of what your output is like in an average sense, both compared to your historical output and the group as a whole. If you blow off a day it's not really going to matter. (although I'd rather you tell me you needed to blow off a day than try and hide it, sure).

However, if you blow of enough days we're going to have a conversation about how your performance is dropping, and why, and discuss your ideas about how to turn that around. If it doesn't, we'll have another conversation, and so on. Eventually if none of this works we'll have a different conversation (about why you are leaving).

This doesn't actually have anything to do with reviewing daily/weekly reports. Those are for different things.

I'm really struggling to think of creative and abstract jobs that meet all of the following criteria:

1) Take place in a typical corporate setting--which is the context here, nobody's asking studio musicians to do stand-ups.

2) Have 0 artifacts of progress being made. Even brand design goes through iterations.

3) Are so abstract that it's impossible to distill your thought process into a small summary each day

If it's really impossible to summarize what you did all day, I'm going to question if you were actually doing anything at all.

"Big design up front" rarely works, even in abstract terms. I've learned that your point 2) is crucial - you have to force yourself to build "artifacts of progress" for actual progress to happen! Maybe there are some geniuses who can build whole programs completely in their heads, but my mind starts to run in circles if I try that. Whether drawings, prototypes, or just stream-of-thought notes, just continuously getting things out of my head speeds working a lot for me - and all of these can be turned into a summary of what I did today.

There are days when I'm trying to write (as in prose or a presentation) all day and the muses are not connecting, I do a lot of unrelated not-really "research," etc. And that's mostly OK. For a day. But obviously not for a week or weeks in a corporate setting. (And, if I really had a hard deadline, I'd crank out something serviceable. But I usually aim to do better than that.)

Oh, but it is.

With one of my customers, I had a week when I consistently reported "designing the new model for $thing-that-drives-our-product", sometimes additionally with "and I spend some time talking with $product-guy and $coworker about the design". As a side effect of the design process, I produced a bunch of concept documents and drawings, which once the overall goal was clear, I transformed into barebones interactive prototypes testing experimentally some design points. So the next week, my daily reports were "aaand, I also did this prototype to test out $design-concern" (to which the universal reaction was "oooh, shiny! <3"). Two weeks, zero code for the actual product, just couple pages of text and a lot of garbage JavaScript in prototypes.

This is how work sometimes look. A good manager will accept your vague description, trusting that something of value commensurate with time spent will come out from the other end. As long as you actually deliver, a sane manager will not mind.

(That said, if asked for details, I always could explain what my main concerns and areas of exploration were at any point in the design process. The story about what you were doing is proportional to how much work you actually put in. If you can't elaborate beyond "I was thinking about $X", maybe you weren't really thinking about it? Conversely, I find forcing myself to write down and structure my thoughts to be an excellent way to unblock myself when my mind is running circles, or feels like watching Netflix instead.)

> A good manager will accept your vague description

> As long as you actually deliver, a sane manager will not mind.

The problem is that these are very rare.

EDIT: If anything, the problem may be that the "bad manager" doesn't trust you. (Yes)

Well, I guess set up the bait by using the phrase "good manager".

Maybe I'm lucky, but for all the failings of various people I've worked under, I've met none who wouldn't understand it when some work requires more cognitive effort than code.

If anything, the problem may be that the "bad manager" doesn't trust you. But that's a completely different issue than them not understanding the concept of abstract work.

The creative people I know generate all sorts of artifacts that may or may not be used (designs, notes, research, etc..). They rarely sit at their desk all day just thinking.

> as long as you are here, I trust you to do something productive.

And this is a terrible mindset.

> The work-when-you-want is easily leading to a - show me the evidence on why I should trust you to have done something productive today.

No, start from the stand point of trust.

> It forces someone to just push for quick wins and avoid anything that is not leading to directly accountible results.

It does force someone to think about results, but not necessarily quick. Even a result that takes months, has many steps along the way that can be communicated.

this seems only one degree removed from a 9-5.

"work when you want" to me requires more than that. multiply your simple example to 2-4x a week, xN employees, that's a lot of noise

With freedom, comes responsibility. There needs to be some communication and information/knowledge exchange, otherwise it's difficult to coordinate and synchronize in a team of 20 people. Therefore updating other people via Slack/Asana is the minimum anyone should do in my opinion.

The two weekly stand-ups, one is actually work related (the team meeting) and people are encouraged to be there and not go surfing just during that specific hour and the other one is the MJ Weekly, where we just exchange personal and professional learnings for about 1 hour, which is a great way to get to know other people being a remote company.

That said, making those things "required" is not that bad compared to requiring people sitting 8 hours in an office. Again, my personal opinion.

This is very interesting, but I'm curious how it scales to higher levels of management. Of course, if the whole company is only 20-30 people, those higher levels don't exist. In a large company, a single low- or mid-level manager may have more direct and indirect reports than an entire small 20 person company, and a high-level executive may have hundreds or thousands of indirect reports. At this level, it seems to me like it may be possible to maintain this "work when you want as long as the work gets done" style of scheduling for developers at the bottom, but it feels like it would work less and less for managers and executives who will spend more and more of their time in scheduled meetings.

Of course, people whose workload consists of talking to or otherwise dealing with other people can't have flexible schedules like this. A cashier can't walk off, because there's a line of customers waiting to be served.

However, it can still in my opinion work for a large amount of people. Anyone whose job has parts that can be done alone (programming, compiling reports, writing articles...) can benefit from a more relaxed schedule.

Hey zqn, this is an awesome deck and post. In fact, I wrote this up on my blog as a case study in using content to attract talent: https://mattharney.com/2019/02/22/talent-magnet-in-action/

I think without systematic backstops to keep it below a certain number of hours there's a big risk to slide into more and more hours. Esp if you hire on someone who might visibly work a lot and get visibily rewarded for it - it puts a subtle pull on the group as a whole.

Yeah but this policy is not that helpful if high quality output is demanded at a fast rate. The same situation that forces someone to work overtime in a 5 day week is still present.

This is nonsense. People work for money, so clearly call out what is the expectation.

"... a New Zealand financial services company, switched its 240 staff from a five-day week to a four-day week last November and maintained their pay. Productivity increased in the four days they worked so there was no drop in the total amount of work done."

The result/claim makes intuitive sense to me but..... The problem trying to study this is that "productivity" of many/most white collar workers is basically impossible to measure.

Some do. Customer support can be benchmarked (and prodctivity-pushed) But... customers support jobs don't lend to this 4d workweek thing. The jobs that do lend to it, don't lend to measurement.

This difficulty can lead to all sorts of wierdness. Tyler Cowen claimed that office worker productivity has not been (measurably) increased by office computerization. IE, going from secretaries, fax and typwriters to Google docs hasn't produced any economic gains.

Strange claim. Difficult to measure. David Graeber (anarchist that reckons most office work is pointless busy-work) quotes the same stat this white paper quotes, people spend about 2/8 hrs working and the rest procrastinating on social media.

Measurement is also not incidental here. Measurablity changes everything. Once an employees job productivity is measurable, it can be optimized and already has been.

It's a Shrodinger's product evangalist problem...

That said, I like the jist.Lets shorten the workweek. Science-wise... well...

If my job was easy to measure I would be paid on my outcomes instead of being paid to be at work.

If I was being paid for my outcomes I would manage my time entirely differently and would find ways of being more productive than I already am so that I could work less hours. I think this is a hard pill for people's bosses to swallow, that their employees do have the capacity to be more productive but they won't because we're being paid to be at work and so incentives are not aligned.

My boss is very happy with my productivity and I am very productive. I don't think he could conceive of me being any more productive. But I know that if I could arrange my own days and hours I would be more productive. But this would be inconvenient to him and so he would likely rather have me predictably available than fully optimised. Which is an understandable tradeoff if frustrating from a personal perspective as you feel as though you're wasting time. It's just that your wasted time is actually valuable to someone and that's hard to grasp intuitively.

Yep... typical Schrodinger's product evangelist troubles.

I'd make a third distinction though. You can be paid for time, work or outcomes. Outcomes and work aren't the same thing, necessarily.

> You can be paid for time, work or outcomes.

And all three have uses. It seems like one of the common mistakes we make when talking about labor productivity is underestimating time as an output. We see a job's time-per-task decline and ask why it remains a full-time job, but in many cases the answer is that part of the job is being available 8 hours a day, and more dead time between tasks hasn't changed that.

Yeah but my job has all three elements. Long term improvements and projects, being on call and making sure all the widgits are spinning, and doing tasks for X time a day

If I was making 62 burgers an hour it would be easier to quantify but rarely are things so fixed

"a New Zealand financial services company, switched its 240 staff from a five-day week to a four-day week last November and maintained their pay. Productivity increased in the four days they worked so there was no drop in the total amount of work done"

And soon some genius will come in and think "How about we worked a few hours more? This would give us even more output" and soon we are back to normal.

And the worst part is, they might be correct.

If the productivity gain really was about improved focus and energy, they'll be wrong and waste everyone's time. But there are some hints in the article that it wasn't just that; other companies have seen productivity rise than fall back, while Perpetual Guardian implemented performance improvements to offset the change.

I assume diminished hours directly improved productivity some. But if half the gain was from process improvements or increased motivation, then some clever wag is going to come along and notice that they can use those gains to cut staff instead of hours.

This is so true. Over years I have realised that my productivity is pretty much similar if I worked 7/8/9 hours. Over time the longer I work the less productive I am. There was a nice quote I once read on HN - everyone have fixed budget for quality thinking. working longer does not increase that.

You can refresh the fixed budget via a siesta power nap

We can start an experiment with the HR department and measure if confliction resolution rate is the same.

Same for recruitment department to see if hiring rate is the same.

Just throwing it out there that not all white collar job productivity is unmeasurable.

It seems... rather too convenient that a 20% work reduction would produce a 25% increase in productivity for a nice neutral result. I don't doubt that working fewer hours improves productivity, but do we really expect the two to line up so neatly? I've seen two explanations for this, but neither really satisfies.

Claim one is that time off recharges and focuses us. We get more sleep, are less distracted by outside tasks (e.g. calling a doctor who's only open during work hours), burn out less, and still get the full benefit of outside-work productivity like having a new product idea at 10PM. Some parts of this make sense; outside-work insights still progress at seven days per week, and an hour off work for calls and errands is an hour that can be directly recovered. But the rest is puzzling; why should rest and recreation repay themselves so precisely in work output?

Claim two is that productivity isn't limited by office-time in the first place. A powerlifter who doubles their workout time won't see any benefit because they're hitting physical limits already. This makes much more sense; we've all had experiences like struggling with a problem that looks obvious the next morning, or sitting around unproductive because our most urgent work is blocked by some external factor. But again, the shape of the result is surprising; surely not all of that lost time is recovered by taking time off. Mental fatigue would be better answered with 6-hour workdays, and some of those external blockers are always going to be unpredictable and unscheduled.

There are a few other views that make more sense, but are rather less promising. The article mentions that other companies trying this see a productivity spike and then lag, which could imply it's just a reaction to the novel approach. The discussion of productivity plans, and the interviewed employee who reduced multitasking, imply that this might just be a loss offset by other noncontingent process gains. (The matching result, then, presumably consists of people seeking process gains until the loss was offset.) The company could simply lack 40 hours/week of substantive work, which again could be cured with reduced hours or increased work.

Or perhaps employees were output-limited not by mental fatigue but by, essentially, giving-a-shit. One of the big insights of productivity studies is that "can't do more" and "won't do more" aren't clearly distinct when you're relying on internal motivation; there's no clear way to say that "won't" is happening on a different, volitional layer. If people were working 40 hours a week with 25 hours of 'drive', constant productivity makes more sense.

> Measurement is also not incidental here. Measurablity changes everything. Once an employees job productivity is measurable, it can be optimized and already has been.

And then there's this, yes. Uncomfortably often, Taylorism isn't about process improvements but squeezing relaxation and well-being out of a job. If you can't measure productivity well externally, then a move like this might get employees to 'Taylorize' themselves because the harder work will be offset by the wellbeing from more time off. If you can, then they'll get Taylorized from the outside, and the offset will tend to be higher wages or nothing at all.

> Or perhaps employees were output-limited not by mental fatigue but by, essentially, giving-a-shit. One of the big insights of productivity studies is that "can't do more" and "won't do more" aren't clearly distinct when you're relying on internal motivation; there's no clear way to say that "won't" is happening on a different, volitional layer. If people were working 40 hours a week with 25 hours of 'drive', constant productivity makes more sense.

I think this makes the most sense. Assuming I understand right what you mean, it could be described more simply as "work expands to fill the available time", a common enough criticism of sprints in agile (cases lasting longer than they normally would because there's still days left in the spring).

Yep, I was almost exactly thinking of "work expands to fill the time", plus maybe a bit of "people take more and longer breaks when they work more hours". It's not a huge distinction, but I think "increased productivity" makes less sense as more output for an hour's work, and more sense as shaving off unproductive time.

We work a 4 Day, 32 hour week, and have done so since 2015. During that time, our team grew from a small office of ~20 in Edinburgh to where we are today (3 offices in Edinburgh Scotland, Bozeman USA, and Beirut Lebanon) with about 80 people.

We have consistently been one of the fastest growing tech companies in Scotland (and in the UK). When we implemented the 4 day policy, we didn’t change our financial targets, or our team metrics. Instead, we explained it was an experiment that we wanted to run, and we believed that by being more efficient and more intentional about how we worked, we could still achieve our goals.

Turned out that was true.

Our motivation was primarily work/life balance, but also the realisation that most startups take 10-15 years to get to where they want to go, and we have a long journey ahead of us! It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We still pay a 5 day wage, and we actually “buy” all 5 days, because we wanted to make sure that team members weren’t tempted to moonlight on the 5th day.

Overall I think it’s been a really great thing for our team, and perhaps most importantly, I think we’ve proved that ambitious goals, hard work, and a strong drive to succeed is not at odds with a 4 day week. Over the last few years we’ve spent probably hundreds of hours talking with various organisations and the media about the benefits of the 4 day week, and I’m hopeful it’ll continue to catch on more and more.

1. how did you start the experiment? Did you apply it to everybody from the start or did you run it on a small sample?

2. What do you mean "buy all 5 days" and "moonlight on the 5th day"? (not a native speaker)

Good questions!

1. We started by doing some research, actually - I spent some time finding studies that supported my thesis that productivity would go up (thus making sure our output would stay the same, more or less). Then I discussed with our management team, who thought I was nuts, but was supportive. Then I presented it to our board, who was also supportive. We applied it to everyone at the start, but some teams took a bit longer to get it implemented, as one of our criteria was he had to maintain 5 day coverage for our customers (ie, some have Mondays off, some have Fridays, etc.). To this day we leave the coverage patterns and rotations up to each team/department to decide.

2. In our contracts, we are paying you for 40 hours of work, 5 days a week, but we give you one of them back. Moonlighting meaning working for another company "on the side".

> I spent some time finding studies that supported my thesis that productivity would go up (thus making sure our output would stay the same, more or less).

Are the research notes you put together to support your thesis publicly available?


I work in an agency so I don't think it would be easily applicable in my company (we bill by the day, not by the output), but I love hearing about experiments in companies! Most companies are so boring and afraid to do anything out of the ordinary

What does "give you one of them back" mean, if it doesn't mean I can do what I want with that time?

They pay you for not working during that day. Without any requirement to be in the office to not work.

To be honest, it seems a bit disingenuous to me. A day off should be a day off. What I do with that time is nobodies business.

It is the business' business if you work hours 33-40 anyway. The whole point of the 32 hour workweek is the idea that those extra 8 hours decreases your productivity in the first 32.

Yes, it's still possible you'll work on a side gig / for someone else in the weekend, but that's much less likely than if you have business hours available for that.

I’d argue that outside of the time I’m being paid for, the business has zero influence over what I do with my life.

If I can spend my whole Monday night playing WoW, coming in completely destroyed the next morning, why couldn’t I do some personal work during the day on a Thursday and come in refreshed and happy on Friday.

In answer to 2:

Buying all 5 days means that they're employed and getting paid for that fifth day, but they have no work tasks. This is so that employees can't work a second job on that day, which would be 'moonlighting'.

How much do people work on average?

Would your CEO take a phone call from a client/lawyer/bank on the fifth day?

We try to keep it to 32 but the problem with good people who are high performers is they love to work! We try to emphasise that sure, at times you may need to burst a bit, and we do, but overtime is generally a failure of management. Either the managing team or managing ones workload. A lot of times when our managers notice overtime or more than 32 they look into the whys behind it.

Our CEO (me) does take phone calls and work a bit on the 5th day. I’m not the best example, but I don’t go into the office, and I try to limit it to important stuff that literally can’t wait. My travel schedule means I burn weekend days quite a bit but I do enjoy being on long haul flights where my phone doesn’t work. I’m a recovering workaholic and I do feel like it’s helped me personally put the brakes on a bit.

The funny thing is, when I’m off on my 5th day and enjoying a hobby or something I often get very creative ideas about the business popping into my thoughts. And I think that shouldn’t be surprising bc that’s how our minds work - we can’t be slaves to a hustle porn mentality and do our best work.

Anyway. We and myself aren’t perfect, but we do try to adhere to the spirit of the idea as best we can.

A bit off-topic, but why Lebanon?

Additionally, Lebanon makes me wonder if there's a confounding factor here. Lebanon being a Muslim-majority country, many Lebanese take at least part of Friday off as part of their weekend. Having a standard three-day weekend company-wide might sidestep issues of UK/US workers wanting to meet on Fridays when Lebanese workers are unavailable, and Lebanese workers wanting to meet on Saturdays when UK/US workers are unavailable. This prevents people from being in the office on a Friday or Saturday and twiddling their thumbs while waiting for input from somebody in another country with a different weekend standard.

Actually Lebanon is not a Muslim majority country (demographically it now is but politically no - power is shared between Christians and Muslims ) and they work a standard M-F week, unlike the gulf. We based in Lebanon for our Middle East operation because we liked Beirut better than Dubai, it’s cheaper, the talent is great, and we had some founding customers there (a bit strange but go figure). It’s been a great decision for us and we hope we’re helping throw off the stigma of Beirut being a war torn city just s little bit.

This is not the first article about how people get the same amount of work done, even more, in four days instead of five. But another thing they have in common is that they never ask the question, what about three?

Or what about two? One? Surely at zero, productivity will not match the old standard of 40 hours a week. But it seems like the next logical question to me. If employees are just as productive at 32 hours as 40, at what point does productivity fall? Maybe 32 just happens to be that breaking point. Or it might turn out to be 25 or even 15. But let's at least ask the question.

I'm talking about averages, of course.

Exactly! I think of this every time this subject comes up and I always come to think of the scene from Something About Mary [1]

[1] https://youtu.be/rnso4nfdM9w

I also think the productivity gain or lack of loss comes from excitement and a feeling of responsibility for having the extra day off. It's mentioned in the article

>“The biggest concern from an employer point of view is ensuring that the full-time introduction of the policy doesn’t lead to complacency, with the risk that people’s productivity will slip back,” Barker said.

“To guard against this happening we’ve spent a lot of time making sure every person in every team has their own plan as to how they’re going to maintain and even improve their productivity.”

I think this makes sense but, as time passes and 4 days becomes the norm the feeling of excitement and responsibility will fall and output will follow. If everyone has a 4 day work week we will probably be as lazy as we are now in our 5 days.

Sounds like a win to me!

At that point we can start experimenting with a 3 day workweek, and find that it too doesn’t reduce productivity.

At some point in time, we’ll find out that all our work is essentially automated, and the step from one to zero days of work will seem reasonable.

There is a topic on reddit now which can shed some light on this question.

How Many Productive Hours in a Work Day? Just 2 Hours, 23 Minutes... https://www.reddit.com/r/Economics/comments/as3cyv/how_many_...

Actually, Tim Ferris wrote a book called "The 4-Hour Workweek" with the goal of more people achieving the title. It is more oriented at breaking free of normal work habits than a scientific study of optimal productivity though.

The pills and books he sells to achieve his 4-hour work week make me suspicious of the methodology. Only so many can sell shovels to the gold miners before the market is saturated.

Something tells me Tim Ferris works a lot more than 4 hours a week himself.

His podcasts had him on for about six hours weekly iirc.

I recall half of that book was about outsourcing your work.

It’s only a 4-hour workweek for you. There’s still someone doing the work.

Personally, my optimum is three 8-hour days a week.

I have also found they need to be consecutive.

It depends on the person and job, of course. I've worked with people who added net negative productivity for the company, so for them, the breaking point would actually be 0.

If I'm going to believe anything, I'd need a longitudinal study of about 5 years.

I find 5 years to be a good hallmark to see whether something had an actual strong impact in my own life (e.g. regarding reading self-help books such as Search Inside Yourself [1] or Steve Pavlina's blog post on how to rock at university [2] -- sorry for being slightly off-topic but these two things changed my life).

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Search-Inside-Yourself-Unexpected-Ach...

[2] https://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2006/05/10-tips-for-colleg...

Where did Steve Pavlina go to school? Not sure if some of those triaging strategies would have worked at U Chicago...

It definitely worked wonders for me (VU University Amsterdam), definitely during my psychology bachelor.

I experienced the following conditions.

> In every student’s schedule, some classes are critical while others are almost trivial.

True, the most funny ones were social psychology and e-business, common sense almost helped you to pass the course.

> For some classes attendance was necessary, but for others it didn’t make much difference.

True for me as well, reading the book within 30 minutes would save 75 minutes of time since the class would take 105 minutes.

> I could simply get the notes from another student if needed, or I could learn the material from the textbook.

We had a notes Facebook group and there was a Dutch startup dedicated to summaries.

> If it wasn’t necessary for me to attend a particular class (based on my goals for that class)

Having a good goal is tantamount if your goal is to learn everything possible, then triaging becomes almost impossible. If your goal is to just get by with the lowest grade possible, then triaging is a must.

> If I felt an assignment was lame, pointless, or unnecessarily tedious, and if it wouldn’t have too negative an impact on my grade, I would actually decline to do it.

I did this with my thesis, for example (again psychology). I could check for normality and do all the right statistical things, but it would only get me 5% extra points. So I assumed normality and everything else needed for multiple linear regression, tested nothing and reported the results.

> Maybe I’d estimate it would take me 20 hours to do an A job but only 10 hours to do a B job.

Heh, I did this so many times. I had side jobs, a girlfriend, friends and other activities that I could spend my time on.

> I often thought in this Machiavellian fashion back then, and often to my surprise I found that my B-quality papers would come back with As anyway.

Oh yes, one time I even published a paper that I rushed through as a homework exercise, because my synthesis of using psychology, neuroscience and game studies for a game studies paper was apparently unparalleled for a master student (the field simply doesn't have many people, so you easily shine). Think about that, I rush a paper writing it in 20 hours and it gets published and nominated for best paper award. Before those 20 hours, I knew nothing of the topic.

Triaging was a lot harder for my computer science programs though, it simply has less bullshit, contained more moving parts and has therefore been intellectually tougher. In that sense, if you triage a lot, it is some indication that your university program isn't of high quality, unfortunately (there are quite a bit of exceptions).

Bit of a Catch-22 problem, don't you think?

How? You experiment on something for 5 years and then report. In my case of reading books: you read books and 5 years later you know what stuck and reread it in order to get the full wisdom out of it. It helped that I studied for 8 years and reflected on these kind of things every year.

Because without some shorter term studies you might struggle to get enough employers on board for a sufficiently powered long term one.

Good point. In my prior comments, I wasn't really looking at the pragmatic side of organizing studies.

I've been working four-day workweeks for the past 4 years or so, and love it. I can't say I have the same output (nor would I want to, since I took a 20% pay cut for it). I wouldn't trade it for anything, and I don't think I'll be able to work 5-day weeks again. I tried it a few times and I found myself very unhappy, 5 days were too long and the weekend too short. The 4/3 split is ideal, four days isn't enough to get tired of work and a three-day weekend feels like ages.

I can believe that there would be no cut in output if people said "okay we're going to get the same amount of tasks done, just in four days instead of five", so everyone would work 20% more each day. I don't know what side-effects that might have, but I don't find it impossible. However, it seems very unlikely to me that you'd work at the same rate for fewer days and still get the same done. I also don't know why people who work fewer days would increase their rate of work, but it's certainly plausible.

The dirty open secret that seems to be implied whenever anyone writes about this is that no-one's actually working for those whole 40 hours, or even close. Basically, "work expands to fill the available time" (Parkinson's Law[0]). And there's only 30 or so hours' worth of actual expected work in a -- typical -- week. So, conclusion, drop the illusion and give people back the time that they'd otherwise be spending unproductively "on the clock".


> 20% more each day I think it's 25% more.

To get to 40hrs/week, one would need to work 10hrs/day instead of 8hrs/day.

That schedule is called a 4-10 - 4, 10 hour work days, and every Friday off.

9/80 is that you work 9 hours a day, and every other Friday is off.

They're both popular in defense and aerospace.

Which schedule? I work 32-hour weeks.

So decreasing productivity even further, even though you could achieve the same amount of finished work with 4 8h days. Why?

> popular in defense

I definitely want to believe this is a good measure of the impact of moving to a four day week. However, I wonder if this is an example of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect.

Maybe people are being more productive each day because they're aware that the company is going to be measuring their productivity.

There's also the "do work on the day off because it's a week day and people still expect a quick reply" habit people in customer facing roles (which sounds like quite a lot of Perpetual's staff) will be tied to. I took a four day week for six month in a regular corporate sales job because it was the most practical way of using my holiday entitlement without losing sales and contact with customers in a tough market, and sure, it didn't really affect my weekly productivity, but that's because I never made many important outbound calls on a Friday and still dealt with all the customer email on my Blackberry anyway, so all I was really missing out on were internal meetings...

Good point. And/or a novelty effect. As another comment asked, a long-term study is probably required.

The same might hold true for cutting down from 4 days to 3 days.

Everytime we humans try something new, we are excited and energized. Since the average office worker is only productive 3 hours per day, there always is a lot of room for increasing output for some time.

I worked at a state govt job that allowed for 4 day weeks. Being govt, and with my manager in particular, time was closely managed.

It worked, but it was HARD! The difference between an 8 hour day and a 10 hour day is having to find a second wind, on demand, 4 days in a row.

Every time I would say I was going to drop, and then the three day weekend hit and I had time to get personal stuff done, time to relax without feeling like I had to prepare to start work again, and then I thought it was all worth it. Then the cycle would repeat.

Now I'm in a tech job with far more flexibility. I think a similar schedule would still be hard: some 10 hour days are easy, but to do it on demand, repeatedly?

The article is about dropping the hours to ~32 a week, not working 10 hour days to still do 40 hours in four days.

Switching to 10 hour days would be a terrible idea - that’s just asking for burnout. Anyway, I find it really hard to believe more than a small percentage of workers would be able to be actually productive for even two thirds of the day when consistently working that long.

> “We’ve been treated like adults and I think as a result everyone is behaving like adults,” said Tammy Barker, a branch manager who was part of the trial that cut the working week from from 37.5 hours to 30

I imagine most of these studies that pop up, like this one, are referring to an overall total hours cut, not just cramming 5 days worth of 'work time' into 4.

4x 10s can definitely be hard, though there are so many coding jobs out there that 'require' unpaid overtime easily pushing that to more like 5x 10s or even more.

That's never going to happen. Regardless of what 'studies show'. If Jesus comes down from heaven and tells everyone we need to work less, it will still never happen. Was reading 'Bullshit jobs' by David Graeber and frankly I am starting to believe the conspiracy theory that there is an inherent interest of society to keep people busy as much as possible. Because if you give people more free time, don't keep them on their toes and stressed, they may start thinking about building guillotines.

I agree that Jesus stopping by and asking us wouldn't change this, but collective bargaining has already changed this in the past

It's not impossible! It requires people working together.

Alfred Chandler Jr notes in his book "the visible hand" how government jobs, or creation of busy work to employ people, is just 'hidden' unemployment. If they pay people to do a job that is not necessarily needed, they can provide 'welfare' via work-to-pay.

Don't know that I agree that it's "never going to happen." Will everyone switch to the four day week? Probably not. But experiments like this normalize the idea of it. I negotiated a four day week and examples like these definitely helped me make the case to my boss.

I was watching a video by Jeffrey Sachs a little while ago about sustainable development. He had some interesting charts that show if you add up all the figures in total we are working less than we ever have and there has been a consistent downward trend over recent years.

I've been on a four day work week for quite a while, working Monday through Thursday [1]. It definitely makes the off days better.

• If it has been a rough week at work, I can spend all day Friday relaxing, and still have a full two weekend days for my interests and hobbies.

• I can do things on Friday, such as shopping, that most others have to do on the weekend, thus avoiding the weekend crowds.

• With three days to work on personal projects, I can do a day of getting things going and getting productive, a day of good in the zone work, and then a day of picking a good stopping point and reaching that and setting things up for resumption next week. With a conventional two day weekend, it's that in the zone time that loses.

• Three days is long enough that by Monday I'm ready and want to get back to my job.

I find the lower stress thing quite plausible based on the above. It's enough time to do my stuff without it feeling rushed, meaning my relaxing things can actually be relaxing. A two day weekend is more likely to result in the classic stressing out over trying to relax.

I also find the no cut in work output plausible, because of the lower stress thing. Stress should lower productivity. If your weekend is not lowering stress as much as it could, you are going to be less productive than you could be. If three days off lowers stress more, you productivity rate should be higher back at work. But a three day weekend means a shorter work week. So we have one effect trying to raise output and one trying to lower it. Given the fuzziness of productivity measures, I'm not surprised by a finding of no change in output.

[1] I started taking every other Friday as a vacation day, because I had so much accumulated vacation that I had hit my employer's accumulation limit. Later, when the big recession hit the company needed to reduce expenses to avoid layoffs, and I offered to take a 5% pay cut in exchange for every other Friday off, which when combined with the every other Friday vacation gave me a four day week.

I wonder if the productivity is maintained as we can only think for so many hours a day. If you look at famous writers such as Hemingway they only worked for a few hours a day. So the question is how does this translate to work that has a less cognitive load ? Has anybody done experiments with programing and hours worked ?

Plus your brain will crunch things in the background. How many time as a developer have you "solved" a problem you've been stuck on for hours or days while showering or traveling to work. Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees.

For me that one happens very often when I'm falling asleep, in my dreams, after waking in the middle of the night, or in the early hours before I get up.

Many of my more annoying problems have been solved that way.

I knew an old Vietnamese refugee who was an electrical engineer working on maintaining and repairing portable stage lighting ballasts. He used to tell me how he would dream about the circuits and debug them then after spending a week of just staring dumbly at the physical thing—not accomplishing anything while at work, then come in the next day and finish inside of an hour.

My experience echoes that of the Vietnamese electrical engineer.

Maybe I think much differently than others, but sometimes on difficult problems I will think forever and do nothing. In the interim, people will think I'm an idiot ("don't you have work to do", "shouldn't you know this"). Then suddenly, whoosh, everything comes at once. I'll work for a comparatively short amount of time, code/work will just fly from my fingers, and whatever I'm working on will be excellent quality. One of my finest moments was in the process of one of these outbursts I was able to write a "one shot wonder" class that worked essentially exactly as expected without rewrites (no compilation errors or defects).

This is just kind of how I operate, and it really held me back in college (decent exam scores would bail out awful homework scores) though now it's nicer in a professional/adult environment where people give you a little more leeway, freedom, and respect. Though the drawback is that it ruins metrics like burndown charts and managements' expectation of a proportional work-to-output ratio.

I share your experience. But, I've recently read a book, The Mind is Flat by Nick Chater, a psychologist, wherein he argues that your brain does not crunch anything in the background, and only does what it focuses on.

However, the situation you outlined still occurs because you can get stuck in a certain paradigm (e.g. "this name that I can't remember definitely starts with 's'"), which you effectively reset, in addition to simply returning re-energised. Still a good argument for breaks and less strenuous working hours.

Yes, the brain doesn't crunch anything in the background, but your brain is a powerful association engine. Sometimes an outside stimulus will activate an association that will then associate with a solution you've been looking for. This is what happens in the shower: you allow your mind to wander, aka free-associate, and suddenly new possibilities unfold.

I call this the "attractor basin hypothesis" of problem solving- your mental state is in one attractor basin and you need to be in a different one; a break gives you another chance to enter the right one. If true, it may be possible to get the same benefit as taking a break and returning to the work by doing something that jolts you out of your current attractor basin. Maybe that just means asking the right question (c.f. oblique strategies).

Interesting idea. I'm currently learning German, which is rather similar to my native Dutch. Yet I'm learning most of it through English, because that's simply the language people tend to use for instruction material.

Every now and then when I'm doing English to German translation, I find myself puzzled and then have to remind myself "think about the Dutch word" only to then immediately understand/recall the German cognate. I'm sure someone talking to me in Dutch could have the same effect, and more broadly speaking, another 'attractor basin' may be activated by random chance, like the tired cliche of someone in a movie figuring out the 'case' as a result of their spouse or child mentioning something unrelated yet apparently analogous.

There are times when you're not focusing on anything specific, hence why you get ideas / breakthroughs in the shower, or when looking out of the window of a train / car or just mindlessly walking, because you're not focusing on anything and your System1 can solve stuff.

Though I feel that System1 can't work while System2 is focusing on other stuff like playing games or browsing social media so I don't think they're necessarily running in parallel.

I know that I feel like I really have around 4-5 good hours in me of serious deep contemplative programming a day. After that I either check out or find myself doing menial tasks that require no brain power for the rest of the day.

If I do have a huge deadline and have to double or triple that in a day I find myself mentally wiped and kind of useless for several days there after.

Yes, from your point of view you got "4 hours" of real, valuable and productive work in you in any given day.

But those nagging administrative tasks, status reports, talking to project management professionals in pro-forma meetings. THOSE are considered work and productivity for the people that set these up. There are job-roles for which meetings themselves are work-- while that might be a vision of hell for many of us, it is reality for layers of management and their minions.

My concern with this concept of 4-day workweeks is that it will precipitate even more tracking of productivity and even more meetings to gauge progress at the organizations that are trying to convince themselves to switch.

There's something to be said for having the slack to figure stuff out at work without being tracked constantly. A shorter work week is likely to increase "time scrutiny" for creative workers.

From my experience 6h is optimal/max in one sitting.

Programming is one of the few truly creative endeavours in the capitalist world. Every job has a creative aspect to it - if you cut hair or work in a nail bar then there is definitely scope for creative flair. In fact you can be creative even if you have the most mundane job in the world, however, in the bigger scheme of things nobody is going to listen to your song, read your book or buy your paintings but they will use your code.

In answer to your question, DHH of Ruby on Rails fame used to write a lot about 37 Signals and Basecamp. They decided that the normal capitalist way of working was a load of rubbish and that they could get more out of people by making them work a lot less hours.

The way our world works is a system, the capitalist system, and with it there are many things that go unquestioned. Employment is seen as good whereas in a parallel future that never happened there was this idea that we would all be working a mere handful of hours with the machines doing all the heavy lifting. We live in an era of bullshit jobs to maintain the system with something like 87% of people actually hating their job. In the conventional sense Hemingway did not have a job. As a programmer with many interesting problems to solve creatively there is no need to be part of the 87% and to be more like a Hemingway. The DHH's of this world do not hire the 87%.

I have a feeling this would vary depending on the person. Someone with big stressors outside of work may benefit from the shorter work week. Others may outperform them on a normal week. Just speculation.

I switched to a 4 day working week a couple of years ago, and took a 20% pay cut in the process.

I'm certain that I don't actually produce any less than I did when working 5 days, and my stress levels are definitely lower. All in all, the company got a pretty good deal, since I now have the same output, but get paid less!

You should ask for a raise based on the value you’re providing, and get your comp back up to where it was before.

When I worked in Germany we had a union mandated 35 hour week with no option for overtime. One thing I noticed was that back then most people actually worked most of their hours at the office and decisions were made rather quickly and decisively. Now I work with no set time limit and I feel that a lot of people are wasting time with going over the same thing multiple times, hesitating in making decisions and calling huge meetings that achieve nothing.

I feel that part of it is that by working less people are fresher and think clearer. Whenever I worked 50+ hours per week for longer time I was more in a foggy state and couldn't think clearly.

Also, by limiting working hours management needs to be decisive and conscious of wasting people's times with unnecessary stuff.

I think a big difference between the American work mentality and the Euro work mentality is that Americans often seem to relish the "I'm too busy for everything" state of mind (as if it were a badge of honor). Unfortunately, it will take huge macro-level behavioral changes to undo that kind of damage.

Is there a real paper linked to this study? All I can find is this rubbish [1] which is a collection of info-graphics without any p-value.

[1] https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5c3e9f3555b02cbca8b01...

Seems a bit to good to be true... working 20% less, and still have 'increased productivity'?

I myself work 4 days a week, which I really enjoy. However, sometimes with a major bug I make extra hours, the work has to get done! You can do more in 6 days than in 4.

For that sake, how much further can you push it, can you increase productivity 20% by working 3 days instead of 4?

Obviously, even if the study is to believed, this won't work for all jobs (try callcenters or POS ...).

Thorough studies would evaluate other models as well, like 6, 7 or 3-day weeks.

As a former entrepreneur I can guarantee that my output would suffer greatly in a 4 day week, since I'd rediscover hobbies and other distractions.

Why wouldn’t it work for call centers? Just pay them for 4 days of work and hire More people.

Because work that call centre workers do can't be compressed. That means each person is working 32 hours each week (no gain in productivity), but still getting paid for 40. Whereas a computer programmer might still be able to complete 40 hours-worth of work in 32 hours by increasing productivity.

It depends on the work. A call center employee is paid for a mix of availability/responsiveness, and effectiveness on the call. Availability hours are lower effort and lower energy so can be stretched—-these are typically performed at lower levels of the call center tier structure. Effectiveness is most of the work at higher levels and in more sales-oriented call center/phone roles. Six hours of intense, non-stop problem solving and pitching on the phone is plenty and if there is some cost to allowing a less than good outcome on a call or opportunity, further hours can be detrimental and it may be better to have more people on shorter rotations.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hypothesize that while the quantity of work wouldn’t change, the quality would increase. I presume to pay for 32 hours if they work 32 hours.

Then they will go work for someone else. If the quality of work goes up, then the price should go up, too.

> since I'd rediscover hobbies and other distractions.

Isn't that the point though?

We should switch, not because it raises or maintains productivity, but because it's the right thing to do. Framing the debate in terms of productivity plays into the hands of those who would maintain the status quo. If laborers were properly organized, we could dictate the 4-day or 3-day workweek,

> because it's the right thing to do

On what principle? I had always thought that a job and its pay arose strictly from negotiation. But if you say one way is "right" and another isn't, that implies some reason that transcends anyone's preference.

Of all industries, you would think software companies would use some of the efficiency gains and insane profit margins to work less?

This is the logic we have at Monograph (hiring engineers btw) and we've had 4 day 32-hour work weeks for over three years now. One engineer on the team likes to take Wednesdays off which we affectionately call the "mid-weekend".

If you have more interest HuffPo and Lynne from Key Values wrote a bit about or working style: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/four-day-working-week-o...


How does the science on this compare to the science which got us the 40 hour work week? There seems to be a lot of anecdotes in the article.

I'm not sure I could gauge my productivity well from one day to the next. There's too many variables. There's other people, luck, different issues, strengths, weaknesses, shrimp gumbo, BBQ shrimp, shrimp soup...

I do know I give it my all during the week and I crash into the weekend. It's invigorating and exhausting at the same time. Getting over a rough week seems to take as long as getting over a bad hangover. Two days for sure, and sometimes I need a third.

What science got us the 40h work week? It seems to me we just went from making people work as much as humanly possible to less and less (to 40 today in the US) as workers got more power through unions.

I don't think science was much involved here.

40h was first most widely implemented by Henry Ford, because of equal productivity with fewer mistakes than the 10-16 hour days that were then the norm. So there is some empirical evidence that it's better than more hours, and some empirical evidence that it's better than fewer hours in some cases, and plenty showing no change with fewer hours. The fairest characterisation is that there was considerable back and forth between legislation, unions and capitalists seeking better workers.

The 8-hour-workday and 5-day-workweek movements were largely independent in time, and while there was some overlap in terms of both implementation and in terms of the populations demanding them, they really came from different places.

People first started getting into the 8-hour workday at the beginning of the 19th century, and it was largely driven by workers, tradesmen, and utopian communists who wanted life to consist of more than just working from the moment they woke to the moment they collapsed into sleep. "8 hours work, 8 hours rest, 8 hours sleep" was the sort of slogan that went in to that. Working too much each day just sucks.

The 5-day workweek was at the beginning of the 20th, and was much more tied into the Great Depression, automation, and managing employment as a civilization. While people have come to enjoy the quality-of-life improvements associated with the existence of a "weekend", it wasn't really the motivation for the shift so much as limiting the work done per worker to offset the decreased labor demand associated with increased productivity. (Although, practically speaking, a lot of the actual regulations that encourage employers to only work people 8 hours a day date/40 hours a week date to this time in the US.)

The UK had a 3 day week for a short period when coal supply was restricted (because of a miners strike). The economy was in a bit of a mess then so I'm not sure you would find any useful information from it.


Please provide a citation to some scholarly or historical work to that effect. The last time I looked into this any way seriously there was nothing suggesting 40 hours was chosen for reasons of productivity. One of the extremely few studies that was decent was of productivity on building sites which found that total (not average) productivity increased up until 60 hour weeks.

Thanks, this was my point.

I'm skeptical that this study is any better than whatever studies may have got us here in the first place. 4 day work weeks seem as arbitrary as as what we have now. If happiness and well-being is productive, then a 3 day work week might even be better. Some might be more productive by never working at all.

> One of the extremely few studies that was decent was of productivity on building sites which found that total (not average) productivity increased up until 60 hour weeks.


If we're talking anecdotes, I'd much rather have 5 days in a typical week (with provision for exceptions) and the excess put into a pot for longer vacations.

It may be worth pointing out as well that the stereotypical 40 hour/5 day week applies primarily for people commuting from their homes to a factory/office. There are lots of situations where people commute to a remote location and work ~12 hour days in a week/2 week/month on-off schedule.

Probably not based on scientific study but just a practical response to crews that need to be transported to a remote location and operate 24 hours a day collectively.

Interesting, I had an idea there were studies from WWII aircraft plants or the like, but have never tried to look them up.

The optimum must depend strongly on what work you are doing, how expensive tired mistakes are to fix, how much downtime there is waiting for someone else, etc.

There wasn't really science that got us the 40 hour week. That was just the compromise organized labour arrived at in the early 20th century after blow back from unconstrained work weeks (there average man working in 1900 was estimated at 60 hours weekly).

I wonder what the lowest limit on work-time is for productivity. That would be interesting to know. Also, companies could only pay people for that many hours.

It may be that they were simply paid less than optimal salaries before and increasing their wages per hour actually improved their productivity, incentivizing them to accomplish in 4 days what they previously accomplished in 5. It would be interesting to do a parallel test with the same groups, have a control group, have a 4 day group that keeps the same pay, and a 5 day group with a 20% pay increase.

It depends on the salary of the employee, and their personal goals. Personally, I find a 20% decrease in working hours is worth a lot more than a 25% increase in pay. The hourly wage remains the same, but getting a full day back per week is significantly more valuable than more money that I'm already not spending

I agree. I wish there were more jobs like that, where you could work 3-4 days, at the same rate per hour. Maybe if we solve for a lot of the additional per-worker costs around healthcare and such we would be able to see that emerge in the market.

I took a proper look at this study and it didn't show what this article claims it showed: https://docs.google.com/document/d/15q3hdJI2SxDBcOsn2Cqk8bMg...

It really seems to depend on the company stage. If the answer to, "did you do everything you could?" is, "well, we could have put %20 more time and effort into it with no additional cash burn," I could see how that could be interpreted as negligence from a fiduciary perspective.

On the other hand, %20 less office time could be an honest signal that you are taking risks commensurate with the return level your investors are looking for. If as a founder or leader, you are careful and incremental, I don't think that's what investors put money into VC funds for. The number of stories I read here and elsewhere about investors saying, "I don't want this money back, I want a huge return or nothing, because I don't want to learn I put it behind someone who wasn't committed enough to fail hard."

Investors aren't paying you and your team to work, they are paying for the privilege of getting a piece of a massive outcome. You achieve the outcome they want exposure to the best way you know how, and if imposing a risk constraint like %20 less office time does it, great. In this view, you are not their employee, you are their dealer.

I could see how it would be hard to persuade investors you were working in their best interest with an attitude like that, but on the other hand, it could be one that is necessary to enable the best possible outcome. It sounds crazy, but the investors themselves are the correlation factor in their portfolio, and the point of putting money into a diversified portfolio of startups is to hedge that correlation, so the more opinionated the investor is about your office culture or other aspects of the business, it's likely the worse they are going to do.

No clear answer, but really interesting question.

doing work != measurable output

Not to mention that the definition of what work, productivity or deliverables is varies vastly from company to company or industry to industry.

Not working for an entire day per week or having sporadic / limited hours of operation could also end up being a huge pain for a client or anyone not in your company you may be working with.

I'm definitely a proponent of the sentiment of this article, however, I can confirm that working with a remote team in another country where nobody seemed to work more than 25hrs per week on their technical team was annoying as hell. Not only did this make solving problems harder, they also had notably lower productivity and output of meaningful contributions...

This is a deeply flawed experiment. Of course the employees want a 4-day workweek, which is why they will work extra hard during the trial. I doubt this would be reproduced if employees were told the 4-day weeks were permanent no matter the outcome.

Talk of lower work hours doesn’t always come with clear expectations around pay. Ignoring the large fixed cost of providing healthcare, I bet companies would be more willing to drop hours from a schedule if compensation also dropped.

"Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand financial services company, switched its 240 staff from a five-day week to a four-day week last November and maintained their pay."

That’s nice for perpetual guardian but I don’t see it happening as a mainstream movement without an incentive.

Sure, it will be a tough sell, but the incentive should be less stressed, healthy, happy employees that deliver the same productive output as their 5 day week counterparts. It's a competetve advantage on the job market for employers.

I suspect this may only be true for jobs that have a lot of "busy work", which must be pretty common in a financial services company. There's no way I could get the same amount done in 4 days as in 5.

I could do my job in 2 of the 5 workdays

(I need a new job)

I spend time learning, reading, etc at work

Well no flamin’ poo.

Why do we need study after study that tells that we’re living beings that shouldn’t be consigned to a cage of guilt and shame.

This is stupid. We know what feels good or not, but our barbaric system divorces our natural function from our consciousness - starting in childhood.

Worst part is that we see that we have power to shape the world, but nobody believes that with same power comes the ability to create a comfortable environment for everybody where they can operate without guilt or shame or fear.

What a monstrous machine we’ve created for ourselves.

Love y’all. Peace out.

The hawthorne effect should be factored in here. I am a proponent of 4 day weeks but depends on the situation industry etc.

Treehouse used to do 4/10s and from what I remember listening to Ryan Carson's podcast with Jason Calacanis, it didn't work out for them. So I don't think this should apply to every workplace. For more mature companies, it makes sense. For startups, I don't think so.

This isn't proposing 4/10s, it's 4/8s. Basically, you're probably just faffing about for 8 hours a week anyway, so do it at home instead of at work.

Treehouse’s abandonmnent of the 4-day work week suspiciously coincided with their taking on a Series B round of funding. I’m implying they were pressured to drop it by investors. This was followed by significant layoffs.

Furthermore, no formal analysis was done of the Treehouse experience.

Nothing conclusive can be inferred from the Treehouse experience until/unless they release data and a rigid analysis is done.

I'm not surprised that didn't work, your productivity is going to fall through the day as you become tired. After 10 hours it might well be negative.

Just make a mandatory 5 weeks a year. "Unlimited" PTO is a gimmick.

written by a journalist who only wants to work four-day week.

that's cos they are slacking off anyway...

This is great, but 8 weeks is far too short to measure such fickle things.

If you work more hours than you sleep, you are doing it wrong.

Business people should constantly be all over this, why do we have to wait decades for them to come up with anything remotely useful.

All they do is invent more things for everyone to be miserable and for them to get a larger piece of the pie.

Business degrees are shit, get your act together, looking at you Harvard, Yale et. al.

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