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Moving the World to a 4 Day Workweek – An Interview with Aidan Harper (30hourjobs.com)
212 points by nbrempel on July 10, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 133 comments



I run a ~20 person digital marketing company and we are experimenting with a 4 day week this summer. Everyone has Fridays off in June and July. Pay is unchanged.

Fundamentally it seemed like a cool thing to do for staff - more time to enjoy a summer in London. Doing whatever you want on a Friday - life admin, hobbies, long weekend away, recovering from a hangover... your call.

But then it also seemed like an opportunity to experiment with this new constraint. Could we avoid losing 20% of our output? We certainly didn’t want to work 2 extra hours per day. So the idea was to really take the chance to look at how we work, how we organise ourselves, how we prioritise, how we communicate and share. What can we automate or improve processes for. How we use meetings as a tool for value. And also how we really dive into our work with intensity and drive for the hours we are there.

Overall, sentiment across the company has been extremely positive. We certainly haven’t made up for the lost day in measurable improvements or efficiencies. But we have maybe got half way there - without inducing increased stress during the four days. The team feels more together. And we have probably all learned some skills that will make 5 day weeks that more productive when we restart them. So overall I would be surprised if it wasn’t win-win for all involved.

I can certainly see us doing this again next year - and maybe also again for a month like December. It really just feels good/right overall.


If you are doing this for only part of the year, one thing to be aware of is the Hawthorne Effect [0]. We're wired to seek novelty, and you may see a temporary increase in productivity each time you change working hours because of this. It's actually a reasonable argument for changing things around periodically, as long as it doesn't happen too often. (Note, however, that the effect may be limited to actual experiments where you're making careful observations. There isn't good consensus on it.)

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


I love that you're doing this!

If you are interested in sharing some of your experiences doing this, email me at nick@30hourjobs.com

People love reading about this kind of stuff and I would be happy to feature your company on the site/newsletter. If you're hiring, past featured companies have received some quality candidates from this!


Best of luck in your experiment! Please consider writing up your thoughts afterwards, and perhaps sharing them with HN.


If you can really make up for the lost time through increases efficiency, would you consider keeping the four day week all year round?


Years ago, when I lived in Boston, when Summer arrived, half of the city went on water or did something outdoors. When I moved to CA, there was no such pattern as there is "Summer" the whole year around.

I'm wondering how different would your approach be if you are based in this kind of climate. For instance, we give our employees 30 days of PTO. If they wanted, they could easily use 8 days to take day off each week during Summer (or any other period), but we have not run into any that would do that.

This is definitely an area that I would like to explore more in the future. Thank you for sharing your experiences!


1) It's fantastic you've done this. This sort of thing would make me crazy about my employer.

2) "We certainly haven’t made up for the lost day in measurable improvements or efficiencies"

Maybe that's OK? Humans have tons of stuff already (at least in the rich world), and most of the things that are expensive are going to stay that way because we create false scarcities to soak up any extra income (housing, mostly).

I suppose that's why we need controls to level the playing field, or else the company willing to push workers for another day will lower the bar for everyone.


I think you're on the right track, best of luck with it!

I am quite sure I would get at least as much -- and probably more -- done if my week were formally four days long instead of five. I'm also sure this could be true, depending on motivation, of everyone I work with and almost everyone I ever have worked with.


This deserves to be its own hackernews post/writeup, and would easily make the front page!


French?


The comment mentions London. Not impossible by train, only unlikely :)


Parisians often go to London for weekends


"summer in London"


Parisians often go to London for weekends


The comments on this seem trapped by conventional thinking and pessimism. At a time, the 40 hour work week was seen as a fantasy that, if inacted, would destroy the economy. Instead, we saw rising productivity due to lower rates of illness and injury, among other factors. [1]

People aren’t robots, and there’s nothing magical about the current number of days and hours considered “normal”. There’s plenty to suggest that such a move would be a net benefit for society and the economy.

1: Robert Gordon, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth.”


Also most of the work we do is to bid against each other for land. If we all worked 45 hours a week the extra 5 would go into land costs, we'd all have the same house, and land speculators and usurers would have slightly bigger yachts.

Given the huge ramp in productivity on necessary work, we could easily slack off some and see our living standards unaffected.


if 5 days worked (down from 7) and 4 days will work (down from 5) then why not just go straight to zero days?


For the same reason that we want cars to drive slower but not stop driving at all. This is the poster child for reducing an argument to ridiculousness. What is proposed is what is proposed, not an extrapolation pulled so far out of context that it becomes unthinkable.


UBI?


bell curve


To be really clear, Aidan Harper is campaigning for the following:

"We make the case for a general reduction in working hours __without__ a reduction in pay. We also make the case for a steady managed transition to shorter hours with a bolstered welfare state in such a way that the most vulnerable and underpaid in society are protected."

It's hard enough to ask companies to shift to a 4-day workweek for the various reasons outlined in the article and sibling comments, but usually this is accompanied by a corresponding cut in compensation. Adding the "without a reduction in pay" condition makes the proposition much more difficult for small-to-medium sized businesses.

In fairness to the article, there is the possibility of asking employees to work 10hr workdays for 4 days to accommodate the 40-hr work week model (or 8.75hrs/day in France to accommodate their 35-hr work week). Since (most of us?) are already overworked, maybe this then just boils down to a scheduling and staff coverage problem.


Anyone who does knowledge work in a large company knows a huge amount of the "work" is just a weird game we all agreed to play. Sure everyone is busy, but surprisingly little is really getting done. We agree to work 40 hours because that model worked for people making widgets in factories. People work extra hours to demonstrate socially that they're hard workers, but again, nothing is really getting done.

There is no reason at all you could not reduce all of this to 30 hours a week and get the same amount of productivity accomplished. Why shouldn't people be compensated the same if the end result is the same? For labor intensive job where a human is working as a type of robot then hours of labour is directly correlated with hours of product (with some point of diminishing returns as you overwork people).


I agree in general, but I think I might prefer to keep the 40 hr/wk schedule and give everyone 10 weeks vacation as a baseline. I suppose that creates a headache if everyone takes the whole summer off at once or something, but what it does do is give each person the flexibility to decide if they want a whole year of long weekends, or some other configuration they prefer.


I wouldn't complain about 10 weeks of paid vacation! But for a lot of businesses, it's easier to lose people 1 day every week as opposed to 2-3 weeks at a time several times a year. Just in terms of coverage and workflow. Though that's going to vary for each role/company.


I think you're over-generalizing. Yes, some people work more than 40 hours for social recognition without getting any more real work done. On the other hand, I know people who truly do work over 40 hours out of a feeling of passion or obligation, completing extra work while not advertising the extra hours they're putting in.


To be clear, I'm not talking about people "goofing off at work" (such as myself on HN right now). Socialization is something deeply internalized so it doesn't matter if you know people are watching. I've been those people working on things late a night without anyone knowing, then I realized so much of it was sweat and stress for literally nothing.

The thing is, when you look at the fruits of the labor put in, the result is nearly null. There are people who are working very hard on things that have no real long term (or short term) purpose or function for their employers, it's work that exists because "work" has to be done. When I look at the projects being busily worked on around me, nearly none of them have any value or will make a dent in the overall productivity of the larger company. These people aren't goofing off. This is the ritual of work.

People pray in the privacy of their own home but that doesn't mean there's a god listening. The same goes for the culture of "work" in most large organizations.


What industry to you work in, and how large of a company is it?

Sounds like a great opportunity for a more efficient competitor to undercut this company :D


Once you get past a certain size, efficiency is a pipe dream.


over-generalizing cuts both ways when dealing with anecdotes: all those people you know might just be a tiny fraction of the full work force that _does_ twiddle their thumbs behind their desks for a collective 10 hours per week and would see barely any impact on productive output by lowering the number of hours spent behind that desk while keeping the pay the same, because the output stays the same.


It’s entirely plausible that employees at small companies aren’t generating value for all the extra time they’re at work. You could make the argument that with a four day work week they’d accomplish the same amount of value generation, and that in the current situation there’s a lot of waste.

People balked when the 40hr workweek was introduced but it ended up lowering injuries and illness and had a net increase effect in productivity.


At our company which handles General Contracting for construction we NEVER use 4, 10's if possible.

Jobs running 5, 8 hour days always run on schedule better in the long term it seems (talking 2-3 year building projects) based on past anecdata.

You would think giving the guys an extra day off to rest would help but actually being present on the 5th day tends to be very important when there are major milestones to be hit.

I've seen 4, 10 hour shifts.

I've seen 3, 12 hour shifts + 1, 4 hour shift.

I've seen 5, 8 hour shifts

The schedules created to run 5 days a week always work better.

Now there is a case to be said for having shorter shifts so we can get out of our 40 hour funk zone here in America. I think if you ran a job where only the foreman/superintendents had to be present for 8 hours while the workers worked say 5, 6 hour shifts or even 5, 7 hour shifts would still be better and on time more frequently than pushing someone for 40 hours over fewer days.


Perhaps the 4 day week works best with knowledge work, which is significantly different than manual labour.


I would have to agree there.


This begs the question, better for whom?


There is a business case for a shorter workweek. There are benefits like higher employee morale, less sick leave, more productive employees, etc.

But what about the case for simply hiring more workers to cover the dip in overall productivity?

The CEO-to-worker compensation ratio has increased almost 1000% since the 70s [1]. Surely this is due to the benefits in technology and automation. Don't the workers deserve to see some of those benefits in the form of shorter weeks?

[1] https://www.payscale.com/data-packages/ceo-pay


I always revert to this small, UK-based PR agency who did it (with a few caveats due to PR being a 24/7 industry anyway...): https://www.radioactivepr.com/agency-impact-1-year-4-day-pay...

It is possible for small businesses to adopt it, but perhaps only really in the knowledge worker/high customer contact space. If you're a small ecommerce shop selling lots of actual stuff, then you'll definitely need to have greater role coverage than you otherwise might.


At my work, we do 35 hour weeks in the summer, and it’s extremely nice. What ends up happening is I schedule all my appointments (doctor, car repair, etc) on the “summer Friday” afternoon, and keep my personal life moving along guilt free.

During the rest of the year I just miss work for those appointments, which isn’t the end of the world, but I miss the guilt-free aspect of it.

My gut feeling is that the dev team puts out the same volume of work per month in the summer as we do the rest of the year, but I don’t have any data to substantiate that.


I like the idea, especially for highly-skilled knowledge workers (i.e. the people browsing HN) but I fail to see the broader applicability for other jobs.

Imagine one has a machine that produces 5X widgets in 5 days. We now want it to be on for only 4 days and as such it produces 4X widgets but at the price of a 5X widget machine ... that just makes it more expensive ...


My wife's business operates 8-6 M-Th. Her employees LOVE it.


It's a sick reality that, in this country, we sell wellness to the masses as if "wellness" and "health" are entirely one's own responsibility. One of the main roots of the problem is a work culture that exhausts many of us and pushes most families to the edge.


That is an exaggeration. We have the ability to choose careers and jobs, so we have the ability to choose a healthier lifestyle via career moves. If someone has locked themselves down with debt, children, unhealthy stress levels, etc. an employer is not the one that is held responsible at the end of the day. Part of being in a society that values the individual, is that the individual gets the praise in good times, and must own the blame in bad.

If you believe your employer should be taking better care of you, you can vote via leaving your employer. Who exactly should be responsible if not yourself, and how? Many people on HN sit at desks most of the day doing tasks that are laughably easier than what 2, 3, 4 generations ago were doing.


If you believe you should be able to talk down the street without getting harassed or raped, you can vote via not dressing like a slut. Who exactly should be responsible if not yourself, and how? Many people on HN sit around trying to avoid sexual violence that is laughably less brutal than what 2, 3, 4 generations ago were doing.

Morally repugnant victim blaming by any other name smells just as foul.


If I understand you right, you're saying an employer has ZERO responsibility if their employees are overworked because the employee could always just "choose another job." This does not align with reality the vast majority of the time.


I was commenting on the parent saying "It's a sick reality.." That seemed a little over the top, when you can leave your employer if the situation isn't good. I know job transfers can be hard to find, and career moves are difficult, but it is reality that quitting your job is never impossible.


Technically correct answer, but missing the point about how job transfers/retraining are way more difficult than they need to be... hence people being "unable" to quit.


> you can vote via leaving your employer

You are implying that:

- There is a better choice

- That better choice wants you

Neither of which are a given.


> We have the ability to choose careers and jobs, so we have the ability to choose a healthier lifestyle via career moves

The greatest predictor for financial success in the U.S. is inherited wealth. The greatest predictor for longevity is financial success.

> If you believe your employer should be taking better care of you, you can vote via leaving your employer.

Please don't use "vote" as if our workplaces are somehow democratic. That said, you vastly underestimate the asymmetry in the employer-employee relationship. For people in IT, this is easy to forget because our business is booming and currently favours labour. For most people, changing jobs is hard, time consuming and a gamble.

After all, talk is cheap - especially during company presentations in the hiring phase. There is no guarantee changing jobs will solve the root problem if the new employer is a burnout shop (again), has toxic management (again), doesn't respect work-life balance (again), etc.

> Many people on HN sit at desks most of the day doing tasks that are laughably easier than what 2, 3, 4 generations ago were doing.

This glosses over the fact that while a lot of jobs 2-4 were physically grueling or repetitive, they were also in production. Those jobs created real, tangible value, in stark contrast to many of quaternary and quinary sector jobs today. Pay kept parity with inflation. Employers would train you and hire you without requiring college degrees. You had job certainty until you retired.

Since then, a lot of "externalities" have been socialised, humans have become "resources", productivity went up by 240% and wages stayed the same or decreased for 60% of the population in real terms.

> an employer is not the one that is held responsible at the end of the day

That view is historically and socially myopic as well as based purely on supply-side economic philosophy. Who benefits from that line of reasoning? Why should employers have no responsibility when it comes to treating employees fairly, humanely and with respect? Why should taxpayers alone bear the fiscal responsibility when burnouts, boreouts and work-related depression and suicide are epidemics - not to mention opioid addiction as a façade for depression?


And in China, firms like Huawei are touting how their employees are volunteering for 72 hour work weeks (Hint, they aren't). There is a backlash against it. The employeer is not an innocent party when they impose onerous working conditions, and voting with your feet, every time a new manager comes aboard or a reorg happens is not a stable situation for workers or humans anywhere to be under.


We need general worker protections because general employers do not protect their workers. I bet a century ago you would have used this line of logic to argue against the 40 hour week, or fire escapes.


And don’t forget lengthy commutes that some/most people have. Even with a workday that elapses 9 hours you’re probably out at least 11 hrs.


Absolutely. And people often try to blame the commuter themselves for their own commutes, when in a lot of cases it isn't fiscally possible to live closer (see all major cities for example).

The real question is: Why are businesses opening in expensive areas and forcing long commutes rather than cheaper areas? And seemingly the only answer is: Keeping Up with the Joneses i.e. show how big and impressive of a business they are by having a HQ in an expensive neighborhood.


These businesses pay expensive rent to be in a downtown vs. the boonies who gladly would let them build a sprawling corporate campus and pay no taxes. There are actual business decisions for burning that rent money downtown.

- Close to colleagues/network of other businesses in your industry downtown. Meetings can happen over lunch, or drinks after work. This is pretty advantageous for the employee; your next job could be just a block away and offered to you by the guy you see in the elevator every day.

- Close to transportation. Chances are, all the rail lines, bus lines, roads and highways all lead to downtown. A business located downtown can have workers from all over the metropolitan area. A location in the suburbs just gets workers who are able to drive to that suburbs, the infrastructure isn't there to move large amounts of people from around town to the suburbs. Moving businesses to suburbs introduces sprawl, which is bad for the environment, and also slowly bled every great American city after WWII as downtown became vacant (see Detroit).


At risk of blaming the commuter, I think a lot of this comes down to whether the non-commute option allows you not to own a car at all. Cars are expensive, like $700/mo expensive by some studies, and not having to have one (or worse, two) probably allows most families a very significant bump up in money able to go to their housing expenses.

I think for a lot of people the calculus is "well, I need a car no matter what (cost $Y), and because I have a car, my mortgage payment can be at most $X-$Y, and since I have a car anyway, I don't mind driving it for ten hours a week, so I might as well live way out in the boonies to maximize the amount of house I can get for $X-$Y."

But all of that unravels if you revisit the initial assumption that a car is necessary, and look at non-car housing options for $X. In many North American cities, a car really is necessary. But it's not everywhere, and it's getting better all the time.


Health and wellness are your own responsibility. Everybody wants to blame some amorphous "X" culture for their problems, though.

If you're running yourself ragged at work, ask yourself why you're doing so. If it's because of a perceived social obligation to do so, then it's up to you to recognize it's just that - it's social pressure, not a physical force keeping you at your desk.


> Everybody wants to blame some amorphous "X" culture for their problems, though

We don't exist in a vacuum. Any number of things could be holding you back, some of which you don't actually control.


Plus, if you observe that cultural (economic, political) differences appear to be causing worse outcomes in one society than another, for little to no benefit, then it's silly to just go "oh well, technically people could make individual choices to improve those outcomes, so no reason to worry about it".


Explain that to Amazon warehouse workers who are measured down to the second, with a 3 strikes you are fired for not meeting their merciless actions/minute. There are labor laws for a reason, and we stopped allowing child labor a long time ago. It is not a social obligation in most situations, it is implemented as part of how the company operates and its culture. How are you not aware of that?


Of course I'm aware of that.

You're telling me that nobody in that Amazon warehouse who is unhappy has the ability to get a job doing something else?


I beat this drum pretty regularly on HN but it is staggering to me why with our technological productivity we haven't already transitioned to less working hours. I am aware that not every industry/job could do this but how many couldn't?

It makes no sense to me why masses of people are okay with giving their prime waking hours, in the prime years of their life to earn a wage. Then we relegate living to nights and weekends. Being able to retire with the health and wealth to live your dreams is a crapshoot at best.

I realize it is a process but I would love to see more companies treat this as almost the ultimate quality of life perk they could offer.


Name the only thing that's increased in price many fold that everyone requires. Not everyone has a degree, so it's not that, plus skyrocketing education costs are limited to the USA. It's not health either as this has happened in countries with proper healthcare. It's the other thing.

That's where the answer lies.


I actually have no idea what you mean.


Rent?


>It makes no sense to me why masses of people are okay with giving their prime waking hours...

I don't think anyone is OK with it, just that you as a low level worker have zero agency to do anything about it. The people at the top of the company who could make these decisions for the rest of the employees probably don't even work a rigid 40 themselves, so they might not be aware of the issue at all.


At my company I enforce a no-meetings-Friday rule. Combined with being fully remote and biasing towards asynchronous communication whenever possible, it effectively means a four day work week if you want it. If you disappear on Friday, no one will really notice.


If nobody was working Friday, they'd need to institute a no-meeting Thursday so that everyone can work to make up for it.


> At my company I enforce a no-meetings-Friday rule

Do you make any exceptions? Seems weird for someone who might need to discuss something will need to wait until Monday.


I mean the same could be said for someone who needs to know something on Friday having to wait until Monday.

If it’s really critical you could set up a meeting on Friday or Saturday or Sunday. Or you can send an email and maybe they’ll answer on the “weekend”.


> Or you can send an email and maybe they’ll answer on the “weekend”.

If a SCUD missile isn't headed toward the office, what makes one think people in working four days a week will answer email on the weekend?


The same thing that gets them to answer email on Saturday or Sunday? Maybe they want to work. Maybe they are avoiding their family. Maybe they took some time off on Wednesday and felt the need to make up for it.

There's really little difference between a two day weekend and a three day weekend.


You could say the same thing about weekends.

I'd assume there's exceptions for things like "the site is down", though.


What company?


The biggest problem if you really wanted to do this is that gross and net work aren't the same. And depending on the job, they can be really, REALLY different.

My wife is a part-time accountant and for her it's working out nicely. She spends maybe 2-3 hours every week on generic stuff like coordination, meetings or bureaucracy which she would also spend at 40h.

For Engineers, this ratio is absurdly different. To speak in a cloud metaphor, Engineers are limited by I/O bandwidth and not by compute or RAM.

Because you need to learn so much about general coding, languages, algorithms, architecture, frameworks, domain specific expertise and whatnot AS WELL AS coordinate with stakeholders, on-location and upstream contributors, reviewers, managers, architects, QA, ... — they spend maybe 2-3 hours net of _actually writing code_.

The rest of the week is spent on how and why to write that code in the first place.

Once I understood the fundamental difference, the allure of crunch mode made a whole lot more sense to me. For 10-50% more time, you can get a whopping 100-500% in output for a short time. Compare that with the negative efficiency of adding more people (which, as we all know, will make the project later).

A 30h workweek would work into the opposite direction. For 25% less time, you might get 50-70% less productivity.

Not gonna happen. Sorry.


> For 10-50% more time, you can get a whopping 100-500% in output for a short time.

No you can't. Not quality output anyway. After a few hours writing code even the best engineers stop being productive and the quality goes down. From an ignorant manager's perspective this might be true, but it's not reality. Most people cannot code well for more than about five hours or so anyway. There's still plenty of time for bureaucratic bullshit. Of course to managers, people are robots to be pushed to the max and exploited. That's why ridiculous thinking like the above exists. And this isn't even taking into account the negative consequences on the employee being forced to work long hours over even a short period of time like a few days to a week which build up and start to reduce quality even further even in the five or so hours that could be productive. It is just a stupid managerial delusion to think putting in more time coding will be more productive, thinking completely removed from reality.


I've worked 30 hour weeks (5x6h) for almost 10 years as a software developer. It works for me. It's happening. You don't speak for everyone. "Sorry"


There is a lot of truth to what you say but there is also many studies that show longer hours have a rapid decrease in productivity. Working overtime over extended periods of time has an even larger drop. There is also the thought that someone working a 4 day week for 80% pay is more effective per hour than a person working a 5 day week for 100% pay. The 4 day is generally less stressed and (especially in software) likely to be thinking about the work even on their day off. There are other benefits too of staffing slack. If you do get in a crunch, you could easily pay overtime to the 4 day people to work their old schedule to get something out. This also generally leads to better cross training, vacation coverage and just happier people in general. The loss in net productivity every time an employee quits is huge and it takes time and money to find and train a replacement.

I'd would agree that there is a lot of bureaucracy in knowledge worker's days. Cutting that by an hour per day would have similar productivity gains.


Hum, I'm confused about your rationale, your conclusion doesn't seem to follow from your premise.

Like for me, all my thinking can happen off work, in the shower, when sleeping, etc. So I really don't need to be at work very much and actively working. And beyond 6h my brain can't produce ideas anymore anyways, so crunch seems useless as a developer, at least for me personally it doesn't make me more productive.


For the last four years I’ve been a data scientist whilst working a 4 day week. I look after our 3 young kids on Friday - my wife is a corporate lawyer who works 24/7 so this arrangement lets our kids have a bit more parent time. The kids and I have a lot of fun going to places in central London that I would typically avoid due to high crowds on weekends.

I don’t think my career has had a negative impact - all the companies (a mix of v early startups and large multinationals) have been very supportive, and I’ve managed to do some of my best professional work during this time.

The work life balance is really great this way. It’s clearly not an option if you need that fifth day to pay the bills, but if that’s not the case then it’s worth considering. One slight negative is not having time to learn new skills or work on side projects in the evenings - I’m too exhausted! - but I’ve also been lucky to be able to learn everything I need on the job, so it hasn’t mattered much up till now.


Just as Tim Ferriss's "4 hour workweek" is a simplified tagline used to convey a more complex point (there are more possibilities than ever to escape the 9-5), in my mind the "4 day workweek" term is the same (a work week need not be 5 days): it's not the precise form of the reduced workweek that matters, it's the shattering of the unchallenged acceptance of society's ideals with respect to work (full-time = 40 hours/week; hard workers work more and are better employees; aspiring to work less means you are lazy/lack ambition/will never achieve anything great etc.).

What surprises me (VC backed founder topping out at 40 hours per week) the most is how having an aspiration to work less is seen as a goal that needs to be in some way defended - why does everyone (feel they have to pretend to) love work so much? I literally felt the need to create a blog about the perils of overwork [1] just to help justify to myself why it's OK that I don't want to spend more time working (result = peace of mind that I'm not letting the entire world down by not working myself into the ground)... Of course, a lot of this pressure is in my head, but these standards are informed by society's . I have worked jobs where 60 hours per week was the _aspiration_, where leaving at 6PM was met with snide remarks of "taking a half day" and I could count on one hand the number of senior business leaders I've encountered in my career who paid more than lip service to any notion of work-life balance.

I look forward to the continuing changes in and challenges to the work ideals of high performing businesses as the composition of the workforce changes over the coming decades and (politics aside) commend movements like 4 Day Week campaign and 30hourjobs.com for their role in accelerating this progress.

[1] https://thefreedomseries.com


I don’t think this change needs obey any hand-wringing about lost efficiency. Lose the efficiency. Gain a deeper relationship to community, loved ones and self. We’ve been through, as a culture, more than enough self-brutalizations for growth. Enough. Time for a new metric to meet a new understanding of the world.


For the past two years I’ve been my own boss and one of my main terms I tell my clients is that I commit to 30 hours on-site per week.

I’ve tried to splice this as 4x7,5 and 5x6 and I prefer the latter _by far_, even if this means one more day of commuting. After 6 hours in front of the computer my mental energy is spent and I’m basically running of the clock on the clients dime. It’s demotivating and I’d much rather spend that time at home with my family and/or exercising.


What would happen if everyone shifted to a 4 day week, or let's say more of a 32h week?

Would we suddenly be unable to produce and offer all the goods and services needed to sustain ourselves as a society? I doubt it. I think we'd all just be happier working less and enjoying ourselves more.

It is different though if only some businesses make that shift, because then they might be uncompetitive against other businesses. And in today's global economy, it is harder to say the impact against companies in other countries where there is already a big gap on the work week.


Do what I did.

Step 1, Save up 200 vacation hours at company.

Step 2, From April-August take a vacation request, every Friday off. Willing to work during dumpster fire if needed.

Step 3, enjoy your 4 day work week.

Note Need to work at a legit company who cares about employees well being.

8 x 4 = 32 hours used per month x 5 months = 160 hours of vacation leaving your 40 hours of vacation for sick/emergency days.

You also will earn more vacation during this time for a little bit of wiggle room.

This is assuming you do not want to use your vacation for a legit 1-2 week vacation.


Step 1 will be problematic at every single company I encountered that has a fixed number of vacation days, because they all have a cap on how many you can accumulate. Which usually is 2 years worth of vacation time (usually 15-20 days per year, so 30-40 days max), after which you cannot accumulate any more and just start losing them.

EDIT: I profusely apologize for this comment. It's been a rough morning, and the math didn't check out in my head at first. Step 1 from the parent comment should work just fine with the number of vacation days I listed, since 30 days * 8 hours = 240 hours.


200 hours is 25 days at 8h/day, so it's fine?


You are absolutely correct, I profusely apologize for my parent comment. It's been a rough morning, and the math didn't check out in my head at first.


I hope your day has gotten better. Don’t worry about the math!


I was forced into a similar situation. I had accrued the maximum vacation accrual, and was going to start losing vacation days. I told my boss I was just going to take off every Friday for the next three months to get low enough to not hit the max.


> Need to work at a legit company who cares about employees well being.

...

> This is assuming you do not want to use your vacation for a legit 1-2 week vacation.

So you need to work at a company who cares about your well-being and also agrees that shorter weeks are better for you than taking actual vacations.

(Or of course have more than 25 days off in a year, which lots of people do.)


This works if you are a worker/individual-contributor. Very hard to pull off for leaders/managers without the system inherently supporting it.


Our architect works 50% and I as the lead developer am going down to 80% soon, it will be interesting to see how it works (or doesn't).


I managed to take 4 day weeks every other week for about 6 months at an old job. It was great! But the only reason I had so much vacation accumulated was because the job offered a lot of PTO but subpar pay, so I couldn't afford the kind of vacations that would merit taking off weeks at a time.


so i guess this is just for office workers. For the more blue-collar among us, management is constantly pushing for 7 days.

I work as an engine mechanic for an auto chain in the midwest, and can confirm we're persistently understaffed with qualified trade-skill educated employees. random 10 hour days in our shop are not unheard of depending on if the customer is a fleet job or not.

We tried 6 day work weeks, where we offered just oil changes on saturdays, and even that proved a little hectic for apprentices and new employees (they eventually started calling it saturday suck-work.) Customers were also furious that we only did oil/air and nothing else, so management predictably caved and our saturdays are reduced hours, but with full mechanics on site anyhow.

Pay for us stayed the same, but before we start talking about reduced work days, we need to address the absolute shortage of competent trade-skilled labor in this country. HVAC, plumbing, electrical, automotive, machinists, professional drivers and boilermakers...these arent just things that get done by anyone, but they keep the world running.


Sounds like you need a union.


A union wouldn’t fix the underlying issue of a shortage of blue-collar workers. To do that, you have to convince people to take up manual labor intensive work.


A union wouldn't fix the shortage, but it would ensure that it's the workers and not the managers getting the proceeds from all that overtime work.


Maybe start Monday at noon and leave at noon on Friday?

It is hard to run a B2B business without people around all 5 days.


Lockheed is a big employer in my area. I know people who work 9 hour days and they get every other Friday off. Half the staff takes one Friday and half the other.

Planning is key here. No one is saying the whole office needs off on the same day.


Also work in defense, this is becoming pretty common. Although typically everyone takes the same friday off - that saves operating costs (no janitors or cafeteria on the off day). There's also the benefit that people tend to plan their vacations around the off-fridays, and work the full day on on-fridays. So you don't get stuck at the office trying to solve a problem with nobody to answer your questions at 3 on a summer friday.


I believe the team in question needs to support something in person so they do a split.


I was providing a counterpoint to show that it's preferable having the whole office take off together when that's possible for your business. I don't disagree that staggering the off days could be necessary, but it isn't ideal.


It would not be hard to run a B2B business for 4 days if most businesses had a 4 day work week. That's what the author is arguing for, right?


Why can't we stagger which 4 days people work for fuller coverage?


I have some friends who work at a medium-sized and very profitable company in SF that gives them every other Friday off.

They have to organize it such that the office doesn't shut down completely on Fridays but that's not so hard, swapping weeks with someone is usually possible.

An interesting effect of this is retention: once people are used to working two fewer days a month, they are very reluctant to lose that "perq."

As a random point of comparison, in Germany an employee has a legal right to work part-time unless the employer can prove your job can only be done full-time. "We'd have to hire more people" is not proof. Your benefits would not change but you'd earn N% less money, based on how much less you work. IIRC the maximum is half-time. I have no idea how often it's used but in principle it's an awesome idea if you want to change your life up, have kids, get a PhD, whatever. (I don't remember whether you have a right to go back to full-time, but I think you do not.)


Interesting to see this coming up so often here lately. Especially because I didn't get the raise I hoped for this year I went for it and asked if I could cut down to a 4 day week thinking that they would say no because it's quite cumbersome to work around something like that for the rest of the company but they said yes.

I'm starting in august every other week I take the Friday and Monday off creating a 4 day weekend. I'm hoping to use this time to do more music, to prepare food for a better diet (I'm overweight because I never have the energy and time to really take better care of my food habits) and perhaps even work on some interesting home automation projects.

We start temporarily for half a year and revisit the decision end of January. Money wise I'm just going back where I was 2 years ago so that's quite ok. The only drawback I can see is that the work projects accumulate 2 days of changes which I will need to catch up to every other week.


I'm all for the freedom to choose the length of your work week. But don't come back later complaining about widening income gap among people.

There will be differences in outcome between people who work 30 vs 60 hours in any given industry. Not in all individual cases, but generally.


Complaints against income gaps (or, more significantly, wealth gaps) tend to focus on the top 10%, 1% or <1% versus the remainder of society. I don't think a variance of +/- 20% among the vast majority of workers (middle ~70%) is going to skew the wealth gap very much. The wealthiest, who continue to become wealthier vis-a-vis everyone else, would not be impacted by such variance.


One of the great things about the 4 day working week is that it's one of the most efficient, if not the most efficient, feasible proposal to cut down carbon emissions.

People will commute less, use less aircon at the office, and so on. The economy is either unaffected or maybe even cools down a bit, creating ripple effects that lead to further reduction of emissions.


We have gone the other way during my lifetime in the UK. Once there was a time when every single shop in the local town was closed on a Sunday and most of the shops were closed on a Wednesday afternoon. The banks were only open from 10 until 3. There were very few convenience stores open until late in the evening. The choice of late night fast food options comprised of a couple of fish and chips shops or a couple of restaurants.

It was also possible for families to have just the one parent out working. That parent would also be back home in time to watch the six o clock news. People did not go on two hour commutes.

We accepted all of the changes positively. For instance, it was great that women could now do the same jobs as men. It was nice to have the shops open when you were not working. It was convenient to be able to buy stuff late in the evenings, including alcohol from places other than pubs. Sundays were not boring or difficult if you had run out of milk.

Education in those days was also about preparing the younger generation for a future where there would be leisure time. On the syllabus were lessons on how to use that time. But it did not pan out, this generation ended up working more hours than what the teachers imagined, paying for their education, being burdened with debts, unable to afford a home and having to sit in traffic jams on absurd commutes.

Why do we do this?

There is a rent-seeking class that we collectively have to pay for. The few that own the property, that have the capital and don't actually work. Sure they work, making sure that people pay their rents, but this work does not add value to the economy. We were sold this as 'trickle down economics' where the rich, by having more money, would have more crusts available for the poor.

None of us can step out of this situation. To do so would involve loss of the roof over one's head, destitution and worse. We just have to do the best we can and hope matters somehow improve for the next generation.

In the world of programming we can carve a niche working differently, to escape the tyranny of modern day capitalism. But nobody is of the strength to get into office and un-do the changes that have been made to society by the neoliberal revolution.


To burn a bunch of vacation days, I once took off every Wednesday for 2 or 3 months.

It was great to be able to break the work week in half so that you only work two days in a row. It makes every Mon/Tue feel like a Thu/Fri because Wed is a "mini weekend".


Wouldn't people that only work 4 days get outcompeted by people who work harder and longer?

Just seems like a very unsustainable equilibrium without some sort of legal backstop by the government.


I’ve been working 4 days a week or less for almost a decade now. It’s great. Never going back to 5 days. Never. As a software dev it’s very easy to do. Highly recommended.


How? Are you working as a consultant?

Do you work as an employee and get a special deal to work for four days? Has anyonee tried this? Did you take a paycut?


When a headhunter contacts you, you tell them you want to work 30 hours. Companies have a hard time finding developers. Give it a try. (Yes, you'll earn 80% instead of 100%, just find a better paying job to compensate)


If you did it that way I bet you aren't getting good benefits, if any.


The number of hours one can work a week productively will vary based on individual and lifestyle.

But to me, currently working 60 hours in my startup (sleeping well, eating well and exercising, without children and with a good social life). 40 hours does not seem like much. Am I missing something?

If I worked only 9-5, I would pick a side project, as I would feel like I wasn't challenged though.

I understand having a family would change this. I can see how if I had 3 kids, a 30 hour week would be a blessing.

But we can't assume the same optimal number of hours for everyone. 40 hours is nothing for a single person with few responsibilities.


> 40 hours is nothing for a single person with few responsibilities.

Wrong. I'm single with few responsibilities and 40 hours is still way too much. Just because you like to be a workaholic doesn't mean you can generalize that to apply to everyone else.


Some people don't exist to work and want to engage with their own life. We shouldn't build a system that forces everyone into a "work-first" way of life, and then use a specific group that's fine with it as a rationalization.


I hope the younger generation is much more progressive than the status quo, this sort of thing has no chance of making it in the USA for at least 50 years. The argument I always hear made by libertarian types is "I entered an agreement with the company, I didn't have to do this". It is mind-blowing to me how quickly the corporation is made to be the victim. It is in the corporations best interest to exploit the worker as much as possible and get as much work for as little pay, and no worker has as much power as even a small organization, so the organization will come out on top the majority of the time.

A government that is concerned about its citizens could balance this power dynamic.

This mindset seems so simple and basic to me, could someone enlighten me on the other side of this argument wouldn't almost everyone's life be better if we enacted policies like these?


"It is in the corporations best interest to exploit the worker as much as possible..."

I agree with you entirely. Most people don't see themselves as exploited. Yet when the salary to hourly calculation happens and then an adjustment for actual hours worked happens (a regular 60 hour work week instead of a 40) lots of salaries suddenly look much different in the eyes of those making them.


I work three 12s. I love the 12 hour days, feels like I can really get work done. But I do not like the four days of waiting for work. I got a job doing my hobby and my other hobbies are not time intensive so I have lots of down time...


As I get older, my inner communist really starts to envy the European schedule (eg: France's 35h week and 6-8wks holidays).

I spent the entirety of my career working in the US and Canada, and to me it seems that no more than 80% of our collective effort goes into creating and maintaining the wonderful advanced society that we enjoy. Instead of stopping at 80% so that we can enjoy our lives, we work the extra 20%, mostly so that the rich can get a bit richer.


4 day workweek is a wild goose chase. There is no consensus about which of 5 workdays to drop to get there, which means that people will lose the precious time slots that can be used by individuals to get together at the same time as a group.

The alternative route of reducing the duration of each workday with the 5 workday week isn't much different from what we have today: some end up working longer hours, some work the bare minimum number of hours they are required. Enforcing shorter days means that the gap between the hard workers and those who are just showing up for the hours will increase even further, increasing performance gaps in the workplace and unfairly punishing dedication and productivity.


I think you're making this sound harder to implement than this really is.

> There is no consensus about which of 5 workdays to drop to get there

As a company (or better yet as a society), just redefine the weekend as Friday – Sunday, or Saturday – Monday. I don't think anyone is proposing a free-for-all approach where people get to pick and choose which day they take off.

> Enforcing shorter days means that the gap between the hard workers and those who are just showing up for the hours

I have a hard time understanding this mentality. The law and your labor contract only requires you to work 40 hours. Some people may choose to work more than that, but to what end? So you get to feel superior to your coworkers? If the law reduced the work week to 30 hours, would you seriously hold it against people to spend more time at home with their families?


> If the law reduced the work week to 30 hours, would you seriously hold it against people to spend more time at home with their families?

Some people would unfortunately, but it should still be done.


By in large in the UK medium to large size companies work 35 work weeks and holding it against people for family seems to not be a thing. It's a cultural accountability thing.

Balanced time at home/away from work. More time with kids, more nurtured kids, more successful kids. Same thing goes for the individual. More time to yourself, less burn out, better long quality work output, less stressful work environment.


Definitely agree it's a cultural issue which needs to be solved. You need leaders who can enforce work/life balance from the top down, and employees willing to rapidly move when a company doesn't have the will to support sane work/life balance.


This argument doesn't really seem to hold much merit, as you can use this exact same logic to say that we shouldn't have any sort of enforcement around working hours. We already had this fight. The argument ended in favor of enforcing shorter shifts than the ones we used to have. The only argument now is, should the limit be even lower?


It also falls apart in the inverse. Who is to say that 5 day workweeks are best? Wouldn't the above argument for 5 day over 4 day apply to 6 day over 5 day?

There is likely a good middle ground between butt in chair hours and productivity. This discussion is merely debating what that number is. The GP comment doesn't contribute to the discussion in any meaningful way, imo.

edit: but -> butt


The Soviets experimented with five and six-day weeks... I don’t think it worked out for them, but it’s been tried at least.

In any case there are other methods to distribute workers over four days while keeping 24x7 or just 9x5 or any other business hours arrangement.


Six day work weeks were standard in China up until the early 00s.


Sure, but the base week still consisted of seven days, no? In the USSR they messed with how many days a week’s period had. They were not followed by most industry and most of the countryside never implemented these ideas at all.


Ah, I misread 6 day week as 6 day work week. The Babylonians chose 7 days because they could see 7 planets (sun day, moon day, mars day, ..., Saturn day). Really hard to shake off our Babylonian heritage (Eg very non metric 24 hour days, 60 minute hours).


I would work extra hours for 4 days if it meant not working on the 5th. The commute alone means a net gain in free hours.




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