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Ask HN: Would you switch to a 4-day-a-week schedule if you could?
55 points by bwb on Oct 10, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 63 comments
#1 - Would you switch to a 4-day-a-week schedule if you could? Why or why not?

#2 - Would you do it if it also meant you made 80% of your current comp? Why or why not?

Someone asked something similar about 4 years ago, but I wanted to see how the sentiment has changed and what you think :).

Just one thing: In the 50s and 60s working weeks were 6 days in Germany (east and west). In the 70s this was reduced to 5 days (40 hours), and later, in the early 80s, in West Germany even to 35 hours/week. All this was possible without reduction of wages because working productivity had grown fast enough to compensate companies for the "lost" working time. Can anyone really imagine that working productivity grew significantly LESS than it had between c. 1945 and 1980 during the last 40 years? So, where did all the extra gain go in the mean time? Higher wages? Nope. Higher pensions? Nope. longer holidays? Nope. Lower prices? Nope. They all developed over the last 40 years in a speed that kept them more or less on the same relative level than in the 1970s/80s. The only thing that grew MUCH faster was the income of the rich… So, we should not ask, IF we wanted to work 1 day less per week, but WHY we are not doing so already? Would the rich be or at least feel much poorer than now? Does anyone of these people really know the difference between 100000000000 and 10000000000 (given, they could even pronounce these numbers correctly ;-))?

We get paid not for value, but for replacement cost.

Therefore we do not get paid for productivity but for market rates. Obviously having a high value allows the company the freedom to pay us more, but all else equal the lower cost employee will should hired

Then we change labor law. It really is that simple (and how we are currently at a 40 hour work week).

Until at will employment is undermined it will be hard to enforce. An employer just wont hire/retain <40 hrs & 5 day employees?

At-will employment is largely a US concept.

The rest of the developed world does not have such things, yet 40 hour work weeks are still commonplace.

True, this is an interesting concept. Maybe it's due to human preference, norms, or companies' ability to shift labor?

Japan has the salaryman that works much more than 40 hrs iirc.

Yup. Did it. I'm so fortunate to have been able to afford it, and it's been awesome.

When my first child was born, I dropped down to 3 days a week, at 60% pay/vesting/etc., but full medical (Google was awesome about it). After a few years, I moved to a new position that I felt really passionate about (Makani at Google[x]), and went up to 4 days a week to make that possible. After a few years there and the birth of another child, I left Alphabet and now work 2 days a week at Elemeno Health (who are hiring for a full time Lead Engineer, BTW; see https://angel.co/company/elemeno-health/jobs).

It's really life-changing. I've been able to be a much more involved parent than I ever could have working full time. My wife also works part-time [more like 80%] and it's such a big plus.

If you want to try it, and can find a supporting company, true work-life balance is amazing. You may have to pick the right projects, that are well-suited to a reduced duty cycle, but with the right fit, it works great.

How does that work?

Do u have to build a large reputation in that company so that they let you do whatever you want?

Or do you apply for these 2 days a week jobs that offer medical and all that?

For my first part-time job, I'd been there long enough to have a solid reputation; I also had a fairly-new boss during what had been a super-productive time for me, so he'd really only seen great work from me. I'm sure he was afraid that I'd quit if I wasn't allowed to go part-time, although I was very careful not to say or even imply that.

It was company policy that if you worked at least 50% time, you got full medical. They had standard procedures and forms for it, but still, it was pretty rare. You needed approval up to VP level IIRC. My boss was a director, so that took care of two levels of approval to start with, and his boss [who didn't know me well] trusted his opinion, so it was approved pretty fast, on a see-how-it-goes basis. It went well, so I stayed at 60% for about 3 years, before deciding I wanted to move on.

I don't know how you'd get a job at Google at that duty cycle from the outside; I did hear of one person coming in at 80%, but it's got to be a hard sell.

The 40% job I'm working now was a pretty special case in a number of ways. I was already an adviser of the company before working there. I then started working at 40% for stock and minimum wage, since I didn't need paying for a while and they couldn't afford me at the time anyway. When I'd vested out the stock, just as my COBRA ran out, we negotiated that my salary would go up to maintain the same total comp, but then down by 60% of the cost of medical, and they'd cover the other 40%. You can do these things at small startups; everything's negotiable. At a big company, it's going to be a lot less flexible.

That is awesome, thank you for sharing! Since you mentioned picking the right projects... if other people are doing 5 days a week, how do you find the right project and stay on top of it if you are out 1 or 2 days a week?

The projects that worked best for me at 60% were those that involved lots of independent work. I'd find something big that the team needed doing, that was important but not urgent--the kind of stuff that always gets put off until too late. Then I'd go off for a few months and come back with a prototype for approval. When it got through review, I'd go off again and make it solid, write all the tests, develop a staging strategy to get the parts in, etc. Once it was in, I'd find another project. I did a couple of really big things that each took 10-18 months that way.

The minuses of part-time work are pretty obvious: you have fewer work hours per week, but the same amount of overhead; you're harder to reach, since you've effectively got longer weekends; people aren't really sure if you're committed to the project or just slacking off.

However there are also pluses. The biggest one is that you have more mulling-problems-over-in-the-shower hours per work hour, which can make your work hours a lot more productive. A similar one is that if you're ever waiting on back-and-forth with other folks for information, approval, code reviews, etc., you get more hours of those per work hour as well. Another is that you take far fewer vacation and sick days. When my usual schedule was M-W, if I or a child was sick on a Monday, I'd just work Thursday to make it up. And I never needed a vacation day to take a long weekend, get shopping done during working hours, go to the doctor, or anything like that.

Communication with your coworkers is key, so that they know what to expect from you. And be sure to work within your company's culture. If you'd answer an email on the weekend, then you should on your day off. But it goes both ways: they shouldn't regularly ask you to come in on a day off if they're not asking others to come in on the weekend.

Thank you so much for sharing!

By law, in the Netherlands, employees are allowed to reduce their work hours. Allegedly, unless there is a clear, critical business need for you to work the entire week, the company is not allowed to deny your request.

I would love to work fewer days per week, and use the extra time to focus more on my personal development & side projects. However, at my current level of discipline, I'd be fooling myself if I said I would use the time productively.

That said, the idea is still very tempting and I intend to do it in the next couple of years. In the meantime, I fully enjoy all of my 24 PTO days and make use of our policy for getting 5 extra unpaid days without justification.

The most common cases are people working 4 days every, or every other week. This seems to be popular with new parents.

I know of only one instance of a 3-day work week. The guy, a developer, is using the other days for graduate studies.

I'd like to merge Netherland law into Washington state law, this sounds like an excellent idea.

Have you considered running for Washington state office?

Give yourself some credit, you might not use it productively initially, but once that was out of your system...

1. Yes and I did about a year ago. I think I'll find it hard if I have to go back to 5 days a week. It's really nice to have long weekends every week. I've time to work on other things and take days to go hiking or skiing. It makes the work week really fly by as well. Some downsides are having to catch up on everything you missed on your day off, so it can suck up time. Also it takes people a while to realize that this is a permanent thing and to stop inviting you to meetings on a Friday. I would highly recommend that you pick the same day every week and stick to that. I picked Fridays and marked my whole calendar as out of office that day. Otherwise its too hard for others to manage if you take a Monday off one week and a Thursday the next.

2. Yes. I did this too. Although technically I negotiated to reduce to a 32 hours week instead of a pay increase. But I have the option of going back to a 5 days week with a 20% pay increase. Software engineers generally earn pretty good wages so I'd prefer to have the time than the extra money.

1: Yes. I would like to not work on Wednesdays. Having a split work week sounds way better to me than 3-day weekends and two vacation days still buys me 5 days off.

2: Maybe. Have my hours been reduced by 20%? My workload? Will we have 25% more staff?

Any place I've worked that contemplated allowing people to go on a 4-day schedule expected 10-hour days, which ends up being appealing to very few.

1. Yes. In a second. I find it tough to do all of the things I want to do with the activities I have outside of work with the amount of free time I have available.

2. Yes. Less pay for less work makes sense to me. My productivity would likely go up, but at the same time, I'm just more concerned about not having my work take over my life. If 80% of my pay is what it takes to get there, then it's a trade off I'm willing to make.

#1) Yes, definitely. The industry where I work does not require me to be on-call. Anything I have access to do is not immediate, and can only be done after business-hours. Further, I am completely comfortable with indirect chats, and digital meetings. Despite this, along with the fact that our company is only a few years old, we can't work from home - at all. It feels incredibly restrictive, especially considering the fact that many employees work around this rule. It feels like management doesn't trust us to do our work. Having just an extra day would make things so much easier

2) Maybe if I lived in Europe, but I'm in the US, and I quite like being able to afford a decent home + benefits

I did 4x10 at a previous job. I wouldn't say more got done, but the 3 day weekends were nice. The 10 hour days just dragged on, and productivity died after around hour 7. Since a big part of this was mostly just babysitting / being in the data center, that's not a huge deal. I read a lot of slashdot then. Dodging the traffic was nice too.

I don't know if I'd do it now, though. 9-5 with a reasonable commute isn't bad. I don't want to get home at 8 and "start my day" a couple hours before bedtime.

Would I take an 20% paycut? Nah.

Absolutely on both accounts. I've been taking Fridays off the past few weeks and LOVE it. I have so many personal projects; having 50% more free days each week gives me so much more time to pursue them (in addition to the normal house, social, and family maintenance that typically fill up weekends).

20% off current comp also means I'm still comfortably middle-class. So it would be a huge net gain to my quality of life. (If I didn't have a software engineer's salary I would not be saying that!)

> Would you do it if it also meant you made 80% of your current comp? Why or why not?

That would not be a fair discount because the number you see on your paycheck is not the full amount the company is paying to employ you. They also pay for benefits, payroll taxes, equipment, office space, management overhead, etc.

The all-in cost of an employee is closer to 150% of the number on your W2. So assuming your output goes down 20% you should be giving up 30% of your W2 salary to compensate your employer for that loss, not 20%.

That is not correct and I want to make sure you get the correct info. One of the larger companies I ran was 130+ people operating in about 12 states. The companies average tax rate on an employee's salary is ~20% depending on the state (~18% to ~22% depending).

So 20% on the salary. *And, that amount goes down relative to salary changes.

After that, if the company is paying for 100% of health care that can have a big impact of course but I wouldn't roll that into this.

Equipment, office space, overhead is separate from salary. I do not suggest bundling those together as it creates a false view of the costs of these type of decisions.

I understand what you are trying to say but I think it is not how I would look at it with my CFO hat on.

No way. 150% overhead is the cost of a fully funded pensioned employee. It’s usually close to 130% of pay at a good company, and 120% at a shitty one.

On my last job instead of a raise, I asked to switch to 90% with the same pay and got it, that was awesome.

On my current job, I work 80% because we have a daughter now and like the extra day with her. I also work from home, which adds more time for her on working days.

I think right now, the most important thing I can do is spend time with my kid, soon kids ;) It is only a couple of years until they also start going to kindergarten and school and also have a schedule.

I did something like that for awhile when my first child was born. Went to 30 hours a week, done in three 10-hour days, spending Monday and Friday home with my kid. 75% salary/vacation time, same medical/everything else. I did that for a few years and it was really great. Had to go back to full time eventually because the extra 25% salary ended up being needed, but yeah it was great while it lasted.

Yes. I did that for a few months back when I was told I had to spend my vacation days or lose them (PTO was supposed to be convertible to cash under local law, but I didn't want the hassle).

So I took almost three months of Fridays off, and it was _by far_ the most productive and happy time I had - remote work and flex time was nice, but having a clear separation between work and personal time was even better.

If it was optional and the company offered optional Saturdays at 20% more to balance out everything.

There are a lot of advantages to a free business day.

Yes. I already sorta do. My current schedule is nine longer days, with the tenth day off. I work enough time in the first nine days to make up for the tenth day. It's not exactly the same as a four-day work week though. I would jump on that in a heartbeat.

I immediately noticed an improvement to my overall happiness when switching to my current work schedule.

1. Yes I totally would love it and think all Americans should go to a 10-hour, 4-day work week. Two days off is not enough. The Europeans have far more vacation time than us. What's disheartening is that we spend more days at work than not - at least this would even the playing field a little. It feels like your whole life is there then. I would be in favor of someone starting a movement to change this across the U.S. 2. Officially my answer is yes because I value the time off with my family. However, I would argue that a 4-day work weeks can save companies money (i.e. don't have to pay utilities on the 5th day the business is closed) and therefore the cut isn't needed. And I'm still working the same amount of hours, so why cut?

For anything creative or intellectual ten hours makes no sense at all, those extra two hours at the end of the day will be the least productive.

Americans should have more days off but not by squeezing the existing work into a shorter period.

Would you ever want to do less than 40 hours, so 4 days of 8 hours for 32 hours a week?

40 hours has been historically used to determine full-time status (and full-time benefits) like health insurance. It's one of the reasons I think this schedule is so hard to get away from.

I've heard it's a weekly schedule above 32 hours a week

#1 - I guess I would not make the switch. Usually I lose a day's worth of work every week doing things that don't directly contribute to my role and so I need all 5 days to recover from that. In that way I guess I already work a 4 day week, I just spend 5 days doing it.

Those things that don't directly contribute to your role are still part of your job and you should be paid to do them. The onus should be on the company to streamline your processes so they don't waste everyones time.

Back when I was working full time - absolutely. The reduction in pay would be expected.

I suspect I'd be happiest with 2-3 days a week, with the rest of the time being put into education/personal projects (with a proportional paycut).

I DID switch to 4 days for 80% pay, starting in June when my kids got out of school. There aren't a lot of people who do what I do. I went in and asked, and they said they would do anything to keep me.

What...do you do?

I worked four days a week, taking a 20% pay cut, for about a dozen years while working at SAIC and Physical Dynamics. It was well worth taking a pay cut for three day weekends every week.

1 - yes. More FUN time, less WORK time. Simple as that.

2 - yes. I would just try to get a job with more money if it wasn't enough :).

1. Yes. Actually switched to 3 days. Company was fine with it as my other option was resignation. I'd gained a valuable amount of knowledge, enough for them to keep me on.

2. I made 60% of my previous salary but I'm fortunate enough that this covered living expenses. The 2 additional days off made me richer than any raise could.

I would switch to a 2.5 day work week or possible even less, with proportional cut in pay, if I could.

Gotcha, what is preventing you? Have you tried talking to your current company? Asking out of curiosity :)

It's a non-starter pretty much everywhere. No one wants to pay a half-time employee even half as much as a full time one. It's difficult to blame them, half my job is reacting to problems as the arise anyway.

Yes. 20% less comp. 50% more free time. (Plus if I needed the money, freelancing pays a lot better)

Absolutely. I am too tired in the evening during the work week to do anything and places on weekends are always packed with people. Spreading that out over three days would help a lot.

This is something I'd pursue once I hit my retirement targets.

1 yes, because I can have a long weekend for side projects.

2 maybe. I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder. I want to start a business. I need free time to polish my skills on that front.

But I prefer 4*10 hours

In your scenario 1, refusing is basically accepting to work an additional day for the same comp? Why would someone accept that?

Sorry for the confusion, I am asking from the employee perspective, i.e., would you want to work 4 days a week or do you like 5 days?

I've talked to some people who are in a period of their life where they wouldn't want to know what to fill it with and like being at work 5 days a week.

I was actually thinking from the employee perspective. If your employer allows you to work 4 days for the same comp, refusing is choosing to work an additional day for free.

It's strange to me that some people don't know how to fill their day when they are not at work. My personal todo list is always full!

Gotcha, yep I agree :)

Yes, absolutely, 100%, no hesitation

Nope, cause I already switched to a 2.5-day-a-week schedule, and loving it.

Big pay cut, but worth it.

Absolutely. when I cannot, I long for 10/80

1. Yes. For me it's more about focus. I can dive deep on work then dive deep on family time.

2. Maybe? 'Murican healthcare is quite the yoke.

Yep on #2 I was assuming benefits don't change and hoping they were covering 100%.

No. We have 7 days in a week.

Can you explain a bit what that means :)?

I find it odd to limit ourselves to the structure of 4-day workweek or 40hr work-week

I utilize all 7 days to work on my professional & personal projects

To do everything sustain-ably and optimize output, for some projects, I dedicate couple of hrs for 4 days and for some only a day and for some everyday.

How you time-box your work for maximum potential is a personal discovery and the strategies vary based on the person, environment and the nature of the project.

So if we are talking about weeks, I have 7 days to get things done which are important in my life and I will neither follow 40hr work-week not 4-days a week. I will see the project, where it stands against all things in life, put it somewhere in my 7 day schedule, see if this schedule works and go ahead with the learnings each week.

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