More Rejuvenation Time with A 4-Day Work Week
July 19, 2022
In the past several months, it seems that every news outlet has been talking about the "4-Day Work Week."
I ran across an article in The Washington Post last week: "Nobody wants to be in the office on Fridays"
I heard a news story on the radio in the morning, also last week: "More companies are trying out the 4-day workweek. But it might not be for everyone"
This week, the commercial real estate folks, concerned about vacant office space I'm sure, ran an article: "Everybody’s Working For The (Long) Weekend: UK Starts Largest 4-Day Workweek Trial"
The major driver of this movement is widely attributed on the pandemic and the required flexibility imposed on employers when in-person work became a hazard to employee health.
However, it's best to consider the pandemic more like lighter fluid that accelerated the burn, because the fire was already burning, and in fact has been for almost 200 years.
Image: Ford Motor Company
Times Have Changed
Workers in the United States put in extra long hours prior to the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800's, but even in these earlier times, research shows that average weekly hours were on the decline, dropping from 70 hours per week in 1830 to 60 hours by 1890.
The rise of labor unions in the late 19th and early 20th century strengthened employee's voice for reduced working hours, spawning the moto, "eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what you will.”
In sync with this trend, and recognizing that he could achieve greater productivity if employees worked less, in 1914 Henry Ford reduced work time in his factories to 48 hours per week with 8-hour shifts, six-days per week.
This was followed in 1926 by a further reduction at Ford factories to 40 hours per week over only five days, forcing other major employers to do the same in order to remain competitive in the labor markets.
In the first 100 days of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency at the beginning of 1933, there was serious consideration of federal legislation that would have shortened the work week to only 30 hours.
This bill ultimately faltered, but five years later the 40-hour work week was codified in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, firmly establishing the 5-day work week and 2-day weekend that has been a standard part of American culture ever since.
Who Killed the Weekend
While the push for a shorter work week made gradual progress from the 1830's to the 1930's, being cut almost in half, what workers do with the hard earned "time off" on the weekends, especially today, is less about the labor union's "rest", and more about "what you will."
As noted by Katrina Onstad in her article, "Who Killed the Weekend?", rather than rest and rejuvenation on the weekends, most families pack them full of errands, working on the house, kids sports activities, and all too often... unfinished work brought home from the weekday.
As Onstad's twelve-year-old son exclaimed at the end of one such jam packed weekend, “Was that a weekend? Are you kidding?”
Onstad shared in her article what sociologist Robert Stebbins had to say about “serious leisure” activities, which weekends should be much more about.
Serious leisure activities are "the most fulfilling" and include "pursuits that require regular refinement of skills learned in earnest," such as hobbies.
She notes that, "Hobbies are declining, but a hobby is exactly the kind of activity that adds value to the weekend. Stamp collectors and basement inventors may not be cool, but they know the benefits of becoming fully immersed in an activity and losing track of time – that rejuvenating 'flow' state."
Sounds a lot like the kind of rejuvenation I've talked about in my own article, "Quiescence - The Secret to Recharging Your Batteries."
Reviving the Weekend
If we're going to gain any benefit from a 4-day work week, we need to begin by first taking back the two days we already have on the weekend.
We must ensure our time on the weekend is much more about rejuvenation and much less an extension of the work week into the two days guaranteed to us 80 years ago by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
While I'm not perfect when it comes to maximizing rejuvenation on the weekends, I raise the odds by keeping a blank calendar on almost every Saturday and Sunday.
That's right, little to nothing planned or scheduled.
To be clear, it's not that I don't spend time "getting things done" on the weekend, just like everyone else. I just put a LOT less pressure on myself to get a million and one things done.
For starters, when there's nothing you HAVE to do, you have greater flexibility to do whatever you do get done at a time that is most convenient and less stressful.
This approach, first and foremost for me, means I get to sleep-in on Saturday and Sunday, which is the ultimate rejuvenation for your body and your mind.
The truth is, after waking up all week between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m., "sleeping in" typically means I'm awake around 8:30 a.m., which compared to the wake-up time of my teenage daughters, might as well be the crack of dawn.
However, being awake doesn't mean I'm out of bed at 8:30 a.m.
Instead, I lie in bed relaxing, taking my time waking up. I sometimes read, or listen to music, or call a friend or family member to chat... all while still in the comfort of my bed.
Does this sound a little like what many people do when on vacation?
If so, that's no accident!
My weekends are as much a mini-vacation as I can make them, maximizing my "rest" time and providing as much rejuvenation as possible.
Once I finally roll out of bed, typically between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m., I take my time getting some food and reading the newspaper on my tablet, not in any particular rush.
By 12:30 or 1:00 p.m., I finally start in on any tasks set aside for the weekend, sometimes work around the house, often personal type work on my computer, and most of the time nothing that "absolutely must be done" that day.
Of course, it wasn't always this way for me.
When my three daughters, who are now 16, 18 and 20 years old, were much younger, it was a lot harder to "sleep in" on the weekends. I've also not been married for the past 14 years, which every person in a relationship knows, provides greater flexibility in choosing how you spend your time.
Even so, how I avoid "killing the weekend" is not an impossibility for anyone who chooses to make rejuvenation time on the weekend a priority and a reality rather than just a dream.
It will need to be, if you want to derive any benefit from a 4-day work week, and a 3-day weekend!
Is a 4-Day Work Week Even Feasible?
Does a 4-day work week really benefit employers, or is it yet another "perk" necessary in the aftermath of the Great Resignation to entice employees to choose your organization over another, with questionable utility to either employers or employees?
There is much anecdotal evidence that 4-day work weeks are beneficial to both employers and employees, but there is also hard research that proves it.
Between 2015 and 2019, the Reykjavík City Council and the Iceland national government conducted a trial study of more than 2,500 workers on a 4-day work week schedule.
Those in the trial reduced their hours from 40 to between 35 and 36 hours per week, for the same pay.
In July of 2021, a report from the Association for Sustainable Democracy stated that the results of the Iceland trial were, "an overwhelming success."
"Productivity and service provision remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces."
"Worker well-being dramatically increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout, to health and work-life balance."
Similar studies are currently underway in Ireland, Spain, New Zealand, the US and Canada, and in the United Kingdom.
Source: Kastie Systems/Washington Post
Challenges With the 4-Day Work Week
One of the most balanced media reports I reviewed which focused on the 4-day work week came from the Morning Edition Show on NPR Radio.
They mentioned all of the studies above, but also provided a counter perspective from HR professionals, like David Lewis with Operations, Inc.
Commenting on the challenges to a 4-day work week in the hyper connected world we now live in, Lewis questioned, "How exactly are you going to move people in the exact opposite direction to think about three days versus two days being disconnected when [they're] struggling to disconnect for even a couple of hours during the course of an entire seven-day week?"
Also, despite the fact that research shows Friday's are the least favored day to work, at least in the office, some business owners shared with NPR that mandating a particular day off may be counter productive.
Lindsay Tjepkema, the CEO of marketing technology company Casted, said "Real flexibility is being able to say, 'Hey I want to start my workday late' or 'I want to cut out early on Wednesdays for kid reasons, for friend reasons, for personal reasons, for pet reasons."
"So if I mandate that flexibility at our company means you get Fridays off, that's not flexibility. That's mandating a day off."
Yes, It's Possible!
At the end of 2020, I attended Amy Porterfield's Digital Course Academy to learn all of her tips and tricks for how to create my own online courses.
Ever since that time, as an alumni, I've read Amy's newsletters and listened to her podcasts, all filled with useful ideas, including one podcast titled, "Could A 4-Day Work Week Fit Your Business?"
In the podcast, Amy shares her experience with converting her business from a 5-day to a 4-day workweek, including recommendations for how to make the same conversion for your own company.
For those of you still in doubt about the potential benefits of a shortened work week, consider your own personal behavior as an example of what's possible.
If you've ever planned a trip out of town for a week or more, or faced a deadline to complete a really important project for work, you've been in a situation of limited time.
As the date of departure or project deadline get closer and closer, most people get hyper focused, avoid less critical activities, and work more efficiently... all out of necessity.
It's Parkinson's Law, the old adage that work expands to fill the time allotted for it's completion.
With only four days in a week to complete your work, you will still get it all done, but more efficiently, and within a 4-day rather than 5-day time frame.
Microsoft's Japanese Division proved as much in a 2019 five-week trial with all 2,300 employees working 4-days a week without a decrease in pay.
The trial resulted in, "more efficient meetings, happier workers and boosted productivity by a staggering 40%."
Considering again the impact of a reduced work schedule on the US labor force, data from the early 1800's to today from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics clearly show the correlation between weekly hours worked and significant increases productivity (see chart below).
Source: Avanir Consulting Partners
Keep Your Eye On the Prize!
The 4-day work week is the essence of what Freedom Focused ultimately strives to achieve for business owners and their team... greater freedom.
Freedom to do the work that you love, as much or as little as you want, and when you most want to do that work, be that 5-days, 4-days, or even 3-days each week.
The bi-product of working less is the ultimate prize... more time for rest and rejuvenate of the mind and body...quiescence!
The trend towards fewer, more productive work days that started almost 200 years ago, continues to this day, accelerated by the breath of freedom that workers experienced in their work environment during the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 4-day work week is not a trend that shows any signs of being merely a fad.
Quite the opposite. All signs point to an eventual shift of many, if not most businesses to a shortened, 4-day work week.
While some businesses will struggle to come to terms with this shift, if your business is on the path to becoming Freedom Focused, you're sure to have a much easier time embracing and realizing the greatest benefits of the change.
But in order to do so, you'll need to stay...
Focused on your freedom!
Listen to the podcast episode: #029 Why Is Everyone So Excited About A 4-Day Work Week?