Not all 4-day work weeks are created equal

There seems to be some excitement around the 4-day-work-week being trialled in the UK. However, not all 4-day work weeks are created equal.

There are a few different ways that an employer could implement a shorter working week. Either employees:

* work the same number of hours per week, but reduced to 4 longer work days
* work less hours with the same amount of pay
* work less hours with less pay

The article suggests that of the 30 businesses taking part, participants are required to still complete the same amount of work they were previously doing. And they will still be required to work up to 35 hours per week (i.e. the same number of hours they were required to work previously over 5 days). What this implies is that these workers will be working less number of days, but more hours within each of those days. It also does not make clear who this 4-day work week would apply specifically to. It seems from the link supplied in the article to the 4 Day Week website, there is a skew towards those who belong to a trade union. I wonder what impact this would have on the potential for over-time hours (and therefore, the potential for earning overtime pay) may have on these workers.

There is only so much productive, effective work our brains are cognitively able to do each day. Expecting increased productivity with the same number of hours worked per week – shoe-horned into just 4 days (as per the current research being conducted in the UK), seems a bit of a self-defeating exercise to me. I also fear that a number of these employees will still be working on their ‘day off’, but not in the office environment. Unless there is a mandated ‘no technology use in your day off’, it will be difficult to manage and monitor the effectiveness of the ‘day off’.

I also wonder how working more hours each day may impact those who are working parents – who have to drop off and collect children from pre-school or school. How do these parents manage to fulfil their home-based responsibilities, such as homework, bath times, family meals etc if they are working longer hours? It doesn’t quite seem as feasible or idealistic as initially presented in the Time-Out article or on the ‘Why a 4 day week’ website.

I hope to be proven wrong.

Research conducted by the BCG in 2009 showcases a different type of 4-day work week. Although project teams trialled different working time off options during the week, the main criteria for each of the trials conducted was that consultants were required to refrain from technology use during their mandated time off.

An additional, and I think critical, point is that the teams worked together to decide which team member took the time off and when. The team members also negotiated how the client work would be completed without the client suffering from any team mandated time-off.

What the research found is that those who participated in the experiments were more productive, had higher energy levels and standards of service delivered. They were also more likely to stay at the company for longer and reported higher levels of job satisfaction. In addition, the need to maintain high client service levels increased the level of teamwork and effective communication amongst team members.

I would suggest the BCG model is a better option than simply ‘demanding’ that a working week be reduced to 4 days, while working the same number of hours for the same amount of pay.

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