The 4-Day WorkWeek: The Good the Bad and the Ugly

(c) S. Brovkin

Recently, some major news media, many bloggers and numerous readers were delirious about the findings of several “four-day week” trials in the UK and Iceland (with more countries across the world joining in). Researches inform that those trials were an “overwhelming success,” with quite a few workers having moved to a shorter week while “productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces.”

Although some of the “discoveries” are questionable (one report suggested that “shorter hours could cut the UK’s carbon footprint”… Duh! Why not just shut everything down?), the consensus is that the vast majority of participating companies maintained or increased productivity and service provision and improved workers’ wellbeing and work-life balance. As one researcher noted, “The […] shorter working week journey tells us that not only is it possible to work less in modern times, but that progressive change is possible too.”

Is that true!

As a performance improvement expert and evangelist, I am very excited to read all these positive reports, but my conclusion is different from what you may have seen in mainstream media.

Here it is.

The GOOD

  1. The reports show that an average company could increase its productivity by 10-20 percent without any additional investment.
    When I tell that to my business clients, they do not think it is possible. Now we have research data supporting this estimate.
  2. If people are motivated, they work better – it is as simple as that.
    In the 4-day-week experiment, the employers used a straightforward monetary incentive: they increased the de facto hourly rate, and the productivity has increased.

Thus, if you run a business and want it to be more productive, rest assured: improving your team’s productivity is always possible. You should contact a performance improvement expert though. Otherwise, you would have improved long ago, don’t you think so?

The BAD

  1. The 4-day-week experiment proves what performance improvement consultants always maintain: If virtually all participating organizations have improved productivity through monetary motivation only, then there’s a lot of room for improvement in every company. Try to imagine how much more can be achieved if you improve employee engagement.
  2. Any material incentive (which is what the 4-week arrangement is in essence) will only work if the employer continues increasing the incentive indefinitely. Of course, no employer would do that. Therefore, when the dust settles, the unions and other social justice warriors will “resume their struggle.”

Engagement is not the same as motivation, and its potential is more significant because it leads to sustainable improved performance. On average, businesses that ignore the importance of employee engagement are losing up to half of their potential revenue.

Do the math – or contact me for details.

The UGLY

  1. Promoting the 4-day week, the authors imply without any reservations that working less is good, working more is bad (and harmful to the environment), and the described experiment is yet another proof that we should improve our “work-life balance.”
  2. The most extreme (and outrageous) example of this propaganda was Tim Ferriss’s book “The 4-hour Week” which was promising a shortcut to idleness supported by a “passive cash flow stream.” Tim Ferriss has cashed millions on his bestselling lie while admitting afterward that “the goal was never to be idle.” But the mainstream freeloaders and union leaders do not want to hear that part.
  3. The “work-life balance” model is the worst fallacy that we have inherited from the Middle Ages. Peasants used to work all workable hours, depending on the season. Electricity forced factory workers into excessive working hours; eventually, the “standard” work week was introduced. Then the US moved to a 5-day week in 1908 (although some countries maintained a 6-day week till the 1980s). But still – no work-life balance, burnout, and mental health problems have seemingly become contagious.

So, today we want a four-day week and fewer hours. Guess what will come next?

According to the report from Iceland, “The trials led unions to renegotiate working patterns, and now 86% of Iceland’s workforce have either moved to shorter hours for the same pay, or will gain the right to.” Good for them. Iceland lags far behind other Nordic countries in productivity; now it may disappear from the rear-view mirror.

The Bottom Line

Effective work-life integration is a much better way to look at work-life balance.

As one participant put it, “This is the principle at the heart of the four-day week: working less can actually mean working better.” NOT TRUE! It is the other way round: Working better actually means working less – if you so wish.

The activists scream: “This [reduction in hours] shows increased respect for the individual.  NOT TRUE! It is the other way round: Increased respect for the individual improved productivity and allowed to reduce hours.

But if you are in good health, you should never think about cutting your workweek short. You must focus on finding your calling – and contribute to society at your best, and let society reward you.

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