These days it seems like every time you look some company or country announces it’s launching a four-day workweek trial or touting the results of its successful experiment with reduced hours.
Iceland’s trial was a storming success. Spain launched a pilot scheme last year. The UK and Ireland are joining the party. And jobs sites report that listings boasting a 4-day workweek are up significantly. Various politicians have also endorsed the idea.
With labor shortages giving workers more leverage and pandemic fallout pushing companies to grapple with their burnout cultures, the four-day workweek is clearly having a moment. Both common sense and science suggest that’s a great thing. Who wouldn’t want an extra day off every week? Especially since research generally shows increased productivity and worker happiness with four-day workweeks.
But nothing in this world is simple. All decisions involve trade-offs and unexpected consequences. So what does it actually feel like to switch to a four-day workweek? What surprises people? What stresses them out? Wired recently spoke to 15 professionals who made the switch and reviewed existing reports of four-day workweek trials to find out what four-day work weeks actually feel like on a human level.
Short lunches and comatose Thursday nights.
At a high-level their investigations concur with the existing research on four-day workweeks — employees generally like them a lot. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t struggles. Many employers make shortened workweeks contingent on maintaining productivity. That means the same work gets squeezed into fewer hours. The result can be frantic days and exhausted evenings.
“I was a vegetable. Thursday nights were ‘order pizza, stare at the TV, and just drool,'” one employee told Wired of his new schedule. Still, this same worker recovered enough by Friday morning to use the day for household chores, leaving the weekend free for decompression. “I found that I was really ready to go by Monday morning,” he added.
A more compressed schedule also leaves far less time for office sociability. Which suits some just fine, but bothers others. “Some workers enjoyed the ‘exhilarating’ and ‘full-on pace,’ while others felt ‘the urgency and pressure was causing ‘heightened stress levels,’ leaving them in need of the additional day off to recover from work intensity,” Wired says of one New Zealand trial. Various workers complained they no longer had time to banter, daydream, or do the crossword during lunch at work.
It’s worth noting that elsewhere experts have worried that the compressed schedules of four-day workweeks might crowd out time for learning, professional development, and the general noodling about aimlessly on which many innovative ideas depend as well.
Not all four-day workweeks are really four days.
Wired also uncovered that some supposed four-day workweeks are really more like four regular days and one quieter catch-up day where employees finish whatever they didn’t manage to get done during their four-day sprint. One man told them his clients badger him continuously so he ends handling work emails on his “day off.”
Experts would probably not be surprised to hear this. Even campaigners for four-day workweeks acknowledge that changing the agreed-upon schedule isn’t a cure-all for cultural problems or out-of-control expectations. “If you have a culture of overwork then there’s very different conversations to be had around how you’d change that,” Charlotte Lockhart of advocacy group 4 Day Week Global has cautioned.
The positives still outweigh the negatives.
Still, these negatives aside, most of the Wired interviews are full of happy tales of workers with newfound time for exercise, quality time with their kids, or even just the logistics of life, like appointments and errands, that previously necessitated time off. You can read the complete article here.
Being realistic that four-day workweeks have downsides isn’t an argument against making the switch. Instead, it’s a reminder to be mindful of tradeoffs and pitfalls. If you’re cognizant of the possible complications of a shortened workweek, you’ll be better placed to minimize problems and maximize benefits. And everyone seems to agree the benefits outweigh the problems by quite a lot.