Forget the 4-day workweek
Free lunch, ping pong, and a gym membership as reasons to join a company? It seems silly, even childish now. Yet not too long ago, these types of office perks were de rigueur — a necessity for attracting talent. But with many companies restructuring to operate more like bootstrapped startups in the face of an economic downturn, well… playing table tennis is outlandish. Instead, another so-called perk is making headlines.
Some people are touting a four-day workweek as the salve to heal professional burnout and miraculously improve business outcomes.
Now I am not generally someone who hedges or adds caveats to my writing. But in this case, I know that people will have a strong reaction to the headline of this blog post. So let’s get it out of the way: To me, the core premise behind the four-day workweek is flawed. It assumes less work is somehow better than more, with which I fundamentally disagree.
A four-day workweek infers other assumptions. The most obvious one is that you are a knowledge or tech worker, or even running your own company, and have some level of financial security and career autonomy. It follows that the company must be able to fully shut down on the eliminated day and be unavailable to customers — or that it moves to a rotating shift schedule. Many industries (manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, some might say online services) require near-constant coverage, which would mean that companies would have to hire even more people to compensate. That makes the business boon claim very squishy.
Moving to a compressed schedule might appear to be a benefit to employees, but it can create damage and angst too. One study showed that work intensified more after companies tried a four-day week because there was a related increase in managerial focus on performance measurement, monitoring, and productivity. The concern about the ability to complete necessary work was real.
Cutting working hours does not mean that there is an automatic and proportionate reduction in workload — moving to a four-day workweek, you may be expected to simply do more with less time.
I see flexibility as more important. In a recent poll I ran on LinkedIn, flexible schedules and remote work far outranked the four-day approach. I was not surprised. When we founded Aha! back in 2013, Chris and I wanted to build exceptionally high-quality products. We knew that remote work and time-slicing would allow us to hire the best people, enable them to work from where they are happiest, and be responsive to customers across the globe. Our team is full of intrinsically motivated people who want to work hard with others who share the same mindset.
Many people noted in the comments of the LinkedIn poll that a schedule is not what drives professional achievement and personal well-being. Working to one's full potential while also being able to enrich other areas of your life is the ideal — the relationship between the two often being symbiotic. And from a founder's perspective, it is hard to see how working less benefits a company. Here is why I say it is time to forget the four-day workweek:
Greatness follows hard work
Work ethic is a great predictor of success. Exceptional companies and people share the same traits. Preparation, sacrifice, learning, resiliency — outworking your competitors and never giving up may sound old-fashioned, but it gets results. You simply have to put in the time because there are no shortcuts. Consistent dedicated effort is what leads to greatness.
Responsiveness is a differentiator
Speed of service matters. Even in so-called niche markets, there will be room for a few companies that can serve customers with different offerings. When your customer has to wait days for a response to a problem that is blocking them from finding value in your product? You have already lost. If you can intercept and engage with urgency, you can set yourself apart from the rest. And customers will love you for it.
Learning is always on
Learning is essential to long-term career progression. There are a few ways that you broaden your knowledge and deepen your skills. Benefitting from mentorship and input from more experienced colleagues is certainly important. But so is spending intensive time solving thorny problems. An abbreviated schedule limits your opportunities to learn in a practical way — lessons from when things go well and when things go awry.
Achievement gives meaning
Our identities are inherently entwined with the value we create. People who feel connected to the work they do are generally happier — even more so when they are able to excel at it. And if your own values are aligned with those of the company, it can motivate you during times when extraordinary effort is needed. Purpose is what powers us forward.
Sustainable happiness requires breaks. This is true no matter how many hours you work. Workplace flexibility is far more important than a specified number of work days for both the company and the individual. There will be times when work will require more of your attention and times when personal needs arise. No one can always choose in favor of work. Leaders of a healthy organization recognize that reality and ensure that teammates will be there to support them when folks need to step away.
We all deserve the opportunity to work hard and be happy doing it. The path to lasting achievement is not linear and does not conform to a few 10-hour increments.
Work leads to accomplishment and that feeling of satisfaction is fuel for high-achievers. I think this is why you see folks in their seventies and eighties who happily chose to continue working in their later years.
The four-day workweek is wrong for most people and time will prove that. But if you still feel passionate that it is the best way after reading this blog post, I want to hear from you and learn why.
Forget the four-day workweek. Instead let’s put our attention on what makes people thrive and a company truly lovable. Purpose, accountability, achievement, and the ability to honor reality — these are the human-centered traits that inspire people to join a company and contribute to its lasting success.
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