We tested a 4-day work week. These were our findings.
Workfeed is put in the world to save people time and increase employee satisfaction. But what about our own time and satisfaction? Can we work more efficiently than we do while increasing employee happiness? What were the thoughts we had when we chose to test a 4-day work week?
12. September 2022 • 5 minute read
The idea of the 4-day work week
I remember that at a Friday founder meeting my dear co-founder Kristian came up with this new idea of his. As always we were all ears. He has been studying the concept of a 4-days work week. He said that the general findings were that employee satisfaction was increasing (no wonder since you would have a 3 days weekend. Sweet!), while productivity also increased (What?? How can less work increase productivity).
First, I must admit that I was quite skeptical, but the potential was large and we also love to test new things. So we decided to try it out. Only one question left: How should we implement it?
How we implemented the 4-day work week
You can make the setup for a 4-days work week in different ways. We chose a model where all full-time employees have Friday off and work normal hours Monday to Thursday.
We chose Friday because it’s the shortest day of the week. Wait a minute, Friday is as long as the other days. Yes, but typically not in terms of work. In general, people meet later, you might enjoy breakfast together, and after noon many people have mentally left their workplace. Furthermore, Friday also extends the (normal) weekend itself, which provides more mental calmness for employees. There is generally also less activity from the outside world like email, support, etc. on Fridays.
Now that we had chosen the day off, we needed to implement some changes in order to increase productivity from Monday to Thursday. We did that by embracing some cultural changes:
Meetings are heavily reduced. Either in length or removed. Meetings tend to take the time that is allocated to them. How often have you been in a meeting, where you spend the last 10 or 20 minutes talking about something else or going over unnecessary details, just to fill the time?
We provided employees with the possibility to do “actual work”, instead of disturbing them with talks, meetings, presentations, etc. People are way more productive if they are in “deep mode” rather than being disturbed all the time.
Reduce the number of physical meetings. If you have watched Suits on Netflix, you might have noticed that they do physical meetings with a length down to 15 seconds. How much time did it take Harvey Specter to get to that meeting? So avoid as many physical meetings as possible! Of course, if you e.g. are entering a partnership with someone, it might be nice a meet up physically, but many can be avoided!
Make it okay to walk out of meetings where you are no longer needed. A classic way to enlighten this is: a 1-hour meeting with 8 people is not a 1-hour meeting it is an 8-hour meeting. So let the people free who are not needed.
Avoid pseudo work. Pseudo work is work that seems like real work but does not create any real value for you or your customers. This could be making a plan for a strategy of development 5 years into the future (you cannot predict all external events that affect your plan anyway). Or a beautifully designed document only for internal use (who is it you are supposed to impress, and do they really read it?).
Agree that nobody sends over work or messages on Fridays (or weekends for that matter). If messages and assignments are sent when you have time off. Some might feel tempted or responsible to answer or work, which is not the point.
Same salary as before. No changes to salaries are made after we changed the work week to 4 days. Why should we? Everybody is delivering at least as much value as before.
What were the results of the 4-day work week?
A lot of good things have happened after the implementation. In general, we will definitely recommend you to try it out! Here are some of the good stuff:
- All employees love it and most of their friends are jealous.
- We managed to at least maintain the same level of productivity and monthly growth. The first thing is hard to measure and keeping the same potential growth rate is simply harder when your revenue grows.
- The office atmosphere is more calm and friendly and we have become better at making long-term decisions. In other words: Stress is eliminated!
- Everybody gets more mental freedom. They get more ideas, are more aware of the value of the work they do, and have more time to learn new things.
- People are using the extra time off for good purposes. We've seen an increase of employees taking up habits of running, exercising etc. This leads to more healthy employees who have more energy throughout the day.
What about the challenges?
No big changes on the planet are made without challenges. First, we needed to get used to saying “have a good weekend” Thursday, which felt weird in the beginning. Some of the other challenges are specified below:
- Employees (and myself) asked whether they were allowed to work on Fridays. Well, we stated that we treated Friday like Saturday and Sunday. Nobody is expected to work, but if they want to, we let them do it. We asked ourselves. If an employee really wants to catch up on things or learn work-related stuff, isn't it better to do it Friday rather than Saturday?
- Related to the challenge above, many on the team, sometimes, have a hard time not working on Fridays, myself included. I wrote this very blog post on a Friday. So can we really say that we have a 4-day work week when half the staff work on Fridays anyways? Good question. The fact is just that I never prioritize time for writing a blog. My colleagues are responsible for that and yet here I find myself with a good cup of coffee and some thoughts you may find interesting. You might just as well call it a 4+1 days work week, where you have an extra day to do what you feel like doing. For us, the essentials are that we are enjoying what we do on Fridays and we don't do it because of a certain deadline.
- How do we avoid that Thursday becoming the new Friday? To be blond, we haven't tested this yet. One way to avoid this could be to recurrently change back to a 5-days work week. The company Basecamp works 4 days a week in the summer and 5 days a week during the winter. In that way, the 4-day work week doesn’t become an everyday thing. However we see that people are motivated to keep their usual level of productivity, so on Thursday there is usually no such thing as a beer after work. Just deep focused and calm work throughout the entire day. Also our people are more energized, so where people used to be drained on a Friday afternoon they're now still energized throughout the entire 4-day work week.
- Due to the extra time off, our employees' better halves now see the opportunity to make them do more housework on Fridays. Doesn't necessarily add up to happier employees, but it you know the saying about happy wife = happy life. And in general, this probably leads to a happier relationship, which ultimately leads to less stressed employees.
- A friend of mine said a funny thing, which might be an issue for some people: “you are really in a sweet spot now. Because now you are home alone on Fridays. If this is something we implement in the whole society, then your wife also would have Friday off, and there goes your freedom”. I love my wife deeply and I like spending time with her. Personally, this is not an issue for me, but others might feel different if the day comes.
- To some investors (fortunately not ours) it seems like you are a lousy entrepreneur, but you might consider whether you actually want people like that as co-owner.
One last piece of advice if you consider implementing a 4-day work week
Test it! Be transparent with your employees about it. What do you expect from them (when do you consider it a success or a failure)? Provide them (perhaps in a dialog) with a timeframe to test it. After the test period, then evaluate and see if it suits you. Make changes, and drop it. You only know what works for you, if you try it!
Inspiring literature regarding the topic:
Pseudowork: How We Ended Up Being Busy Doing Nothing
- Book by Anders Fogh Jensen and Dennis Nørmark
It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work
- Book by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried
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Jimmy Engelbrecht Sørensen