A four-day work week: Is it for you?

Working one less day, but being paid the same – it sounds ideal, so what’s the catch?

There’s been a lot of buzz around the four-day work week as we find ways to reorganise and improve our working lives.

The hope is that working one day fewer than the traditional five can help us feel less stressed, enjoy better work-life balance, and even be more productive. Four-day work weeks are making headlines around the world, and more companies are trying it here in New Zealand, too.

So how do you work out if a four-day week is right for you – and convince your employer to allow it?

What does a four-day week involve?

Generally, the idea is that you work one day less, but keep the same pay and workload.

Less hours, same work, same pay

For some four-day weeks, the agreement is that you receive the same salary, but work only 80% of the typical hours – on the condition you maintain the same output.

Recruiting firm Beaumont People trialled giving its staff the option to drop to four workdays without a salary cut in early 2020. It’s since adopted this across the entire business.

The firm’s managing director, Nina Mapson Bone, says this approach is about “looking for productivity efficiencies, so the same output is achieved in less hours.”

Other four-day options

Other four-day arrangements are perhaps less radical. A ‘compressed’ week sees employees adjust their schedule to do the same hours over fewer days. So, if you typically work a 40-hour week over five 8-hour days, a compressed week might mean four 10-hour days instead.

Another option could be shifting from full-time work to part time. Many organisations use full-time equivalent – often abbreviated as FTE – to calculate employee hours. So, working 0.8 FTE would generally equate to four days but would also mean less pay and impacts to your leave and other entitlements.

How do I know if a four-day week is right for me?

The clearest benefit of a four-day week is obvious: a whole extra day free from work.

The flow-on benefits of that extra day could mean less stress, better health and wellbeing, better work-life balance – it really depends on how you make it work and how you spend that extra day. You might use the time to rest and recharge, connect with others, keep on top of ‘life admin’ or devote time to your interests.

The pros of a four-day week:

  • An extra day freed up from work
  • Potential for better work-life balance or wellbeing
  • Cost savings on transport, lunches
  • Better efficiency – ‘work smarter’ mindset

Veronica Johns, Marketing Coordinator at Beaumont People, is currently working a four-day week – she says the extra day allows the opportunity for better self-care, more time with family and friends, and time for continued education.

Another advantage, she says, is that it encourages a ‘work smarter’ mindset.

“You actually perform better on the four days you work because you exercise improved time management skills and become more creative in collaborative tasks,” Johns says.

As four-day work weeks gain traction around the world, there are signs of positive results with people saying they feel happier, healthier and more productive. But ultimately what matters is how it works for you.

The cons of a four-day week:

  • Having to deliver work in less time
  • Risk of working beyond the hours you’re meant to
  • Longer workdays if you do a ‘compressed’ week
  • May make things trickier for your team or the business

The downsides of the four-day week depend on your own situation, too – your schedule, commitments, role, and how you like to work.

If your four-day arrangement involves working fewer hours, it might be difficult to get everything done in less time – and you could end up working hours more than you should. In that case, it’s probably a sign the arrangement isn’t working.

“However, if output expectations are clearly identified and are realistic, this should be avoided,” Johns says.

If you work a compressed week – for example, four 10-hour days – those days could be extra challenging. You could find your stress levels are higher, or that it’s hard to factor in commitments outside work. Two extra hours may not sound a lot, but it’s important to be sure you’ve got the energy, resources and support to get through those days each week.

And of course, the downsides can extend to businesses – which is what your boss or manager might be thinking about. They might worry they’ll lose productivity, or that operating and meeting customer expectations will be harder given a five-day week is still the norm.

So, how do I ask my boss for a four-day week?

You might be fortunate in that your workplace is already looking to trial a four-day week. But in most cases, you’ll have to propose the arrangement to your boss or manager to gain their approval.

This can be tricky – especially if they just take away that you’re asking to work less and still be paid the same. But it all comes down to how you plan and approach your conversations with them.

Ask for a trial

It’s a good idea to suggest the four-day week as a trial, Mapson Bone says, to ensure that it doesn’t impact productivity or create challenges for the business.

“Propose an official trial to see how this arrangement works for everyone and include a process to review key learnings,” she says.

Do the thinking upfront

But first, some planning is key. Start by thinking through the different impacts a shorter week could have – good and bad – and note these down. Consider things like collaboration, quality of work and your ability to meet deadlines.

You want to show that you’ve thought through any challenges that might come up, and that you’re prepared with some solutions to handle them. It’s also a good idea to show you’ve thought about practical ways to deliver the work you need to in a shorter timeframe. For example, a process you can simplify by using a new tool or resource, or just by doing it differently.

Make your pitch

Once you’ve worked through this, find a time to discuss it with your boss or manager. That might be running it by them in a one-on-one conversation, or it could mean scheduling a meeting where you take them through the research and thinking you’ve done.

You’re aiming to gain their approval, so make sure you highlight the positives, Mapson Bone says, “Talk to the benefits for the organisation, such as a more efficient approach to work, and a happier and more engaged staff member.”

Consider other options

A four-day week can be more challenging in some situations, especially customer-facing jobs like reception. In this case, you might look to create a system where you coordinate with colleagues, Mapson Bone says.

“Our buddy system helps by ensuring there’s always more than one person that can cover these types of roles.” This might take some flexibility. For example, you and your buddy can’t take the same day off.

If a four-day week isn’t suitable for your role, you might instead explore flexible working options with your employer, such as working from home, hybrid working, or altered start and finish times.

Tips for success in a four-day working week

If you get the ok to start a four-day week – whether for a trial or long term – focus on how you can manage your week to make it a success. Now is an important time to review the way you do things and sharpen up your time management skills.

Focus on ways to work smarter

First, knowing where you spend your time can help. You could keep a log of what you do each day before moving to a four-day week. List down all the activities you do, then mark each one as essential or non-essential. Then, see if you can reorganise that across four days, focusing on your essential tasks, plus time for important meetings. You might have to weigh up making compromises on things like lunchbreaks or social chats with colleagues.

For many people, cutting out non-essential ‘time-wasters’ is key to the four-day week – scrolling social media or unnecessary but regular meetings. But of course, this doesn’t really help if your time is under pressure as-is. The key here is finding time management techniques that work for you.

Reflect and review

After a few weeks or a trial period, it’s a good time to review. Check in with yourself and ask:

  • How do you feel about your work compared to before?
  • What are the benefits you’re enjoying?
  • What are the downsides you’re experiencing?
  • Are you delivering the work you need to, on time and to a good standard?

Then check in with your manager to discuss these points and any adjustments that need to be made. Success with a four-day week also means how well it works for your team – if it suits you but not your colleagues, it might not be viable in the long run.

Finally, look to people who are making the four-day week work, Mapson Bone says. “Try to learn as much as you can from other people who are doing it successfully,” she says. Connect with others to compare notes – whether it’s people in your industry or online communities.

Working a four-day week can have all kinds of upsides, and these can extend to your employer, too. But it takes planning and organisation to truly get the benefits from a four-day week and minimise any downsides. Suggesting a trial could be your best approach – that way, you can work out whether a four-day week is right for you, and build the habits you need to make it a success in the long run.

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