A Top Tech Company and An Entire Country Are Pushing the 4 Day Workweek: Now is the Time for the 5 Day Workweek to Go Extinct
It was crunch time.
The team at Blackbird was in the final phase of development. They were running up on a deadline from their publisher. What saved them?
The four-day workweek.
As one manager said, “our team was under huge pressure and on the verge of burnout… when the trial was over, it was obvious the four-day workweek saved us. I don’t think we could have got to where we are today without it.”
In the last week there have been two more high profile news stories around the four-day workweek.
Blackbird, a video game development company, had tremendous success with their four-day shift (Washington Post). And Belgium passed a new law mandating that workers have the right to request 4 10 hour shifts instead of 5 8s (Guardian).
The culture is changing. The time is now for workers to win back their time rights — and for business leaders to understand that in many cases less is more…
> This is the future of work.
The work-life values of the American people are shifting. Millenials and Gen Z are putting the “life” in work-life balance. In the future of work more folks will prioritize mental health, autonomous and flexible work schedules, and time to invest in fulfilling activities outside work.
I love America and support capitalism. But it’s overlooked that America has the worst work-life policy of any developed nation. Only the USA, Guyana, Suriname, Nepal, and Burma don’t guarantee at least some PTO. In Europe almost every country grants four weeks per year. And only a few impoverished countries (and the USA) don’t guarantee paid sick leave.
Younger generations in particular believe in the old adage — “work to live don’t live to work”. And as the Great Resignation shows — boomers and other generations are following suit.
Louis Hyman, a business historian at Cornell, points out that the current 5 day week was born of factory worker strikes in the 1900s. The workforce pressured leaders and politicians into protective policies and there were widespread calls for a four-day week even back then. “In a lot of ways, the belief that the normal job is 9 to 5 Monday through Friday has been steadily falling apart since the 1970s” says Hyman.
He goes on to explain that particularly since the onset of COVID. there has been a paradigm shift in our underlying assumptions about work. Why do I have to go to an office? And if I don’t go to the office why do I need to be somewhere 5 days per week? Would it be better to make a little less and have more time for family, friends, and leisure?
Now that workers are asking the questions, there’s no going back…
>> Policy is better than regulation.
It seems that many business leaders worry about over-regulation. That mandating a 4 day week would damage their organization and be unfair to employees. I agree.
What works is protective policy. Empowering workers with the option to choose their work-life rather than forcing them one way or the other. Belgium made it a legal requirement that workers have the right to request 4, 10 hour days instead of 5, 8 hour days. And if there is a material reason that their organization can’t do it. Then they must provide written documentation as to why. So this isn’t as revolutionary as it sounds. But it’s important. Because it is a step towards autonomy and flexibility for the workforce. And, far from mandating life changes for everyone, it is bolstering the ability of employees to choose the working life that works for them.
The Great Resignation is a clear indicator that while Americans don’t necessarily demand more regulation — both workers and organizations may benefit from protective policies that give workers greater ability to shape their working lives.
>>> Less is more.
This is the case with productivity — especially in work that’s technically, intellectually, or creatively demanding. What leaders at Blackbird found was that one less day of work each week forced them to question what work was essential and find ways to be more efficient. They turned long meetings into short check-ins. And short meetings into emails.
Think of Parkinson’s Law. This is the principle that tasks and projects expand or contract to fill the time allotted for them. There are obvious sanity limits to this. But generally if you give yourself a week to write up a report or make a slide deck — it’ll take a week. If you give yourself two months, it’ll take two months.
Blackbird found this worked for them. What’s more, they’ve seen long term strategic ROI as they have a distinct advantage in attracting new talent and increased retention from reduced burnout. Of course there are hiccups. And the approach will vary from firm to firm. But as one senior leader at Blackbird said “just have faith that your team will make it work in a way that works for them, because that’s exactly what happened to us… Just give it a shot.”
The Great Resignation has shown the sweeping shift in work-life values of the American workforce. Considering this cultural shift and the implications for productivity — now is the time for the four-day workweek.
This is not a silver bullet. Hospitals, schools, and the like might not be so flexible. But the news from companies like Blackbird and countries like Belgium is a step in the right direction.
The default assumption of what the “workweek” looks like is obsolete. The five-day, 9–5 is ready to go extinct.
The future of work is about flexibility, autonomy, and — ultimately — freedom.
This post was created with Typeshare