Is A Four Day Work Week Better?

Is a four day work week better. Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

Is a four day work week better? At first glance this seems like an obvious question from an employee perspective. The employer perspective might be different, but who wouldn’t want to work less hours. This is particularly relevant in the US where there are some of the highest hours of work. I started reserving Fridays for non-client meetings and it works well for me. It provides the opportunity to work on important but less urgent things. If you think the answer is obvious, I’m going to challenge your thinking.

Does the four day work week generate higher engagement?

Gallup recently published the results of a survey of the impact of a four day work week. Here are their conclusions:

  • Those who work six days a week had the highest rates of burnout, the lowest percentage of thriving overall wellbeing and the highest active disengagement.
  • Those who work five days a week had the highest engagement and lowest burnout rates.
  • Those with four-day work weeks had the lowest active disengagement, but they did not have significantly higher thriving wellbeing compared with those who work five days a week. They also reported higher rates of burnout compared with those who work five days per week.

I wasn’t surprised about people who work six days a week. I did that for a while and their conclusion sums up my experience. Working longer and harder doesn’t lead to better results or more satisfaction. I am very surprised by the results for people who work five days a week. They had the highest levels of engagement, but why didn’t four days have the highest levels of engagement? My initial reaction is due to trying to cram five days of work into four days. Are four highly stressed days better than five average days? Probably not.

The real answer

I assumed this is where Gallup ended up but they had a more profound conclusion which makes sense to me.

“When it comes to overall wellbeing, the quality of the work experience has 2.5x to 3x the impact of the number of days or hours worked.”

Now this resonates with me. If I love what I am doing and how I am doing it, work isn’t a burden. Working five days is satisfying, in fact it may be preferable to working four. I suspect having the flexibility of when to work is more important. I don’t work on a regular schedule, I work when I need to and when I want to. My schedule isn’t completely flexible but I have a lot of agency over it. I also don’t have a boss so I don’t get to suffer under a poor one. The quality of an employees manager has in my opinion the biggest impact on their engagement.

What is your experience of a four day work week? Do the results of the Gallup four day work week survey resonate with you? Are we barking up the wrong tree?

Comments (4)

Andy, this was a surprising result for me as well. The best 4 day work week period in my career was when I was also working on an advanced degree… having Fri, Sat and Sunday to truly concentrate gave me the quality time I needed to finish. And, I was truly grateful to my employer (Boeing).

Hi Randy, you raise a great point. When the work is meaningful, working seven days a week as you were effectively doing with study was highly engaging. This links with Franz’s perspective below.

I wonder if reports like this are measuring different things as if they were one.

Is your job serving coffee or digging holes? I can imagine a 4 day week, even if they were 10 hour shifts instead of 8, might be far preferable. A 3 day weekend is a real reset, having time to find some work-life balance when your job is truly just a job is probably really healthy.

Is your job more creative or mission driven? I can imagine a 4 day week feeling cramped, like a bear trying to load up before hibernation. Much like you, I value flexibility in my schedule, and I’d far rather work a few hours saturday & sunday morning when no one is bothering me, than to pretend that work doesn’t exist for 3 days (as if I even could.)

In today’s environment where a lot of people are juggling multiple jobs, side-hustles and the gig economy, I feel like it may be the norm for folks to work several part time jobs and get some of that “change of pace” that a 4 day week promises.

Conversely there’s some things like support or infrastructure management that have to be 5 days a week or even 24/7.

In the end, people respond well when they have clear measurable goals with a purpose and the room to solve them. Spending time telling them where and when they need to work on solving their goals feels like a misuse of everyone’s time to me.

Hi Franz, This is an excellent point, not all work is equally meaningful and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. A compressed work week is a great example and I know of several friends in nursing who really appreciate that.

I couldn’t agree more on your last point, regardless of schedule!

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