If you worked for a few dozen firms in the UK that recently participated in a massive 4-day workweek trial you’d probably have today off. Cue sadtrombone.mp3
Here’s the skinny: Last summer 70 companies in the UK employing 3,300 workers went to a 4-day, 32-hour workweek and it was a resounding success by all measures. A group called “4 Day Week Global” and a handful of universities created the study to see if overall productivity really could hang on with 8 fewer working hours per week per employee.
There were two ways companies were allowed to do it: either ditch a full of day of work a week or shorten workers’ work days to achieve 32 hours a week. The rub for employers was they had to guarantee 100% of the original weekly pay to participate in the study.
The next part won’t surprise you much: nearly all workers involved reported a ton of benefits including improved sleep, lower stress, better personal lives, and improved mental health. We knew that, we just don’t do it in America because… profit?
This is the part that’s causing waves: during that 6-month trial company revenue rose 35% percent on average (!) when compared to a similar period from previous years. Furthermore, of the 61 companies that took part in the trial, 56 (!!!) said they’d continue to do 4-day workweeks after the pilot with 18 of them already making the policy permanent.
Now, usual caveats apply: this is a small study in a nation that already values long vacations and lots of time away from the desk. They also have that universal healthcare thing. This trial also didn’t include industries that usually grind down low-paid workers like nursing, childcare, and cleaning. Nothing is perfect.
But why is this news now, Andy? Don’t worry, I got you.
The 4-day workweek has been studied repeatedly for decades. The “40-hour workweek” is a holdover from the times of Henry Ford when going from 70 hours a week to 40 was a pretty boss move. 40-hour weeks meant he could run a smooth 3-shifts-a-day and not miss a minute while retaining the best workers and allowing them more free time to go spend money on cars.
The new problem is modern work in America has largely moved on from assembling wooden wheels by oil lamp to cognitively-strenuous activities like writing email newsletters coding really important software. The impact of a modern knowledge worker exists from the quality of their decisions, not “time at crank.”
You just can’t sit and code/write/decide for a straight uninterrupted 8-hours-a-day. Nobody does. In the absence of a full day, we’ve instead fill our work schedules with giant video meetings and bikeshedding trivial issues.
With COVID giving people a moment to rethink their entire existence, hiring and resignations posing an enduring challenge at companies, and worker satisfaction down in the dumps the 4-day workweek is being heralded as an answer to our collective workplace woes.
Pictured: Me, saving the economy
This also wouldn’t be a Q1 2023 newsletter without talking about AI/LLM/ChatGPT. The “AI age” is officially here and permanently warping anything done on a laptop — so where does the fruit from that “extra productivity” go?
Probably shareholders and executives, really.
But maybe, just maybe, over time 32 will become the new 40.
PS: We implemented our own 4-day summer workweeks at Status Hero and I can tell you firsthand it’s awesome. See also: duh.
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