Seven things we learned about the Four-Day Week, a Guardian debate

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The four-day week is slowly and surely becoming a thing, with world-leading companies like the Wellcome Trust planning trialling a four-day week for 800 of its staff and a long list of other firms reportedly following suit.

The Guardian asked four speakers to debate this concept under the heading Should we all work a Four-day week? Here are seven things we took away from the live event held on 13 March at Guardian's Kings Cross offices:

Four-day weeks could make us more productive

Four days will help individuals achieve higher work outputs, which is perverse until you consider how many hours are wasted at work in five days at the moment. This was the view of Silicon Valley consultant and author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang: “I think we all have that situation where you can get more done in two hours at home than in the office. Which is completely bonkers.”  He advises making meetings as ‘ruthlessly short’ as possible and cutting down on social media browsing as ways to make four day weeks work. “Just by doing these things make it possible to do five days work in four days – this is true whether you’re a creative agency or if you’re a call centre.”

Four-day weeks could help us live longer

Lynda Gratton a professor at the London Business School and author of The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity says children today are likely to live until 100, and even people working today will likely have to work into our seventies. A five day week in this context is not sustainable. Addressing her audience she said, “Some of you will say you'd be happy to [work into your seventies] you just don’t want to work like you're working now. And that for us is the main thing.”

Working four days would free up time to exercise and make us feel healthier, said speakers

It could equip us with the skills we need to adapt to the workplace

With robots and new technology predicted to be revolutionising the workplace, new skills and wider experience will be vital if people want to be employable and to get ahead in the workplace. Lynda Gratton said: “In a time of huge disruption you will have to upskill, reskill things all the time – my view is that we’re going to have to [fund and organise] that ourselves; spending time learning and revitalising, ourselves.” She said that ‘having three days is a great time to do that’. “I’d be very careful about using the word leisure, it’s just saying these are three days that I can do something with,” she emphasised.

Pay could stay the same….or not

Pay should reflect output in the four-day week structure, according to Lord Dennis Stevenson. The Thriving at Work co-author explained how a valuable employee wanted to go down to four days and was paid pro rata. It was re-adjusted up. “In many ways, because she felt she was under a hammer to deliver, I would say she was doing more work. I put her pay back to what it was,” he said.

He adds: “There will be loads of people like that, but in truth also people who should be pro-rated down. I think if we’re going to do this we’re going to have to learn a bit. HR will. We all will.”

It needs to be the same day to work

It’s not a four-day week, it’s a three-day weekend, said Lynda Gratton, who believes the three days should be Friday, Saturday and Sunday for every employee to have off. “It makes it easier for all of us to co-ordinate,” she said. Soojung-KimPang agreed. Researching his forthcoming book about the four-day workweek, he found that firms that tried four days and failed (went to five) talk about how they did it flexibly, with people taking different days. “It was hard to co-ordinate. Synchronicity turns out to be a good thing for companies and arguably for employees as well. The best balance between needs of companies and individuals is having everyone on the same schedule.”

The five-day week is not that old  

Kate Bell, head of economics, rights and international at the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) said: “The weekend is a pretty new concept, just after World War Two the national union for mine workers had to really fight for the weekend, it was controversial, it was debated in parliament, they said: can we make enough coal in five days? What will happen to our economy? If we look at that history, as much as our future we see the potential for greater riches.” 

Finally…we’d all be so much healthier for it!

BBC reported recently on new research that showed people over 40 should only be working three days a week for health reasons. “A part-time job keeps the brain stimulated, while avoiding exhaustion and stress,” it said. It turns out that working four days also has other really obvious health benefits. Soojung-KimPang explained it well: “People are physically healthier because you have more time for exercise and you can recover the energy you spent working. People are also more creative, because on that fifth day – it turns out a lot of people carry on thinking about work. There’s a real difference [if you’re having an idea] on a bike ride or if you’re grinding away at the office and so a lot of people talk about having really good ideas on that fifth day.

Should we all work a four day week? was held on Wednesday 13 March at the Guardian in London. More info here


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