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In a world in which working from home has meant that too many of us are ‘always on’, the idea of a 4-day week can seem like an extravagant fantasy. But there is increasing evidence that limiting work hours increases productivity of individual workers and increases the economic productivity of whole nations. Scandinavian countries already have the lowest average working hours and consistently higher economic productivity than other European countries (including the UK). Recently published research about a series of experiments in Iceland in government and municipal departments shows that reducing hours and keeping worker benefits had no impact on service delivery.
When I am working with individuals who want to move to four days per week as interims or employees, the long hours work culture in the UK is so pervasive and they end up paid for four days but continue to work 40 hours plus a week. Only three days per week or less can shift expectations and reduce the workload. The Icelandic study shows that shorter work hours force workers and managers to rethink work. They address the disease of endless meetings. They optimise and automate processes. They find where the real value is in their activities. Worker wellbeing, motivation, morale and effectiveness increases.
The cultural barriers in the UK currently appear insurmountable. The European Working Time Directive has an opt out that makes it effectively unenforceable. Lower paid workers rely on extended hours to achieve a living wage. The NHS depends on consultants doing substantial overtime. Financial and professional services have long hours baked in. Entrepreneurs role model 80 hour weeks as a heroic endeavour rather than failure.
In my view, an individual can only establish a 4-day week by having two jobs. The maximum commitment must be just three days for any one role. For experienced executives, a Portfolio Executive workstyle is the simplest way to achieve this. For others, a 3-day per week role with a ‘side hustle’ to build an alternative self-employed income stream can be the best answer. But don’t wait for a top-down change in long hours culture. Take control.
You can make four days a week enough to love what you do and have more time for those that you love.
This article was originally written for KCW London.
Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.