Four lessons learned from a four-day working week

  Amantha Imber’s team has worked a four-day week for a year. This is what she has learnt.

You wake up on a Friday morning. ‘One more day until the weekend,’ you think. But then you remember – you don’t work on Fridays.

Every weekend is a three-day weekend and you still get paid a full-time salary for working just four normal length, eight-hour days.

This has been the life of my team for the last year at Inventium, the behavioural science consultancy I founded nearly 15 years ago.

What started as an experiment in the last half of 2020, the Four Day Week has turned into a permanent fixture. This is what I have learnt:

It’s easy to waste time. But now I can’t afford to: It’s so easy to faff around at work and waste a whole lot of time. But putting a big constraint in the way – having to do five days’ worth of work in four – makes you acutely aware of the choices you make in how you use your time at work.

Knowing I had to boost my own productivity by around 25 percent to fit my work into four normal-length days, I became much more conscious and protective of my time. I started to say ‘no’ more often. I said ‘no’ frequently to meetings and opportunities where I didn’t think I could add value or that I didn’t think would add value to what I was working on.

Other people on the team tried to apply Parkinson’s law to their work – the notion that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. One consultant ran experiments on herself where she would set significantly less time to do a task than what she would normally allocate. As a result, she realised she could power though more work in less time.

Urgent things don’t actually happen all that often: A fear my team and I had prior to implementing the FDW was around the problem of urgent issues arising on Friday. What if urgent problems arose on Friday and none of us were working?

To overcome this, most of us would check our inbox a couple of times on Fridays. We also put our mobile number in an Out of Office auto-responder email. After tracking how many urgent issues arose during those initial six months, we realised our fear was unfounded. Less than five ‘urgent’ things happened. And really, those five things all could have probably waited until Monday.

Being more productive can make us feel happier: We often think about being more productive as something that our bosses will appreciate because we will be able to get more work done for them. But actually, being more productive can actually make us happier and healthier.

One of our consultants, who has struggled with an auto-immune disease for the last few years, had a particularly busy start to 2021. In past workplaces, she told me, she would’ve become sick by now and had to take a fair amount of time off work.

But having Friday as a recovery day has meant she has only had to take one sick day all year – the least amount of time she has had to take off in years. And on Sundays she finds herself excited for the week to start because she feels geared up and energetic.

It’s easy to take a four day week for granted: Many years ago, I lived in an apartment with a stunning view of the Sydney harbour. But after a few months there, I hardly noticed it unless friends came around who would gush over its beauty.

When you’ve had Fridays off for a year, a benefit such as the FDW becomes easy to take for granted.

So we decided to call the initiative Gift of the Fifth. The name reminds people, including me, that it is indeed a gift – the gift of time.

And in the age of peak-busy-ness, I truly believe that time is one of the most meaningful gifts that businesses can give their people.   

Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium, an Australian behavioural science consultancy and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of successful people.

 

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