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Working Four Days a Week

For over six months now I have been working four days a week instead of the usual five. I originally made this change in schedule in order to spend more time with my young son. When I started, I was unsure how it would go, and how long I would be able to maintain it. After experiencing the four-day work week, I must say that I am very pleased with it and plan to continue it indefinitely. For those of you working the regular five days a week, imagine the last time you had a long weekend. Now imagine that every weekend is a long weekend. That is what a four-day work week is like.

The number one benefit of working four days a week is a better work-life balance - I have more time to spend with my family. It is easier to do the many household chores that need to be done plus have personal time to spend on my own activities, such as writing this article. When I worked five days a week, the standard two-day weekend sometimes felt rushed to me as I tried to get everything done that had been put off till the weekend. With three-day weekends (since I take Mondays off), there is always at least one day to unwind and relax. This leads into another major benefit of the four-day work week - less stress. Working only four days means one less day of work stresses, and one extra day to relax and unwind. This helps prevent burnout and keeps my motivation level at work higher during stressful times. Having more time for non-work activities also helps reduce the stress of trying to balance the many competing demands for my time. So the four-day work week reduces stress in both the professional and personal aspects of my life.

There is one significant drawback of the four-day work week that you are likely wondering about. What about the drop in pay? Working four instead of five days a week represents 20% less hours worked, which corresponds to a 20% drop in pay. It is quite possible to handle this kind of pay reduction, typically by reducing your discretionary spending. You may think it is not possible, but consider that assuming 3% annual raises, you would have made 20% less than your current income six years ago. Reducing your income will also reduce some of your corresponding expenses, such as taxes and travel costs for the one day a week you stay home. However, this kind of fiscal restraint is not for everyone, and I'm not saying you should do it. I didn't - I chose a different option: keep my full pay and make up the one day a week instead.

Yes, officially I still work five days a week. How do I make up the one day a week when I am not at work? Over one year, that is 52 days. I use a variety of ways to make up this time. I receive 11 statutory holidays and three weeks (15 days) of vacation that I use. I work slightly longer than the standard eight hour work day - putting in an extra 30 to 60 minutes of overtime each day. A simpler option would be to just work ten hours a day, which over four days adds up to the 40 hours needed per week, but that is too much for me. As I wrote in my article Overtime Considered Harmful, my productivity and motivation drop too much when I work that much overtime. I have noticed, however, that I can handle slightly higher levels of overtime working four days a week than I could working five days. Assuming on average an extra 40 minutes a day of overtime works out to about 17 extra days over a year. This gives a total of 11 + 15 + 17 = 43 days, leaving 9 days (52 - 43) to make up. One final option I take advantage of is to go on-call. When I am on-call, I earn 9 hours a week for holding the phone, even if it does not ring. Many people dislike being on-call, but in my current role I am able to respond to calls from home, without traveling to the office, and the phone rarely rings. So by going on call one week a month, I earn approximately 14 more days a year. This is five more days than I need, leaving one week of vacation.

Using the approach outlined above allows me to work four days a week and still pull in my full salary. But I do have to sacrifice most of my annual vacation and be on-call. This approach will not work for everyone. Not all workplaces offer flexible work schedules, and only certain types of jobs have an on-call role. But there are many other options to arrange a four-day work week. One option is to combine a pay cut with making up time. Taking a 10% pay cut will give you one day every two weeks, which leaves only 26 days to make up a year, which is possible just with statutory holidays and vacation. If you don't want to use up your vacation, you can work some five-day work weeks - doing this once a month with a 10% pay cut leaves just 4 days to make up after holidays. Working from home might also be an option worth considering. Even if your workplace does not officially support a flexible work schedule, try talking to your manager. Especially if you are a valued employee, they will be motivated to keep you happy.

Before switching to a four-day work week, you need to decide which day to take off. I believe it is best to consistently take the same day off each week to minimize confusion for your coworkers and boss. I personally like taking Mondays off, mainly because many statutory holidays fall on Mondays. If the majority of your work involves dealing with others and attending lots of meetings, then I suggest taking Fridays off - that seems to be a favorite day for people to take off, especially in the summer, and there seems to be less meetings scheduled on Fridays than any other day of the week. I have also heard people mention taking Wednesdays off, as that would split the work week in two, but then you lose the three-day weekend.

I heard recently that research by psychologists has shown that people working a four-day work week report on average higher levels of overall life satisfaction, particularly concerning their work-life balance. This matches my experience. I recommend you give it a try and find out how well the four-day work week works for you.

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11 Comments on “Working Four Days a Week”

  1. I love your post here. My father was a County Commissioner a few years back. His road crew worked four day weeks during the summer when there was enough light. They would come in early and stay a little late, enabling them to have three day weekends.

    I wonder how a schedule like you described could be used in a career like law. Clients typically demand immediate (or at least same-day) response. Perhaps you could work four day weeks, but still have an eye on email and the phone on Fridays. What do you think?

  2. Gavin says:

    A month ago I took a 4 day week instead of a raise. It is quite refreshing not having to go into the office on that day! I’m using it to work on freelance gigs (I’m trying to build that up slowly). I chose a Wednesday, primarily because I didn’t want my colleagues to think of me as having a long weekend and partly because I didn’t want to think I was having a long weekend! (i.e. not get work done).

  3. Blanka says:

    This is interesting. I started similar thing but only a couple of weeks ago. I work now Monday to Thursday from 09:00 to 18:00 (‘working days’) and on Fridays from 09:00 to 13:00 (‘company visit day’). I would completely skip the Friday but I have to appear at work because that it a common agreement in the company.

    I have excellent results and mostly because of the following reasons:
    - My working days are made of two parts: from 09:00 to 15:00 I answer email, communicate, discuss, have meetings etc. (It’s amazing how time is wasted, btw.) From 15:00 I’m finally starting to work on tasks that require concentration. Before 15:00 it’s impossible to start anything but from 15:00 it goes very well. At the end, I make To Do list for the next day.
    - It’s a shame to leave work at 16:00 and break my concentration. At that time, I have actually just begun to work. I mean – real work.
    - On Fridays it usual to work shorter in my company and that is way I have shortened that day even more. I just answer my emails; ask others if they need anything. After that, I’m leaving.

    I suggested the same thing to other people in the company, and we agreed to ask our managing director to allow free Fridays for the whole company (it’s not big so it would be easy and the sum of hours stays the same as before). We’ll see what happens. In the meantime I will continue with the practice described above because I’m much more productive.

  4. Dan says:

    I did this at the end of last year. I had 10 days of unused paid holiday (vacation) to use up before the end of the year and I decided to take off every Friday for the 10 weeks before Christmas. It was brilliant as I just used it to look at new technology and try new things that I didn’t have time with in my normal job. I looked forward to Friday every week. However I was pretty depressed for a while when the 10 weeks were up!

  5. tom s. says:

    While I have also managed the four-day thing, I have had to take a 20% cut to do it. The reason, which I have actually enforced as a manager and so can hardly disagree with, is basically that at a software company hours are hard to track, and many people put in additional hours anyway. So I am surprised that you managed to get the “five days in four” agreement. Congratulations.

    Is there a response from co-workers who say “well I put in two hours yesterday evening, just like you did, so I won’t come in tomorrow morning”?

  6. Wow – thanks for all the great comments!

    Andrew: Keeping an eye on the phone/email on the day off makes it much less of a day off. I wouldn’t like it, and I don’t think you’d realize the destressing benefits of that extra day off. It may work for others.

    Gavin: Yes, the extra day off is great for working on something on the side (paid or unpaid), if your employer allows you to, and if you are disciplined enough.

    Tom S.: My company compensates everyone for extra time worked. As my employer is a consulting company, we track our time carefully to bill the client. So I’m not getting a better deal than my coworkers.

  7. Great to see I’m not the only one..
    I’m having a 4-day schedule for more than 3 years now, for the same reasons as you years, -except that N=2 :-) – and I must say it works out wonderful. At first I had to get used to it a bit, not being at work etc. But the returns (seeing your children more, ‘loading the battery’) are great. I even think II’m more productive now on the days I do work: because there’s less time you want to get done more. My day off used to be Wednesday, which I liked, it was a sort of time-out in the middle of the week. Now it’s Thursdays, for logistical reasons (my wife works too..).
    But boy, are you lucky to be able to some up with a working schedule like that! I’ve never seen a company with such flexible working hours as you describe. Most companies I know really don’t like things as working 4*9 hours, or even working from home (thinking you will only spend time with the children, or playing games or whatever)

  8. Francois S. says:

    I have been doing it the last year. Took a 10% drop in pay and work for nine hours instead of eight in the four working days. This means I get to spend a whole day together with my son and daughter every week, and that’s more that worth it!

  9. Ralph Miner says:

    In an old job I used to work 4 ten hour days and then take Friday off from work. I found that household chores that I normally would just take care of along when I was working eight hour days needed to be done during the long weekend. Overall I found working 4 days a week to be better. You could catch a movie matinee without the crowds. I found myself doing more cultural things (going to Zoos and Museums) which while less crowded tended to have more school children on field trips. While it was harder to socialize during the week – I found that I had time to have lunch with friends on Friday that I otherwise had scheduling issues with. Overall I found it great, but it isn’t for everybody. Some people find the ten hour days to long to maintain productivity.

  10. I’m glad to hear that others have had success with the four day work week, using a variety of hours worked and/or pay cuts to make it work. Thanks for the comments!

  11. I strongly believe that this 4 working days per week system would be much better.
    I am trying to collect signatures for this petition on my website, at http://www.4workingdays.com

    Come and sign it if you agree

    Thomas

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