I have always loved the idea of a shortened workweek. Not the – let’s cram 40 hours into 4 days – but the true 32 (8-hour days, Monday-Thursday). I so badly want this to be a new US norm.
Why not? The not-so-modern 40-hour workweek was created in 1908 in factories. Since then, technology has ostensibly made administrative tasks less timely, modern planning tools have made goals setting and prioritization more accessible. Working remotely has allowed employees to use those 8 hours in the morning, midday, or evening.
To increase productivity, humans need that extra day to recharge. The speed of work has increased burnout, anxiety, and depression, which are all things that require essential recovery time. If the brain is in a continuous state of “go,” it doesn’t process information as fast and physiologically loses the ability to create and imagine.
Also, let’s talk real. In a 40-hour office workweek, 5-8 hours is sloughed off with non-work activities, coffee breaks, interruptions, birthday celebrations, that extra coffee break, indulging in gossip, complaining about a boss, coming in a bit late, taking a long lunch break, etc., etc., etc. Nothing nefarious, just life. And socialization is not a bad thing. However, I bet very few sit at their desk for 8 hours and work nonstop. Actually, that would be weird.
So, we’ve made a case for the 4-day workweek. Check. Your company has the tools, the desire, and leadership who believes 4 days will make employees healthier and results better. So, what’s missing?
A culture shift away from “Infini-work.”
That’s the one thing all companies must have, or the 4-day work week will fail. What is infini-work?
- The infinite amount of work that has no beginning, middle, or end.
- The infinite amount of emails that never stop nor are allowed to stop.
- The infinite number of meetings that serve little purpose.
- The infinite amount of micromanaging that doesn’t allow for employee agency.
- The infinite obstacles for employees to set boundaries or say no to more work.
And most importantly:
- The infinite number of company goals that are rarely prioritized, rarely completed, and seldom checked for progress.
Until the culture Infini-work is addressed, creating a 4-day work week will be a Band-Aid fix to any productivity problems. For example:
- If your company allows employees to send, receive, and answer emails all day and night, 4 days will solve nothing.
- If your company allows (expects) to stay plugged-in during vacations, 4 days will solve nothing.
- If an employee’s career mobility will be impacted by setting boundaries or saying no, 4 days will solve nothing.
- If a company does not have a grasp on goal prioritization, 4 days will solve nothing.
If we want to talk even more real, and we do, if these aren’t addressed, your 5-day work week may be worse.
This is not meant to be a message of despair, but an awakening. If we know what is causing Infin-work, we can take small steps to irradicate it. HR leaders, be the hero in this story and take the reins on leading this change. If it doesn’t help your company, it will at least help your team and your sanity.
Dawn Burke, VP of Talent Consulting at Kinetix and founder/advisor for Dawn Burke HR, is an HR leader, speaker, and writer specializing in new HR practices, engagement and workplace culture. Her HR/recruiting/leadership career has spanned the last 20 years, with past gigs including a foundational role as VP of People for Birmingham, AL’s award-winning technology company, Daxko (And yes, Kris Dunn and Dawn are making Bham the HR capital of the world! Who knew?). You can also check her out at DawnHBurke.com and a variety of other interesting places. Google her, it’ll keep you posted on what she is up to.
Most importantly: She is addicted to TV, knows most of the lyrics to Hamilton and West Side Story, loves to cry at movies (check out Cinema Paradiso for a cry fest!), thinks wine, a wheel of Brie and Milk Duds make a well-balanced dinner, and sings in her car daily. Her husband and cat are the Yin to her Yang.