What I've learned managing a team working 4-day weeks

My team has worked four-day weeks for almost two years. This is what I’ve learnt

four-day week

You wake up bleary-eyed at 6am on a Friday morning. “One more day until the weekend,” you think as you roll over to steal a bit more sleep. But then you remember – you don’t work Fridays! Every weekend is a long weekend.

And here’s the kicker: you still get paid a full-time salary for working just four normal length, eight-hour days.

No, this is not some utopian work universe. This has been the life of my team for almost two years at Inventium, the behavioural science consultancy I founded 15 years ago. What started as an experiment in the last half of 2020, the four-day week has turned into a permanent fixture at Inventium.

Almost two years into this experiment, this is what I have learned.

It forces you to *actually* value output over hours

Does your boss say she values output over hours, but then rewards you with a generous bonus for working insanely long hours (not to mention weekends too)?  

Sadly, hours often trump output when it comes to how managers feel about their staff. People who are super responsive to email, at all hours of the day, are typically seen as harder workers. People who are online early and log off late at night are seen as more committed.

The fact that people who work longer hours may actually be less productive is not a thought that crosses many leaders’ minds.

I always thought of Inventium as a business that truly values output over hours, but I don’t think it fully was until the implementation of the four-day week. When I asked my team how the four-day week changed their approach to work, a common response was that it changed their mindset. It meant that Inventium truly prioritised output over hours – ironically because you were seen as working more productively if you could fit your work into four normal-length days.

It’s hard to go back to a Five Day Week

It has been nearly two years since Inventium moved to the four-day week and out of curiosity, I recently asked my team how challenging it would be to go back to a standard five-day week. The almost unanimous feedback was that it would be incredibly difficult. Reflecting on my own experience, I wholeheartedly concur. One of my teammates told me that she didn’t know if she could work somewhere else on a standard five day a week. She said she would find it demotivating because she now knows she can achieve all her targets in four days, when she works effectively.

Another teammate shared that because he can use an hour or two on Friday mornings to wrap up any loose ends from the week, he can now completely switch off on the weekend. Other teammates told me they use Fridays for life admin, such as doing household chores or booking appointments that they would otherwise have kept putting off.

Having a week day “in reserve” means that weekends can actually be used for leisure, as opposed to using them to catch up on everything that went neglected during the week.

It encourages you to have a life outside work

When Inventium launched the four-day week, we called the initiative Gift of the Fifth. If people worked productively from Monday to Thursday, they were given the gift of time on Friday. And as a business leader, I have learnt that time is the most meaningful gift you can give a team. Every person on my team has used the gift of time in transformative ways. Many have explored new hobbies that they previously didn’t have time to explore, some have started side hustles and are stretching their brain outside of the workplace, and others are spending an additional precious day every week with their family.

Life is not just about work, but when you work long hours it’s hard for it not to be.

Constraining the time that you work forces you to become deliberate about how you can best use your non-work time. I love that my team are stretching themselves in different ways outside of work and that it has given them the gift of being able to explore different passions and pursuits that they never would have had time for otherwise.

Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium, Australia’s leading behavioural science consultancy and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful innovators. Her latest book, Time Wise, is out on July 5.

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