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Why a 4-day work week could be in our future

 June 5, 2023 at 3:28 PM PDT

S1: The workplace today is not the same as it was just a few years ago. Many people want more flexibility. One example of that is the growing trend of the four day workweek. Findings from a pilot program in the United Kingdom published earlier this year , showed the program was considered a resounding success. More than 90% of the companies that took part in that trial continued on with the four day workweek. On top of that , legislative efforts to enact four day workweeks have started here in California and at the federal level. Here to talk about the four day work week is Kate Lister. She's president of Global Workplace Analytics , located right here in Carlsbad. Kate , welcome back to Midday Edition.

S2: Oh , it's great to be back. Thank you.

S1: Great to have you. So we've spoken before about how the workplace has changed since the pandemic started , about remote work , hybrid work.

S2: A compressed workweek is a week where you work four days , ten hour days. The four day workweek that we're talking about here is where you work four days , eight hour days. So it's actually a shorter week.

S1: So there's a there is a big difference there. Yeah.

S2: Yeah. Yes , there is.

S1: You know , one of the findings from the UK study was that moving to a four day work week had no significant impact on productivity at the halfway point of the study. That seems surprising to me.

S2: There's a lot of stuff that I could trim out. And that's actually what happened when a lot of these pilots started. They didn't like it very much because what they tried to do is cram 40 hours into 32 hours. And so with some coaching , they started to make what I would call a do not do list. So this is what I'm not going to do. This is what I don't have to do this report. I really don't have to email this person every day. I really don't have to surf the web as much as I do. You know , just just find those things that are taking the slice out of your day now. And if you do that , you'll free up a lot of time.

S1: So it sounds like both the companies and employees sort of streamlined and tightened up their their work process.

S2: Which is good regardless of whether they're doing a 40 hour workweek or a 32 hour workweek. I mean , you just think about the number of things that go on in offices , all the interruption ins and distractions and , you know , your email constantly popping up in your chat , constantly popping up. You know , all that just takes time out of your day. And , you know , the other thing I equate it to , you know , when you're going to go on vacation and you get weeks of work done in that one week before because you've trimmed all the other stuff out , you know , it's like , okay , triage. Exactly.

S1: Exactly.

S2: You know , there it's got to be really an office job. But the four day workweek lends itself to hospitality , retail , health care. It can really go in a lot of places , especially if even in a customer facing position , if you stagger those four day workweek so that there's no no lapse of a you know , everybody's gone on Friday.


S2: I mean , the whole thing is it's supposed to result in a better work life balance. And so you need to tell your people , you know , this is really what we expect. You also need to be very clear about what your work expectations are , which is true regardless of whether we're talking about remote work or hybrid work or four day workweek so that you can measure things like did your productivity increase or decrease ? In fact , one of the interesting things is that it showed 94% of employees wanted to continue. This is the study that you referenced , too , and 86% of managers said they had the same or equal service level. In addition , two thirds said that it had helped them attract and retain talent. Yeah.

S1: Yeah.

S2: Almost all of the companies that are talking about a four day workweek , unless it's in terms of some intervention to lower costs , are talking about you get full pay for working the 32 hour week. And so it really shouldn't impact the hourly worker. There are some kinds of issues with labor laws in terms of overtime. You've got to be very careful to track the time that people are working. But assuming that they're working on site for those other days , there really shouldn't be any difference. Hmm.

S1: Hmm. So labor laws could complicate this , but there are legislative efforts to move us toward the four day work week.

S2: In some other countries , it's already been made law. I don't really think that we need to legislate it as all businesses need to do this. What we need is a suite of flexibility choices for people. The compressed workweek isn't for everybody. And so that's maybe one option , particularly for the people who you can't offer hybrid. It turned out that we did a study late last year with our labs , and just about an equal number of people wanted flexibility in where they work as interested in the four day workweek. So it was it's high on the list even as a matter of fact , 74% said they were. In the compressed workweek.


S2: You have to buy in some places transit tickets on a five day basis. So you're sort of losing that benefit. I think that would change pretty quickly if we really went to a widespread four day workweek. But one of the good things that would change in addition to people being less stressed is sustainability. If you could actually get everybody out of the building on the same day , then you can actually shut down the air conditioning or at least turn down all of the electricity and actually have an environmental impact. There'd also be the environmental impact of not commuting one day a week. On the flip side , all those entrepreneurs that rely on five days a week of business are going to have their income cut by a fifth. If if everybody goes to a four day workweek and we don't don't stagger them. Yeah.

S3: Yeah. Well , hopefully.



S1: So , Kate , when we last spoke about changes in the workplace , flexibility was a word that came up over and over again. Workers seemed to want increased flexibility and control over their working environment , working lives.

S2: And so I don't think it is the kind of thing we legislate and we say everybody's going to do it. I think that it's the kind of thing like , okay , we're going to offer you this option of a compressed workweek or a four day workweek or hybrid or working part time or staggering your shift hours or having a flexible start or end time and even within the envelope of the building , organizations are making their their footprint more flexible. So adding co-working spaces where you can just kind of go sit and be near a number of people or adding places where you can get quiet at work , recognizing that one of the biggest complaints in office buildings is it's too noisy and there's too many distractions. So we've learned a lot during the pandemic of why people didn't like going to the office. And for the companies that want them to come back , they're making those changes to make it more of a destination.

S1: We'd love to hear your thoughts on a four day work week. Give us a call at (619) 452-0228. You can leave a message or you can email us at midday at Coming up , more on the changes people entering the job market now are expecting.

S2: They don't want to have to make a choice between earning a living and having a life.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm talking with Kate Lister from Global Workplace Analytics about the concept of a four day work week.

S2: I've tried myself to to do a four day workweek. And if a client calls and they want to have a standing meeting on Fridays , then I kind of have to do it. You know , it's in my business as a consultant. Maybe it's worse because I'm dealing with almost all everybody outside of the organization and I have to please them all. But even within , you know , if not everybody's doing it , you're still going to have that problem of feeling left out , worried that you're going to miss out on something. FOMO Fear of missing out.

S1: I suppose. I mean , I.

S2: Think there's there's there's more benefits than there are disadvantages , I think. Yeah.

S3: Yeah.

S1: And on that idea of sort of redefining work life , earlier this year , we heard a lot about bare minimum Mondays encouraging people to basically ease into their workweek by redefining what for many is the toughest day of the week.

S2: It'd be interesting to look at daycare or elementary school children , whether or not the teachers notice anything different on a Monday. But , you know , there's times that I feel like , oh , I don't I don't want to work. So I , I sit down and I try to work. And sometimes it just doesn't work. And I've learned over my life , just go with it. Mean you're not going to make it any better. You're going to sit there. You're going to stare at the screen. You're going to be miserable. So just give up and , you know , go take a nap or read a book or something. And I know that's not possible for all employees , but I think it's a great idea to ease into things. I think it's also a great idea to ease in after travel. I think it's ridiculous that we we send people all over the country , all over the world , and then expect them to be right back on our schedule the next day. You know , that's a real wipe out. And it seems like now we're really thinking about the people part of this. And I think that ought to be on the table as well.

S3: Yeah , that is.

S1: A great way to look at it. You know , also , though , Monday isn't everyone start of the workweek. For many people , their workweek may start at 2:30 a.m. on a Wednesday or Thursday. Is the concept of minimal Mondays and easing into the week being applied in those situations where people may actually need it the most.

S2: I have to say , I haven't really seen it being used in many places , period. Even the four day workweek that we've been talking about , only 9% of the companies say they offered it before the pandemic and after the pandemic. That was up to 28%. So it's not a widely used benefit. But , I mean , if you could have the concept of flexibility in general , you know , that's really what you're talking about with the ease into , you know , let me work on my schedule , you know , great. I have to meet the goals. I understand. I have to be visible for the customers and a lot of things I have to do. But let me figure out how to do it. I mean , what we want as low told us this 50 years ago , 60 years ago , what what makes us work best is given autonomy to make our own decisions , to do things our own way , mastery to give us the talent to to do it. The skills , the the equipment and purpose to help us understand why am I doing this ? You know , if I ask my dog to dance , unless there's a cookie in my hand , he's not going to. And so , you know , we're all about cookies.


S1: All right , here's another one for you.

S2: So I think that's that's a real positive thing I have seen in companies just by giving people the opportunity to start their shift a few minutes earlier , a few minutes later , it relieves that stress of you're sitting in traffic. You know , there's been an accident somewhere. You didn't get out of the house as quickly this morning because something happened and just having that autonomy to to not have to fret about it. Okay. If I get there ten minutes late , I'll work ten minutes more. Yeah.

S3: Yeah. Yeah. You know , there.

S1: Also seems to be tension , though , between a lot of companies and their employees when it comes to remote work versus in-person. What does that why does that tension exist ? Trust.

S2: 100%. And this has been true since Jack Nicklaus right here in California in 1973 , invented the terms telework and telecommuting. And so we called it telework for a very long time. But he observed then that managers were not comfortable with it because they didn't know how to manage by results. You know , they were brought they were made a manager because they did whatever they did well , and they weren't given any training or very little training and how to actually manage , how to how to be comfortable not seeing the back of somebody's head , because that doesn't tell you anything about whether or not they're working. So that's that's really number one. I think there's there's also a whole lot of bias going on. There's this this proximity bias that it's a natural thing. It's a human thing. You're going to trust. You're going to be closer to the people that are physically close to you. The we've always done thing this way bias. And I think a lot of leaders are older and and really don't want things to change. They want things to go back the other way. You know , I talk about it with clients all the time and I ask why ? What is it that you're afraid of ? Why do you want them back ? They say productivity. They say culture. They say innovation. And every one of those things , the science proves wrong , that that it improves all of those things. If you give people flexibility and mean flexibility in the broadest sense.

S3: Mm hmm.

S1: And , you know , you mentioned biases. And I was wondering , too , you know , there were some studies that showed that for people of color , there was a high preference for working remotely.

S2: It points to microaggressions. They don't have to be in the office and suffer the , you know , trying to be somebody trying to fit in , trying to not be noticed , trying to not be bullied. And it's a real sin. But , you know , they found that by working remotely , it alleviated a lot of that. The four day workweek I don't think is gives you as much on the diversity , equity , inclusion and belonging scale. We learned when during the the pandemic or when people work remote there's there's practices that you develop like in meetings using polls or using the chat to break into the conversation or having a document that you can you can reflect on and respond to after the meeting. Those are all very good things and it helped us to increase the the brain pool , to expand the brain pool to a lot of voices like racial minorities , like people who speak in different languages , like the Neurodiverse. They all got a more equal spot at the table , or at least on the screen during the pandemic. And I don't think we really get there with the four day workweek unless I mean , why couldn't you have a four day workweek that combines with work from home ? Right.

S3: Okay.

S1: So finding a healthy work life balance , you know , it can be a challenge.

S2: Microsoft did a study of 20,000 global employees , and before the pandemic , they would have said that they put their work before they lost their lives. But after the pandemic , more than half said that there in the future they're going to put their lives ahead of their job. You know , they want to earn a living. They don't want to have to make a choice between earning a living and having a life. The other the other thing is and sort of going back on the question of what can they do ? A lot of it is giving yourself permission when you've been on that treadmill for a long time and then you're suddenly , hey , wow , I can be on vacation and you feel guilty and you don't really know what to do because you don't have as many hobbies as you did when you had more , you know , when you were younger and you had more time off. And so it's giving yourself permission and having your employer make sure that you understand you do have permission to take this time off. We want you to sleep longer , to play with your children , to exercise. And we found during the pandemic that a lot of the surveys pointed to in a four day work week and in a hybrid workplace , that's exactly what people did with their time.

S3: Hm Yeah. I mean.

S1: You know , it seems that during the pandemic there was really a time of reflection that has really pushed this cultural shift in many ways and including the workplace. Absolutely.

S2: Absolutely. It just it just reframed our thinking about what's important. And I also think and I found this in my own life , you don't really realize how much stress you're under until the stress stops. And then you look back and say , Wow , did I really commute for two hours a day ? Did I really sit in that traffic on I-5 every day ? You know , it's like I didn't it didn't realize it. It's like , you know , the frog and the boiling water. Right. Right. That's supposedly false.

S1: But so , so very true , though. I know.

S2: A lot of companies are thinking about healthier kinds of work practices , about training their managers to to recognize stress and what to do about it. A lot of employers have made employer resource groups available to deal with stress. I mean , five years ago , we wouldn't have been talking about stress in the boardroom or , you know , yoga or stress interventions that would have been laughed out of the boardroom. But but now we're focusing on it. And I think it's because the employers understand how costly it is , not just in terms of health care and mental health , but also in terms of presenteeism being there but not really being there , not being able to do the full job because you're so stressed out. We're also seeing more healthy buildings , greater attention to air quality , greater attention to lighting and reflective surfaces , which can be stressful. Greater attention to noise. You know , they're looking at all those reasons. Why did people want to work from home ? Why do they not want to come back to the office ? And they're trying to fix those things. Hmm.

S1: Hmm. I've been speaking with Kate Lister , president of Global Workplace Analytics. Kate , very enlightening. Thank you so much for joining us.

S2: Great to talk to you again.

An advocate walks among cubicles at the National Domestic Violence Hotline center's new facility, Monday, June 27, 2016, in Austin, Texas.
Eric Gay
An advocate walks among cubicles at the National Domestic Violence Hotline center's new facility, Monday, June 27, 2016, in Austin, Texas.

The standard five-day, 40-hour work week has been dominant for decades. But results from a recent four-day work week pilot program in the United Kingdom show promise, and have some workplaces considering moving to the shorter week. The four-day work week is one example of how workplaces are being transformed in the years since the coronavirus pandemic began.


Kate Lister, president, Global Workplace Analytics