This morning I ran across this piece on the Web site of English boutique recruitment consultancy Mitchell Adam:
Today, many people will have heard of the four-day week; a company decision for employers to reduce staff working days from five to four without a reduction in wages. Whilst it’s a popular topic in a number of countries, very few businesses have chosen to implement the change. But why do people believe it could be commonplace before the end of the century?
It’s not at all unusual for discussions of shorter working hours is framed around the question of “is it possible?” or “could it work?” Business Insider recently published an article about how it “could make people happier and more productive;” another HR company asks “Could a 30-hour week actually work?” and a third asks “Is the 4-day working week possible?”
Sometimes the unspoken second part of the phrase is “…at your company,” but often people really are talking about the 4-day week as if it’s an academic idea or policy proposal, not something that companies are already doing. I don’t think this is a product of lazy thinking, or lack of research (though the Perpetual Guardian and Swedish nursing home trials get cited disproportionately); I think it reveals just how incredibly well-entrenched the 5-day workweek is, how firmly we believe in the cult of overwork, and how difficult it can be to break away from that.
Even when presented with actual examples of companies that are doing it– ranging from painfully hip boutique design firms in Shoreditch, to world-class restaurants in Denmark and Sweden, to accounting companies in Australia, to industrial rice milling manufacturers in Hiroshima– it’s hard to believe that evidence actually exists. (And I’m discovering that with American audiences, if you cite Nordic countries you might as well be talking about the elves from Lord of the Rings— each seems equally real to overworked talent development executives.)
This, in turn, makes it even harder to seriously imagine redesigning the workday, without sacrificing productivity and profitability. The reality of companies actually doing that has a hard time competing with people’s preconceptions of what work looks like, and how you do it better.
After decades of ratcheting up working hours, using technology to allow the empire of work to invade every area of our our lives and every hour of our day, it’s hard to imagine a world in which things move in the opposite direction– even when you’re looking at companies doing it.