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Is a 4-Day Work Week Feasible for You?

The concept of a 4-day work week has been thrown around and tested by various organizations for a number of years now. It recently came back into the news after atrial in Iceland was deemed an overwhelming success.

The experiment was run by the U.K.-based think tank Autonomyand Iceland’s Association for Sustainable Democracy (Alda). From 2015 to 2019, 2500 workers (1% of Iceland's workforce) were paid the same amount of money to work fewer hours and only four days. Researchers found that in the majority of workplaces, productivity remained the same, if it didn't improve. In addition, workers reported feeling less stressed and at risk of burnout, plus they said that their health and work-life balance had improved. They also reported having more time to spend with their families, do hobbies and complete household chores.

These outcomes echo the findings of other similar studies from the past 15-years.Perpetual Guardian, an estate planning organization out of New Zealand, dropped their work week and found that employees maintained the same productivity level and showed more job satisfaction, teamwork, work/life balance and company loyalty. Plus, they experienced less stress. In Sweden, nurses dropped to six-hour days for a couple years. They logged less sick leave, reported better perceived health and boosted their productivity. And back in 2007, the State of Utah reduced their work week to 4 days, but maintained 40 hours of work. After the trial, 82% of workers said they would prefer to stick with it. In addition to the employee satisfaction, this study also focused on environment and financial impacts. They found that without having to turn on lights or use air conditioning, they saved $1.8 million after 9 months. As well, the study projected a drop of at least 6000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually due to those Friday building shutdowns.

Platform London, a UK-based environmental and social justice collective, also believes there are significant environmental benefits to be found from a four-day work week, saying that it would shrink the UK's carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes per year by 2025, specifically because of less electricity and commuting.

The Four-Day Work Week Isn't Perfect

Unsurprisingly, the concept of a four-day work week is not favoured by everyone, nor does it bring substantial benefits to all workers. 

Mark Effron, publisher of TalentQ, believes it to be another fad and only rewards bad management. He says that cutting 8 hours a week while maintaining the same efficiency just means you had an efficiency problem to begin with, likely due to social media, unnecessary meetings and watercooler chat-- it is not something to be proud of. Effron also points out that competitors would jump at the opportunity to work and approach your clients while your team is out enjoying every Friday off. Finally, the critic states that "Inequality grows under a 4-day workweek", highlighting that it discriminates against those whose jobs don't allow for it (ex. school bus drivers) and even hurts businesses who depend on the 5-day week (ex. local restaurants who serve lunch).

Even the successful trials listed abovehadsome downsides to thisworking model. In Sweden, they believe the study cost the city about 12 million kronor ($1.3 million). It began to get so expensive that council debated shutting down the trial a little earlier.Also, other companies tried to follow suit with the experiment, but ended up shutting it down because they found6-hour dayscaused more stress for workers.

And there's another side of the coin to the argument that the 4-day work week can reduce our carbon footprint. While Platform London firmly believes in the benefits, they also caution thatgiving everybody a 3-day weekend could potentially increase unnecessary travel and consumerism, both of which lead to higher emissions. 

The Flexibility as an Independent Contractor

A benefit of independent contracting is that you have the flexibility to set your own hours. If you like the ideas above, then you don't need to wait for your organization or local government to conduct some sort of experiment. In theory, you can drop to a 4-day work week and have every Friday off...in theory. 

IT contractors are both business owners and an employee of that business. While as the worker it's great to have that extra day off work, as the business owner, you recognize that not working means no income. So, if you were to cut back a day, following the model of maintaining the same pay while working fewer hours just isn't feasible. To ensure the same cashflow, you would need to increase how many hours you work each day, and that is not feasible for everyone.

You also serve clients whose needs must remain a top concern.  As well, you may have a specific contractual agreement that you signed with them. If you previously agreed to be available to your client five days per week, then it probably won't go over well when you suddenly drop a day because it worked well for nurses in Sweden! In these circumstances, you're best to wait for the next project and come up with a mutually beneficial arrangement prior to the work beginning.

Regardless of your opinion on the 4-day work week and whether it will work for you, we can be certain that the way we work is changing. The COVID-19 pandemic already turned where we work on its head, with remote work becoming a new normal for companies around the world. Now, it looks like when e work may also see some drastic changes as companies seek to attract the best talent and optimize productivity.