back to article Next six months could set a new pace for work-life balance

As return-to-office attempts continue to fail for big tech businesses, another proposed change to the work world is gaining steam: The four-day week. In the UK, a 70-company trial program the BBC described as "the world's biggest" began this week, with participants paying their employees a regular week's pay for 80 percent of …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I already do a 4 day week

    We have a choice of a a regular 5 day week, a 9x80 week where you work 9 hours a day, and then 8 hours every other Friday, or just 4x10, where you work 10 hours a day for 4 days.

    I was doing 10 hour days anyway since that's what happens when I concentrate to get things done. A 3-day weekend is really useful, and lets me get things done at home too. I absolutely love it.

    Now if we can just get rid of the fucking daylight saving shit too.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: I already do a 4 day week

      I did until I couldn't anymore.

      When I first started consulting and I'd fly out Monday morning and fly back Thursday evening I would get roughly 2x8 and 2x12 days for a 40 hour week. I might get a phone call or have a couple emails on Friday but all consultants were working those hours so Friday was sort of a day for the full time staff to do stuff that didn't involve me. Or at least I wasn't there so out of sight, out of mind I guess.

      Once I stopped traveling (after the 2008 recession) and clients were comfortable with having me telecommute full time it was impossible to maintain a 4 day week, because Friday is just another day when everyone else is working. So I was sort of forced to regress to a 5 day week, because people will always try to schedule you for meetings on Fridays and expect timely responses on emails sent on Friday. I gave up fighting against it and worked the way everyone else was.

      1. Swarthy

        Re: I already do a 4 day week

        What in the ever-loving name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is managers' obsession with scheduling Friday afternoon meetings?!

        I had one manager who liked to schedule meetings at 15:30 on Friday (Core hours were 8A-2P, I usually got in around 6A). This was in a city with some of the worst traffic in the country, where leaving at 2P would take an hour to get home, leaving at 4P would take 3.

    2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      Re: I already do a 4 day week

      Some of this mainly the 9x80 week, was operating in Calgary (as I stated the other week) in the Oil & Gas Industries, which made for a relaxing commute on Fridays for the remainder who were working.

      A UK company I worked for missed a trick on this reduced working hours, as we had to take a lunch break then return for 1hr 35 mins work on Friday afternoon. Most staff wound down after 2pm, if they weren't already suffering from post lunch apathy (not pub related) & wouldn't take on any work that was liable to work them to clocking out time.

      The year they decided that no raises could be given an idea that was mooted was to work through to the normal lunchtime & finish at one, improving moral, reducing hours, which would have been equivalent to a 4.23% raise for very little impact on overall productivity.

  2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Missing the point

    The detached CEOs planning their moves from private jets after taking young blood transfusion to cure hangover from 3 days coke bender in Magaluf do not grasp that you can't do effective work in a noisy open plan office where you have no choice but "brainstorm" and then fight going into coma after having yet another organic poached chicken avocado salad.

    It's the suffering of managers, that they can't show off their new Gucci suit or ostentatiously throw keys to their new Tesla at their desk and moan how buying Twitter shares was a bad idea.

    They realise how their lives are empty. There is nobody to yell at after they spotted someone looking at Reddit rather than VSCode. And things are delivered on time.

    They feel useless.

    And that beautiful statement office. Posh coffee machines that you need a PhD to operate, have not produced a single drop in months.

    And you can't get "the gang" to the club after work and buy everyone drinks so they have to pretend they like you...

    I mean it's not a rocket science. If you can't get someone to do something it means you don't pay them enough. You can try some elaborate schemes to trick some workers into giving up their freedom for less, but it will only work for so long.

    That ship has sailed...

    1. pimppetgaeghsr Bronze badge

      Re: Missing the point

      I only know managers who have a Tesla as their personality trait. If they actually did 3 day coke benders in exotic locations and took blood transfusions I might actually be inclined to like them more and try and tag along.

  3. Dave 27

    A 4 day week at scale, it will be great at first. But humans being humans will figure out how to be slack at times, people aren't robots. Eventually you will have a workforce working 80% of the usual time who have worked out how to slacken off a bit on the days they do work. So then it becomes a management problem to incentivise etc. Just like it should already be.

    I still believe the future is WFH. This shuffling to and from an office to operate the same computer you use at home is laughable.

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Brit thinktank Autonomy, Boston College in the US, and the British universities of Oxford and Cambridge are also backing the UK initiative.

      Imagine how many meetings, presentations, banquets, trips across the world this genius idea must have taken... a small army of people, paid for by whom? Who benefits? Surely they don't do this because they want to improve workers' lives...

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      I think you're probably right. I voted in favor because I think it's worth testing, but it's also worth testing honestly. I have no doubt that previous tests have improved performance by cutting things like unnecessarily long meetings, which would probably help a lot. However, those meetings never die, so I wouldn't expect a company to stop doing them just because the week got shorter, which will reduce the productivity again. I'd like it if shortening the work week turned out to be great for everyone, but I don't think it always will.

  4. Abominator

    Say goodbye to any pay rises or bonuses.

    1. Cheshire Cat

      I said goodbye to those years ago, since Im not in senior management

    2. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

      I've been on four 10s for years, and work weekends to boot, as I am in a 24x7 shop. I haven't noticed any problems getting promotions or pay rises.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm now on 5 days full work from home. However the cynic in me thinks that at some point some businesses will realise they don't need as many employees or just fire and rehire. The way business may eventually look at it is why pay for 5 days when they can pay for 4 and still get all the work done.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The current suggestion is to work 4 days, but still pay for 5. That either means expecting 4x10-hour days, or the equivalent of a 20% pay rise for 4x8. I'm sure, as others have noted, that people will soon realise that 4x10 is unsustainable and (especially when WFH) will drift back to 4x8, wiping out these imaginary productivity gains. Just look at France's 35-hour week fiasco that they've been trying to reverse for years.

      1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

        Don't know why you think 4x10 is unsustainable. That is what I've been working for over a decade now and, as long as I have to work 40 a week, wouldn't have it any other way. The difference between working 8 hours and 10 hours is negligible, but the extra day off is really helpful. It would only be rough if your company decided the days off would be Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          4x10 is unsustainable, it would mean I'd have to start work before I'd woken up, and finish after I've put the tea on.

          1. Tom 38

            4x10 when WFH is start work at 8am, finish at 1830-1900, depending on how much lunch you take. If that is impossible, note that its the same time as 9-5:30 when commuting to the office, and everyone managed that just fine.

  6. Roger Kynaston Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Interesting idea

    I have a feeling that it is an idea whose time has come. After all, the unions fought for Saturday off and (then) 48 hour weeks in the early years of the last century. So instead of 'that Friday feeling' you will have that Thursday vibe!

    Here is another idea, back when pension schemes were more valuable than they are now one I knew of had a facility where you could start winding down your working week a few years before normal pension age. A colleague I knew went from 5 to 4 and then 3 days a week till he finally chucked it in. Perhaps that is something that could be widened out.

    I am still a few years off being able to hang up my work email.

  7. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    40 hour weeks?

    I thought most people where on 35-39 hour weeks these days? My working week dropped to 39 then 38 hours per week when I worked for the local town council about 40 years ago. Before I left that job, we changed to a 4 day week shift pattern of 2x9 + 2x10, the business operated 9am-7pm, 6 days per week. Current job is 5x7.5hrs.

    1. secondtimeuser

      Re: 40 hour weeks?

      I'm surprised by the apparent normalcy of 40 hours too. I've been on 37.5 hr weeks across 3 different jobs / industries since graduating in 2010, just with different philosophies of how to spread that time across the week (e.g. 4x8 + 1x5.5 or 5x7.5). All UK jobs but parent companies have been US or Canadian based.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: 40 hour weeks?

        Yes, but with half an hour to track down some lunch, you're still in the office 5x8.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 40 hour weeks?

      The person who owns my company (UK HQ, but global presence) is apparently a Victorian. We do 8-5 or 9-6 shifts so we're all on a 40 hour week. Less than 2 months ago he demanded that we all return to the offices, as the pandemic was over. It took a lot of effort from some of the directors to convince him that nobody would do it...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 40 hour weeks?

        IMHO our needy CEO sees the office as his social scene so he wants everyone back in to have his "friends" around him.

  8. bigtimehustler

    So, after conducting the experiment that saw such a massive leap in productivity, I presume they are now still on a 4 day week. If not, why not?

  9. bigtimehustler

    Yea, never worked a 40 hour week since graduating snd working in tech in 2006. So I doubt many are doing that much. Its 37.5 currently.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    4 days can meen different things

    Seems like both the original article(which isn't totally clear about it, and probably should be) and the survey question(which is inexcusable) weren't clear if they meant 4x10 or whatever that preserved total worked, or cutting a workday without adjusting hours(and with or without adjusting pay).

    The impacts from those different plans diverge pretty quick. That said, different people and different industries may be able to make any of them work. I've dealt with the 4x10 flavors (4x10.5-11 actually worked due to lunch, unpaid) which can be a fit for parts of our industry that still need to keep a schedule. Since I currently have to cover most of the working hours of the others in the office for support, and can't work on most of the systems I run till after hours, working a 4x10 when the office is on a 5x8 cuts the overtime to manageable levels, as those 2 hour windows will be enough to take care of most of the routine stuff. But I get paid overtime for over 8 hours, so it was cheaper for them to shift my schedule to just start later. Cutting my hours wouldn't work in a way they would like, and I'd end up working for whatever company I started consulting for to make up for the lost income because I don't like bouncing rent checks.

    As for productivity, I'm fine dealing with my current workload, but when I was coding or doing more project related stuff, acute vegebrain was a real problem by end of shift on days when I wasn't in the flow, especially during crunch time. So after 4-5 weeks at 10-12 hour shifts five or more days a week, I was a drooling idiot, and barely able to do what I did in day in a normal 40 hour week. Burnout is a real problem, as is the pileup of real life issues when all daylight hours are work hours.

    Can I squeeze the same amount of productivity into a 32 hour week? Depends on what I am doing, most times, probably not consistently. YMMV. Also, many of us don't NEED to get a full weeks work done every week, odd as that is to say. If you arer IT/help desk at a smaller company, you may run out of real work to do sometimes, and need be covering the phones/email/tickets/website/slack/pagers/pigeons in case something blows up or your one of your users are eating paste again. So if you have enough of a bullpen to cover the hours, there are plenty of people that may thrive on a shorter schedule and more free time. There are also people that would get screwed by potentially losing their benefits, a sizable chunk of their income, and be pressured to track and respond to proablems on your "off" hours.

    I'd rather fight for better rights for individual employees to seek a schedule that works for both parties and isn't set in stone, but that's not what is flying around. I suspect all this chatter is that the beancounter are recession spooked and looking for a way to cut payroll without giving up anything. Cut their hours on paper, cut their pay, and don't adjust their deadlines or deliverables. Then ride them to make up the difference off the clock or get put on a "performance plan" and use that to fire anyone that cries "Sweatshop! Wage theft!".

    Probably won't get hit with that myself unless I move to a less favorable jurisdiction. Due to years of abuse it's now explicitly illegal to not pay overtime over 8 hours, 40 in a week, and a few edge cases. Unpaid on-call status is still a minefield, but more so for the employer so it's also rare in our industry out here these days.

  11. martinusher Silver badge

    The problem is mission creep with work

    The workweek used to be a mere 12 hours a day for six and a half days a week during a lot of recent history. We ("the people") gradually pushed it back to 40 hours or less by the 1970s but since then its been creeping up again. Work hours have been extended -- working used to be 9..5 but suddenly its always 8..5 with lunch hours being not counted as part of working time (and breaks only grudgingly given because of legal mandates). Then the typical work day is extended because of traveling time actually getting to and from a location, with a commute often extending to the best part of an hour each way. Then there's the pressure to add a bit extra, to 'finish this bit of the project', to skip vacation and then, finally, bringing one's work home with one. (This practice didn't start with technology but definitely picked up the pace as more workers were enabled to work off site.)

    Its small wonder that if this pattern got interrupted then a lot of people would suddenly stop and say "What on Earth have I been doing?". Its really easy to spend a lot of your life like this, I know I did and I probably missed out on a good bit of actual living because of work pressure. The problems we have to solve is that first of all, not everyone can 'return to the office' -- they're not doing that sort of job - and that any concessions offered to individual workers will be withdrawn as soon as practicable. Certain workers have always been able to pick and choose when and how they work and many of us would like to think we belong in that group but unfortunately most of us don't -- in the short term we may be able to bargain and lever as individuals but you can bet that HR's "Eye of Sauron" has got your number and sooner or later...

  12. thosrtanner

    Well, I'm not voting because I'd certainly prefer a 5dayx8hr week to a 4dayx10hr day week. On the other hand I'd really like a 4dayx8hr day week. The survey is astonishingly unclear about what is being offered.

  13. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Musk is not delighted with this.

    Some bosses don't understand that you can be much more productive by working less. They are soooo wrong.

    People being less stressed and having a better work/family life equilibrium are more efficient. Working hours are more effective if they are less numerous.

    It would be also interesting to know the consequences of less work hours on harassment and other toxic behaviours.

    1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

      Re: Musk is not delighted with this.

      Don't know on fewer hours vs harassment, but the effect of WFH on productivity jumped (at least for me) because now I can concentrate on working. I no longer get bugged by cow-orkers who want to know how to do the same thing over and over because they didn't bother to learn the first 5 times you showed them how to do their job, or get unwillingly dragged into conversations on their Springeresque personal lives. The only way they can do either now is by using either the phone or company instant messenger, both of which are recorded, and they don't want records of either. The only interruption I suffer now is I take more business calls than before. Those same people who interrupted me with their mindless drivel will either miss calls or stay in a no-call state for hours at a time. But, I say nothing to them about it; when layoffs happen at a metric-driven company, they'll go first.

  14. Avon

    Been WFH mostly for the last year, more productive as less time taken with interruptions & pointless meetings. Plus not having to waste my free time commuting & sacrificing my 'hard-earned' to the filthy oil cartel.

    Note to the previous poster you don't have keys for a Tesla, you use your phone :)

  15. ChipsforBreakfast

    Explain to me, if anyone can, just how we can effectively operate a customer facing business on a 4 day week without increasing headcount (and thus costs) when our customers operate 5 days a week. I can't see how it's possible unless it becomes a legal mandate and everyone works 4 day weeks.

    Then we get to the thorny issue of pay - 20 % less work without a drop in pay. How does that work? Do we carry out 20% less work but charge the clients 100% of their service contracts? I can't see that lasting long before the bean-counters start chipping away at it - "But you're only providing support for 4 days, why should we pay the same as we did for 5?". Before you know it, company income is down 20% while costs stay the same or rise....

    It's a nice idea, in theory. In practice, it's simply not going to work which is almost certainly why none of those trials ever became permanent.

    1. A K Stiles

      You are equating "work" with "hours of attendance" rather than with "productivity".

      If you are still providing 5 day support, then not all of your staff work the same 4 days. Business continues with the agreed service to clients, no drop in income. Staff have more personal free time, so are more motivated to work during work hours because clearly their employer actually cares about them rather than how many hours of their life they can bleed out of them.

  16. pimppetgaeghsr Bronze badge

    I work remotely so it's not like management can stop me. In tech corporations now with all the red tape, engineers are now doing project management for the project managers, managing the product for the product managers and architecting the product for the architects. Actual useful work winds up being a handful of hours a week.

  17. Due4AChange

    WFH or 4-Day week?

    An interesting poll would ask respondents to choose between WFH or a 4-day work week...I'd guess WFH would be the preference, but a 4-day week is a strong contender.

    Of course there'll be the usual El Reg voters who will want both, which I get.

    1. A K Stiles

      Re: WFH or 4-Day week?

      That'd certainly be my preference - move from 37 hours across 5 days , probably to 4x7.5h rather than 5x6h, so there is a 3 day weekend.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like