Chris Alexander

On Engineering

An accidental 4 day week experiment

5th June, 2020

Moving to a 4 day working week is something that has been discussed for quite a while and comes up every few months online - most of the time a medium sized organisation (and rarely in the UK) going to a 4 day week. Here’s an article from the New York Times in 1970 about Samsonite doing it.

Thanks to a quirk of some holiday rules, our currently fully working from home household needed to use up 6 days of holiday in the months of May and June (with bank holidays included as requiring a day of holiday). To that end, this week just finished is only one of two in these two months that we’ve actually worked all 5 days.

So, looking forward to another three 4 day weeks coming up, what have been the upsides and downsides so far?

I should say first of all that the team I work with have been very good about it so far, and I don’t think it’s caused any issues that I am out one day a week - as you would hope. We have been varying our days between Mondays and Fridays, and trying to avoid both Friday and Monday off over a weekend (although 4 days on / 4 days off / 4 days on is quite appealing).

This also leads to one of the downsides - if it’s not everyone doing a 4 day week and also on the same day, then it can lead to stress on your non-working day that you might be missing out on something or that you’re needed. I’m not saying that that’s actually the case, but the feeling that it could be true can be stressful.

Another disadvantage, as I’m finding out today, is that switching back to 5 days after spending quite a few weeks doing 4 days can be a lot of effort - kind of like having to work a Saturday after also doing a whole week, if you’re used to 5 day weeks. Sure I’m busy and getting on and making good progress, but I’m not my usual spritely self. It’s hard to say whether I will get “used to” a 4 day week and need to go to 3 days to get the same relaxed feeling I have been getting recently (anyone want to sign that off?!) in the future.

There are of course some advantages. Though we fortunate not to be furloughed, an extra day at the weekend is more than welcome to help with jobs around the house (or hit the Xbox). We’ve started some garden projects we wouldn’t otherwise have got to, for example.

I also think that spreading the 6 days out over 2 months has had a lower maximum impact than taking a week and a day together, but it the lower absolute impact has been felt for a much longer period of time (hopefully at least 2 months in total!). I have also found that after three days at home I am just about ready to go back to work.

I’m looking forward to taking some chunks of holiday later in the year to actually go somewhere, but for now I am happy with what we’ve ended up doing. Have you ever worked 4 day weeks for any period of time? What were your upsides and downsides? Would you ask to do it now?