Business

Is the four-day week the future of work?

Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan had to embrace remotework in the early stages of the pandemic. Now, the boss wants to reward a new perk, an employee who gets stuck working four days a week.

Starting next year, Brooklyn’s crowdfunding company plans to save employees eight hours in four days as part of a pilot study. Hasan’s bet is that shorter schedules will allow workers to balance work and family life while having more time for personal pursuits. He hopes that about 90 Kickstarter staff will be just as productive, if not more, in carrying out the company’s mission to fund creative projects. is.

“You can’t learn until you start it,” Hasan said. “People are interested in what it looks like and whether it works.”

Covid-19 questions long-standing views on the structure and nature of work, including a tradition of 40 hours 5 days a week. In 2020, remote arrangements freed employees from some constraints, but some spent even longer, causing burnout. As we return to the office in 2021, there are increasing calls for improved work-life balance.

Starting next year, employees working at Kickstarter, headquartered in the Brooklyn office in the photo above, will be able to work less hours a week in four days as part of a pilot study.


Photo:

Kickstarter

Ben Funikat, a professor at the University of Iowa and author of “Work Without End,” said: Attempts to shorten past working weeks. “We can get the job done and go home.”

In a labor market where employees are quitting their jobs and employers are competing for talent, the advantage of a shorter week is a hiring tool for managers such as Lindsey Hahn, CEO of Metro Plastics Technologies. He said the decision to start a short six-hour shift (no breaks) at a factory in Noblesville, Indiana in the 1990s helped isolate the company from a labor shortage.

However, it faces many hurdles due to its widespread adoption in the United States. Private US companies, shortly a few weeks after the pandemic, are experimenting, but many large companies haven’t adopted this concept. 2019,

Microsoft Ltd

Five weeks later, I canceled the temporary four-day week in Japan. A spokeswoman for a company refused to discuss the results of the pilot.

It can be a difficult sale for hourly workers who live from pay to pay, said Jackie Reinberg, who quit consulting at Willis, leading absenteeism management.

Towers Watson..

“If we go to work four days a week and you get paid for four days, that doesn’t work for many Americans.”

Fit and start

Early attempts to make shorter working week sticks in the United States were unsuccessful. Some companies shared that during the Great Depression, they reduced their weekly working hours to less than 40 hours and had few jobs available. In 1933, the US Senate passed a bill limiting working hours per week to 30 hours. However, it did not pass the House of Representatives after President Franklin Roosevelt withdrew support for the bill. Five years later, as part of the New Deal, the idea of ​​working 40 hours a week became the norm.

The concept of fewer days or less working hours resurfaced from time to time — Richard Nixon as Vice President predicted hiring four days a week — but it never achieved mainstream acceptance.flat

Kellogg Ltd

According to the company, the introduction of a six-hour shift system at the grain mill in 1930 attracted attention, but ended the shortened schedule of most departments after World War II. Kellogg revived an eight-hour shift in all sectors in the mid-1980s, the company said.

Productivity puzzle

Working more time does not necessarily increase the productivity of the country.

Average annual working hours

GDP per working hour, US $ *

Average annual working hours

GDP per working hour, US $ *

Average annual working hours

GDP per working hour, US $ *

The idea of ​​reducing working hours has long been a driving force outside the United States, especially where long working hours and stress are not a big part of the culture. In some high-paying American sectors accustomed to being part of the world’s largest economy, such as finance and law, working late at night or on weekends is still a badge of honor and can lead to promotion. ..

“In the United States, a big company, it’s a highly competitive business that needs to make decisions quickly, and it doesn’t fit into the culture we expect to be available to everyone at all times,” said David Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School. Stated.As a director of many companies, including

Intel Ltd

Shorter weekly hours are more likely to be suitable for small service businesses, he added, but not for large companies in highly competitive industries.

“I don’t see if it works for any company I attended on the board,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t work for senior management teams.”

Elizabeth Knox, founder of MatchPace, a workplace efficiency consultant in Washington, DC, said she helped clients optimize their schedules, even if they roughly implemented a four-day weekly policy. It doesn’t always work.

“It sounds good, but it doesn’t solve the organization’s problem of not being able to prioritize,” she said. “There are more complex and subtle differences than taking a day off from work.”

Fewer days, more focus

One company that learned this lesson was Alter Agents, a market research consulting firm. Last summer, I tried to work four days a week as a way to provide a more manageable schedule for employees in the stress of a pandemic. Alter CEO Rebecca Brooks forced employees to choose different holidays than their colleagues, so consultant rotation was always available to interact with clients.

The company stopped the experiment 10 weeks later, during which time many problems arose. Additional holidays made it more difficult to schedule events and meetings, requiring additional efforts to explain to colleagues what employees missed while on the go. Employees who volunteered to hold a meeting on a scheduled holiday were stressed, and some colleagues turned off email while on the go.

“It was more stressful not to attend the meeting or to take a holiday for some employees,” Brooks said. “It led to resentment among some employees. It hurt the culture of the team.”

The company has come up with another solution. It is to give staff an extra holiday every month in addition to the usual benefits. According to Brooks, this extra day reduced stress and gave Alter the advantage of hiring new employees to improve their work-life balance.

“We were able to maintain that intent, regain time for our employees and give them more freedom in their schedules,” she said.

Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan said his company needs time to sort out how a four-day week works, including how meetings run in less time. I did.


Photo:

Kickstarter

An important factor in working a short week is that employees need to relearn how to work at A more focused wayJustin Jordan, head of marketing for a Philadelphia software company, said he was the first to allow employees to work 32 hours a week from 2017. This means fewer meetings and avoids daily distractions. Most of Wildbit, a 30-person company, will take off on Friday. Some people take Monday. And a smaller group, mostly parents, extended their vacation to five days, she said.

Reinberg of Willis Towers Watson says subtracting one day from weekdays is a logistical challenge for any company. If some employees or teams take off on different days, the company will need to change customer interactions and productivity measurements, not to mention the schedule.

Hasan, CEO of Kickstarter, said how meetings run in less time, at different times or days for different teams.

“There is no perfect design today,” Hasan said. “The same is true for remotework. It wasn’t widely accepted until we stepped into this pandemic, and people are now seeing it unleashing functionality.”

Denver’s non-profit organization Uncharted, which supports young businesses, began piloting four days a week last summer by giving employees a Friday vacation. According to CEO Banks Benitez, employees tended to ask their colleagues less often because they didn’t want to bother their colleagues in the shortened week. Still, the company maintains the model.

Adrienne Russman, director of government and community relations at Uncharted, was skeptical about the short week. Knowing that she has extra days to tackle tasks such as laundry and meal planning helps her focus more on her work, she said.

“Last year was so emotionally burdensome that I spent many days thinking I was very tired,” said Rasman, who lives in Denver. “I’m glad I could count on the three weekends every weekend.”

Icelandic experiment

There is also mixed evidence of how effective shorter working weeks were in countries that adopted this concept. In Germany, efforts to reduce working hours for the decade to 1994 may have had a negative impact on employment, according to a study by Rutgers University economist Jennifer Hunt. According to a 2009 study led by McGill University economist Matthew Kemin, the 35-hour policy in France, which began in 2000, had little effect on increasing employment.

Other overseas pilots are also working. In March, the Spanish government announced that it would pay companies to test four days a week.And last November, a major consumer goods company in London

Unilever

Started piloting the concept at our New Zealand office. Last week, he said he would wait until the December trial was over to decide on a broader rollout.

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Do you want to work 4 days a week? What are the strengths and weaknesses?Join the conversation below..

One of the countries with positive results was Iceland. In Iceland, there is new evidence that some participants’ schedules have been shortened. A group of more than 2,500 employees in Iceland recorded less time without wage cuts, demonstrating improved well-being and productivity. A study published earlier this month By Autonomy, a UK-based think tank.

The Reykjavik City Council and the Icelandic government conducted trials between 2015 and 2019 after the unions there demanded shorter working weeks. Overall production did not fall in most workplaces and improved in some, the report said. Most workers maintained or improved their productivity while reporting stress relief.

SonjaÝrÞorbergs dóttir, union leader State and municipal workers Iceland (BSRB) states that she and most public sector employees in the country currently work 36 hours instead of 40 hours a week. Office employees are encouraged to prioritize projects, focus on short meetings, and maintain personal issues such as phone calls. She said she uses personal affairs and social media, at least during working hours.

“Reducing working hours also requires cultural change, and we need to let go of the myth that long working hours lead to better results,” she said.

Write to At Patrick Thomas Patrick.Thomas@wsj.com

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Is the four-day week the future of work?

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