Does the 4 Day Work Week Really Work? Gallup and real companies have the true answer.

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

Is your team dealing with burnout? Are they struggling with work-life balance under the circumstances of remote work? What are you doing to help them?

A recent survey by Qualtrics + SAP reported in the Harvard Business Review found that:

"Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 75% of people say they feel more socially isolated, 67% of people report higher stress, 57% are feeling greater anxiety, and 53% say they feel more emotionally exhausted.”

If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything about remote work, it's that unplugging is the #1 issue working remotely.

the 4 day work week is an attempt to deal with burnout

Buffer's 2021 State of Remote Work shows it's miles ahead of other issues, prompting questions about what employers can do to help the situation.

4 day work week to the rescue?

In an effort to counter the stress of being overworked, some companies (and even governments) have experimented with implementing a 4 day work week.

In Japan, Microsoft boosted productivity by 40% by allowing people to take every Friday of August 2021 off (and still paying them for it). 

In Iceland, people worked 35 instead of 40 hours per week between 2015 and 2019, but still managed to retain the same levels of productivity as before.

However, 4 day work weeks have not been a universal success.  Their implementation comes with a few caveats, with the most important one discovered by Gallup

Their research shows that 4 day work weeks do not in fact lead to a drop in productivity, but increase the percentage of actively disengaged employees:

"The percentage of actively disengaged workers is highest for employees with four day work weeks.”

Gallup defines actively disengage employees as people who: "are either watching the clock or actively working against their employer.”

In today's post, we'll break down Gallup's findings on the 4 day work week in more detail and why you should focus on the quality rather than the quantity of your team's work.

We'll also show you 4 specific actions you can take to help your team lead a more happy, balanced life and avoid burning out at work.

The Problem with the 4 Day Work Week - and What to do Instead 

For many organizations, introducing a 4 day work week is an opportunity for a quick win. It's a way to attract employees and stand out by offering a modern perk. After all, who wouldn't want to work less for the same pay?

However, working fewer hours isn't guaranteed to fix the existing issues your team may be dealing with. In fact, it can make them worse.

As Jim Harter, Ph.D., Chief Scientist for Gallup's workplace management practice puts it:

"By working fewer days per week, employees who already feel disconnected from their employer, team or manager are more likely to drift even farther away -- from tolerating their jobs to hating them.”

Gallup's 2020 State of the Global Workplace found that even though working 4 days instead of 5 leads to higher employee well being, it also contributes to a higher percentage of actively disengaged employees.

gallup's findings on the 4 day work week

As the image above shows, Gallup also surveyed people who work six days a week. Surprisingly, all three groups had similar levels of overall engagement.

As expected, a shorter work week led to a higher level of well being - likely a consequence of people being able to spend more time with their families, friends, and on themselves. Conversely, working six days per week led 38% of survey participants to feel burned out on a regular basis.

The two extremes (4 day and 6 day work weeks), however, also led to a much higher rate of actively disengaged employees compared to the usual working hours (17% to 12%).

Harter pointed out that merely changing the number of work days isn't enough to positively affect employees' performance and well being. He suggested focusing on a different solution altogether:

"Focusing on improving the quality of the work experience, companies could have nearly triple the positive influence on employees' lives compared with shortening their workweek.

But how can you start improving the quality of the work experience for your team? We'll discuss 3 proven ways to keep your team motivated, happy, and fresh for the long term.

Table of Contents:

being a good coach is better than just implementing a 4 day work week

Coach them

Coaching is a must for every great leader. To be an effective manager, you need to know how to get the most out of the people you lead.

And according to Gartner, employees who report to good coaches are up to 40% more focused. Coaching allows you to uncover what each individual on your team needs and support them on their unique path. It's also great because it lets you address key areas like: 

All of these are incredibly important for steering your team away from active disengagement. By addressing them in your 1:1s regularly, you'll be able to build strong relationships and understand exactly how your team is feeling.

ask questions to be a better coach instead of having a 4 day work week

How do you become a great coach? Ask coaching questions.

Asking engaging questions is a key skill for every great leader aspiring to become a better coach. They can help you understand how to improve in three key areas:

  • Learning how to best support your employees' professional development
  • Providing more effective feedback
  • Understanding what works best for each person uniquely

To help with professional development, you can ask some of the following questions:

  • What skills would you like to work on?
  • What's one thing you'd like coaching from me on?
  • What area of your job do you want to work on your confidence?

Your team member may not always know everything they need, so you'll still need to trust your instincts and pay attention to feedback from others. However, directly asking your team members is a great way to show you're interested in their perspective on their needs, and helps you avoid any glaring blind spots. 

To provide more effective feedback, you can try the following questions:

  • What routine for feedback works best for you? (in 1 on 1s, as-it-happens, etc.)
  • What medium do you prefer to receive feedback through? (chat message, email, in person, etc.)

This is really important so that no matter where the feedback comes from, you know how to deliver it in the most effective way possible. Feedback is only valuable if they truly hear you and act on it. By asking them about the delivery approach you can improve how you share it with each of your team members. 

To understand employees' individual needs, these and similar questions can help:

  • When do you like to work on developing new skills? Do you have a routine for it?
  • How do you learn best? What is your favorite medium, format, or approach?

By asking questions like these, you'll pinpoint how your coaching can be most effective for each individual on your team. This is vital for creating a high quality work experience for your entire team and keeping your people motivated for the long term.

There are many other ways to improve as a coach, and we've covered them in the following posts to help you:

instead of a 4 day work week, help your team find their rhythm, says marissa meyer

Give them more flexibility

A key component of keeping your team engaged is trusting them to do work how they see fit and avoiding micromanaging them. 

As research by psychologists Emily Kleszewski and Kathleen Otto has shown, micromanaging is one of the leading causes of burnout.

People appreciate being trusted. If you give them enough flexibility to organize their time, they are much less likely to grow resentful of you and become actively disengaged. 

As former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer puts it:

"I tell people: Find your rhythm.

Your rhythm is what matters to you so much that when you miss it you're resentful of your work.

When you mess with your team's rhythm because you asked them to come in on their day off,  do extra hours without any prior announcement, or cause them to miss something really important to them personally, it's only a matter of time before they start resenting you for it. 

But if you take time to get to know them and build rapport with them, you'll know enough about their rhythm to help them stay in the groove. 

That could mean taking the time to learn their hobbies, details about their family, or anything else you need to be aware of regarding their weekly routines. Then, by accommodating the thing that's most important to them, they're more likely to work hard and deliver at other times when you really need them. 

Flexibility is a top perk employees really want

As the report below by PwC shows, more flexible working hours are the second most important perk millennials want from their employers.

Yes, that's right. More than games, drinks or parties, or other stereotypes of what perks are, people really want to grow and have more control over their time and schedule. 

flexibility is incredibly important for employees, so consider being flexible instead of having a 4 day work week

Working remotely ever since COVID-19 emerged has shown us all more flexibility is possible while still getting essential work done..

As long as you focus on the outcome of your team's work and avoid micromanaging them, you'll have a much easier time ensuring their well being and proper work-life balance. It will also be easier to make asks for occasional hard pushes if they know you also meet their needs when they have an ask around a flexible schedule sometimes.

For more details on how to provide more flexibility to your team, check out the following links:

andy grove's concept of trm is a great way to improve the work experience

Give them more independence using Task Relevant Maturity

Flexible working hours and more independence go hand in hand. If you want to give your team more freedom to organize their time but are afraid of delegating, then you should learn the concept of Task Relevant Maturity (TRM).

TRM was first described by former Intel CEO Andy Grove as a way to determine how hands-on to be when supporting a team:

"How often you monitor should not be based on what you believe your subordinate can do in general, but on his experience with a specific task and his prior performance with it – his task relevant maturity…

As the subordinate's work improves over time, you should respond with a corresponding reduction in the intensity of the monitoring.”

Here's a table can help you determine how to support your team based on their skill level for that task (their TRM):

TRM is a great way to nurture more independence that will yield better results than a 4 day work week

Let's break down the image above:

If someone is completely new at a task, you should be very involved in their work from the beginning and support them in every way. Be prepared to answer lots of questions and be patient. Remember: your aim is to improve the quality of their work, while recognizing they're new to the task, so they will welcome your input and guidance.

Then, as they get more experience and their TRM grows, step back a little. Give them more space and encourage them to find solutions on their own rather than dictating everything for them.

Of course, your feedback and guidance as a manager will still be expected. Ask them how they'd handle a task or project and coach them on any changes you feel they should make. Do this instead of telling them exactly what and how to do things, and you'll gradually start to see even more independence and initiative from them.

If you do this correctly, they'll be able to adjust their work when needed and do things on their own with your support and occasional advice for things they're skilled at. 

Task Relevant Maturity is a critical for any manager. It allows you to increase the quality of your team's work life by gradually giving them more independence. It also reduces your own workload as you focus the majority of your efforts on places your team is struggling or unfamiliar with a task while not wasting time on things they can handle on their own.

To read up on the other advantages of TRM, and how to apply it to yourself and your team in detail, you can check out these posts:

4 day work weeks aren't as good as you think

Focus on what truly matters to your team instead of trying to reinvent the wheel 

The 4 day work week is an experiment that has worked in some contexts but failed in others.

For Treehouse, it led to a severe drop in productivity and a loss of work ethic. In the case of Yarno, it led to inconsistency as not everyone could take days off and when they could, not everyone would want to do it on the same day.

Another attempt that tried and failed to re-imagine the way we work was the concept of flat organizations - an organizational structure with few or no levels of middle management lauded for its innovativeness a few years ago.

On paper it sounded great, but in reality, it caused a variety of issues including shadow politics, struggles with decision making, and a lot of frustration.

With both 4 day work weeks and flat organizations - instead of trying to reinvent the wheel with trendy perks and unorthodox approaches to running your business - you're much better off focusing on what truly matters to your team. 

In other words, "improving the work experience” for your team should be your main priority.

To do this, start with the basics we've covered in today's post:

  • Be a coach for your team and praise, grow, and listen to their feedback in 1:1s
  • Trust your team to organize and manage their time as they see fit while holding them accountable to the outcomes you need to deliver
  • Gradually give them more responsibility using the concept of TRM and watch them thrive, while being more efficient with your time
Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

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