Working life

Building work-life balance into your career

The case for a four-day work week

By Michelle Smyth,

Comments (6)

In an age when many people put in punishingly long hours on the job in person and online, could your employer accept one fewer day of work?

The case for a four-day work weekThis week, a notable doctor in the U.K. has put forward a recommendation that companies consider instituting a four-day work week to help reduce stress in the workplace, as well as unemployment. Not exactly revolutionary stuff, but perhaps an idea worth considering … under the right circumstances.

I have had two occasions in my career where I took a shorter work week for a “test-drive.” The first was almost a decade ago, when our family first bought a cottage. I decided to forego the normal two-week vacation and make every week a four-day work week during the summer. My family had the flexibility to try this out with me, and I was keen to make the most of our new investment.

The result? It was a disaster. As many of us know, a
three-day weekend can be wonderful, but the four days afterwards are often a mad scramble to make up for the lost time. I ended up working extra hours every day, which made me exhausted come the weekends. On top of that, I was working at an ad agency where four-day work weeks were highly unusual, and I increasingly sensed frustration that I was the one person consistently holding up key meetings. Also, and probably most important, I really missed that two-week vacation where I could totally disconnect from work and fully recharge.

Needless to say, the following summer, I was back to a normal vacation schedule. Ultimately, it was a bad fit with the job and the environment, and too big a trade-off of something I really valued.

The second time I tried out a four-day work week never went past the hypothetical stage, but it still laid the ground work for a future possibility. I was offered a position at a non-profit organization that paid significantly lower than I had targeted for my next role, but would have opened up a new and exciting direction for my career. Rather than try to negotiate a higher salary, which seemed unrealistic for this organization, I decided to try to turn it into a four-day work week role instead. There were a lot of demands on my personal life at that time, and I reasoned that a shorter work week would help me balance those and reconcile the lower salary.

As fate would have it, an offer for an even more interesting opportunity came along (with a better compensation package, and a non-negotiable, five-day work week), so I never had the chance to truly take a four-day work week out for a spin.

Yet, someday, especially as I get closer to retirement (for the record, this is still a long way off at the moment), I definitely see a shorter work week as a natural career progression. I can see why some folks delay full retirement well into their 70s if they can make a case to their employers (as I almost did) that a three- or four-day work week is a mutually beneficial model.

Easing into a shorter work week is just one model for the changing picture of retirement in Canada. Read more in the latest report from the Sun Life Canadian Unretirement Index.

Working well More bright ideas for managing your career and making the most of your benefits.

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Russell Vasseur on

I believe there is a lot of merit in the idea – but for reasons touched on by the author, there will be issues unless your employer and colleagues both support it. Client expectations will also dictate if this will be a good fit, but of greater importance is the “operating health” of the office. If workloads are unrealistic, or if management hasn’t been providing adequate direction, training, and oversight, the resulting workplace and client issues preclude the ability to allow staff to take a day off, because a system stressed to the limit has no elasticity to accommodate what might otherwise be a very beneficial and healthy model. Such was the case with my previous employer. Unless management was willing (and had executive support) to adjust their staffing complement to lower workloads and provide coverage for these regular absences, these “departments on the edge” might implode under the added strain. The irony here is that the suggested model’s intent is to help with employee stress and job satisfaction, could never be implemented in those offices that might need it the most.

Patrick on

Working 4 days when everyone else is working 5 doesn’t make much sense. The 5 day workers aren’t working harder to produce their work in 4 days. So the 4 day worker must catch up after the fact. A 4 day work week would only work if all work force were to adopt it and efficiently produce their projects in a 4 day timeline.

    John S. Boone on

    Well Patrick , there was a time not so long ago that a 6 day , 12 hours a day work week was the norm.

John Lui on

You may have heard about Carlos Slim’s (the Brazilian mogul who’s also happened to be the world’s second wealthiest person) recent argument for a 3-day work week and at the same time extend retirement age to 70. He felt this would create a true work-life balance if the entire world would come to terms and adopt this. The catch being each work day would last no less than 11 hours. As it now is, there are jobs that run on flexible work-week. For example, here in Hong Kong, firemen work on shifts that call for one 24-hour day and then followed by two days off. But when we talk about global commerce, the key is for synchronous-action so that there is continuity – after all, business never sleeps (sorry for stealing a commercial expression from Citibank)…..

debt debs on

I am trying the four at summer work week now. Since I am taking Mondays off as a vacation day, I am doing my best to not work extra the other days, thereby squeezing a full week’s work into four days. I would consider working 3 10 hour days + 1 7.5 hr day on Friday to work a four day work week permanently if my employer would be amenable.

John S. Boone on

.” As many of us know, a
three-day weekend can be wonderful, but the four days afterwards are often a mad scramble to make up for the lost time””well, if the employer hired someone to work that extra day you had off ,there would be no problem ,would there ? The thing about long weekends is everybody is off during those 3 days.

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