Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Navigating the Four-Day Work Week

‘Can I work part-time?’

As a team lead and hiring manager I hear this question a lot, now that the four-day workweek is a ‘thing’ – and for the right candidate it’s a no-brainer.


I consider myself as a four-day workweek pioneer, blazing a part-time trail before it was cool.  It started when I was returning from maternity leave. I wanted to work part-time but was confident I could handle the demands of the role in fewer hours. 

I felt a bit nervous asking the hiring manager, but his answer surprised me: ‘I love part-team people.  They cost less, waste less time, and work harder.’

I accepted the offer and ended up doing two full-time roles in twenty hours a week, which was possible because the team culture supported me and we had top notch collaboration tools.

Now I pay it forward, not because it’s trendy to offer a four-day work week, or even because multiple four-day work week experiments have shown higher productivity and engagement.  It's because being flexible gives me access to some amazingly talented people who can effectively manage their time and deliver key results faster.

There’s a flip side, of course: skipped team lunches, minimal time for networking, leaving earlier than everyone else, missing meetings, etc.  But all that can be managed though proper expectations setting and proactive communication. 

If being available and ‘being seen’ are prioritized at your company, you may not be ready to accommodate part-time people in leadership or high visibility roles.  That’s fine but you may be missing out on some great talent, or paying people to focus on non-mission critical tasks.

Is a four-day work week right for your team or company? 

First let’s look at the benefits:
  • Access to talent – A growing number of senior professionals prefer part-time opportunities because their expertise makes them highly efficient.
  • Employer band – Making flexible work schedules and part time opportunities part of your employer brand will help you attract the best people.
  • Mental health – Having afternoons free or one day off provides space to manage one’s personal life with less stress.
  • Lower salary costs – While subject to negotiation, part-time professionals may accept a lower salary in exchange for flexibility, plus salaries are typically prorated by hours worked. 
  • Engagement – Taking a bit of time away from work and work-related emails has a beneficial head clearing effect that increases engagement.
  • Productivity - Embracing a shorter work week creates an opportunity to rethink processes and workflows to make them more efficient.
Now let’s look at a couple of caveats because a four-day work week isn’t for everyone:
  • Right role – A four-day work week shouldn’t necessitate hiring extra personnel, which is why creative, strategic, or even leadership roles may work better than customer service or 'bottleneck' roles that others depend on.  
  • Right experience – Someone with little job experience may need the five days to learn the ropes – in my first management role I worked about 60 hours a week but quite a bit of that was figuring stuff out.
  • Right level of maturity – The four-day model works best with people who know how to manage their time and key stakeholders - a certain amount of finesse and experience are required.
  • Right manager – If your company's managers learned most of what they know about leadership in the 90s this model is probably not for you.  
  • Not everyone wants it!  According to recent EU stats most people are still looking for full-time work, either out of habit or for the higher earning potential.
The corporate world isn't yet ready for a universal four-day work week, but you can pilot the idea and get most of the benefits by: 1) offering it where it makes sense; and 2) supporting the arrangement with tools, communication, expectations setting, etc. so it works.

Whether or not you like the idea of the four-day work week, more people are asking for personalized work arrangements and choosing to work for companies that offer it.

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