“Maybe you just start with offering every other Friday off” was the feedback I received when I talked about HQ Simple being a startup with an immediate four-day workweek. With employees working on various aspects of a fast growing business, how could I possibly reduce the number of hours they are working by 20% and still get the business off the ground?
COVID and the force into remote work taught me some valuable lessons on management, workloads, burnout, productivity, and most importantly how valuable time is and should be.
Poor managers were exposed as they struggled to manage their staff remotely. No longer could they simply be present to motivate their employees and manage by tracking hours and activities. Good managers shined during this time as they already had a great understanding with their employees as to their individual goals, expectations, and accountability as well as how it all rolls into company objectives.
Without clearly defined goals, things can fall apart as there is a disconnect on expectations and what it means to be successful. In short, if your manager’s goals are well understood, measurable, and tie in to the company's overall goals, there is no confusion as to what it means to be successful daily, weekly, monthly, and annually. Afterall, if your employees and managers are surpassing the agreed upon goals, why should it matter how, where, and how long they work?
Which brings up the next point of burnout. Goals should be agreed upon or created by the person who is working to meet or exceed those goals. Where things often go sideways is if the company’s goals are not clear or are in constant fluctuation. It seems that most of the time employees are working longer hours in an attempt to keep up with changing expectations and priorities. This leads to stress, frustration, and ultimately burnout.
Burnout is not only bad for employees’ well-being, but also for their productivity and performance. Studies have shown that working longer hours does not necessarily mean working better or more efficiently. In fact, overwork can impair cognitive abilities, increase errors, and lower creativity. On the other hand, reducing work hours can boost productivity, improve employee morale and well-being, and reduce stress.
That’s why I decided to implement a four-day workweek at HQ Simple from day one. I wanted to create a culture that values quality over quantity, results over hours, and balance over burnout. I wanted to give my employees more time to pursue their passions, hobbies, family, friends, health, and happiness outside of work. I wanted to show them that I trust them to manage their own time and workload effectively.
Of course, a four-day workweek is not a magic bullet that solves all problems. It requires careful planning, communication, collaboration, and flexibility from everyone involved. It also requires a mindset shift from both leaders and employees to value actual productivity over perceived busyness. It may not work for every industry or every company and being a primarily service driven company, it will come with challenges. Some challenges of implementing a four-day workweek include:
Change in mindset: It can be hard to break away from the traditional norm of working five days a week for eight hours each day. Some employees may feel guilty or anxious about taking an extra day off. Some managers may struggle to trust their employees or measure their performance based on outcomes rather than inputs. To overcome this challenge, we need to educate ourselves and our teams about the benefits of a four-day workweek and how to make it work for everyone.
Setting boundaries: A four-day workweek may not align with the schedules of our clients, associates, suppliers, or partners. They may expect us to be available five days a week or during certain hours. To address this challenge, we need to communicate clearly and proactively with our external stakeholders about our work arrangements and expectations. We also need to be flexible and responsive when necessary, without compromising our own well-being or productivity. Scheduling for coverage only goes so far.
Time crunch: A four-day workweek means that we have less time to complete the same amount of work. This can create pressure and stress for some employees who may feel overwhelmed or rushed by the deadlines. To avoid this challenge, we need to prioritize our tasks, delegate effectively, eliminate distractions, and optimize our workflows. We also need to set realistic and achievable goals that are in line with a reduced workweek.
Lopsided work distribution: A four-day workweek may not suit everyone’s preferences or needs. Some employees may prefer to work five shorter days rather than four regular ones. To solve this challenge, we need to offer some flexibility and choice to our employees on how they want to structure their workweek. We also need to ensure that the work is distributed fairly and equitably among team members.
A misguided focus on hours worked: A four-day workweek may tempt some employees or managers to focus more on the number of hours worked rather than the quality or value of the work done. This can lead to micromanagement, resentment, or dishonesty. To avoid this challenge, we need to shift our mindset from measuring inputs to measuring outputs. We also need to trust our employees and empower them to manage their own time and workload effectively.
These are just some of the challenges as we begin the journey of a four-day workweek at HQ Simple. But we know that it is a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor.
We want to share our story because we believe that a four-day workweek is not only possible, but also beneficial for many businesses and professionals. If you are interested in exploring this option for yourself or your organization, please don’t hesitate to contact me at email@example.com, I encourage the engagement and happy to offer some tips and advice from our journey.