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The Resilient Four-Day Work Week


  • The four-day work week is a popular topic, and as ‘return to office’ discussions continue, some companies have been busy testing the ‘4DWW’.
  • Potentially a four-day work week is one of many ways to create a culture where productivity, quality of work, and control over individual schedules takes center stage.
  • But does it actually work? Gensler’s Elizabeth Baudler and Patricia von Gundlach decided to test it out for themselves.

This article was written by Elizabeth Baudler & Patricia von Gundlach, and was originally published on Work Design Magazine.

Whether it’s 32 hours, 40 hours, a 15% program, full or partial pay, however you dice it up the ‘4-day work week’ has been a very popular topic. As discussions regarding ‘return to office’ plans have continued to evolve in an ever-changing world, companies in the UK have been testing their version of the 4-day work week or “4DWW” since the summer of 2021.

As the future of work is being re-imagined, we continue to evaluate our approaches to flexibility and efficiency. Our primary focus is now on a culture where productivity, quality of work, and control over individual schedules is of utmost importance. With an understanding that we, as human beings, can succeed at a time when, and in a location where, we are able to get our best work done.

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The History

The traditional work week we have come to know has a relatively recent history. Think the 1930s, the labor workforce, factories, and newly formed unions. In these situations, 60–70-hour work weeks were typical. According to a NPR article, “It took the Great Depression to make 40-hour work weeks the norm.” Research also started to show at that time that humans cap their productivity around 40 hours a week. Advances in technology have been utilized to streamline tasks and essentially allow people to step away from their desks to think and innovate. This is one reason why, in 1948, 3M announced they would encourage their employees to spend 15% of their time during the week to follow up on ideas, often leading to new innovations for the company. “Innovate or die, an ethos the company has carried dutifully into the 21st century,” according to a Fast Company article.

The Value

As a society, we need more time to clear our minds, as opposed to filling them with non-valuable tasks and over-scheduled meetings. When asked “During what part of your day do you come up with your best ideas?”, it’s rare you’d find someone who would say “in front of my computer.” Stepping away from the day-to-day can be more valuable than getting one-more-thing done as it allows us to organize steps to achieve goals. Going for a walk could ignite your next big idea or help relieve stress that leads to burnout. Not only does a shorter work week transform our quality of life, it has the capacity for direct impact on bringing additional value to our work… along with lowering our daily energy consumption.

The Environmental Benefit

The environmental impact of routines and work schedules are significant. There has been a 68% increase from the number of organizations that made Net Zero pledges just two years ago. Anyone in the real estate and construction industry is regularly reminded that buildings contribute at least 40% to global emissions. Not only does commuting less have an impact on the environment, a four-day work week has the potential to reduce carbon emissions. According to a recent 2019 study conducted in the UK, which could reduce emissions up to 21% by 2025.

Sharing Our Story

Having a better work-life balance sounds grand, right? Well, we decided to take the plunge and took the 32-hour work week for a test. We found that spending time offline on Friday works best (verses a day in the middle of the week, or a Monday) due to our team and client schedules. During this pilot, it was important to determine the best timing as it also affects colleagues, clients, and our families. We found without question that our mental health, the flexibility to work only 4 days, or fewer hours over 5 days, and time to step away for other life commitments were most important. A fair trade for any reduction in pay.

While we have returned to 40 hours a week, we’ve learned so much about ourselves and continued to incorporate more balance into a full-time schedule. As other companies who have trail blazed the 4-day work week in various forms have found, the value employees can bring by having time to step away has proven invaluable. What we have come to gather is the down time has made us more well-rounded and given us time to learn, volunteer, or experiment. We have been able to dedicate more quality attention to the commitments we’ve made.

Finally, we love a good pilot. Elizabeth piloted 32 hours a week for 5 months and Patricia has piloted 30 hours on and off since 2019, so if you’d like to give some version of a four-day work week a try here are a few suggestions.

  • For individuals, determine what is important to you. Then decide what you have in your control (we were able to determine our schedules and the amount of time we were working each week). Next, talk to your leadership. Someone who is open to exploring options with you and can become your advocate. Set goals and outcomes. Review them throughout, and at the end of, a designated trial period.
  • For organizations, engage your employee base. Determine how it aligns with your company values and do some research. Reading through Big Lemon’s Journey is a good starting point.

We challenge the working world to consider a day where value is outpaced by time and place. Until then, we’ll keep trying and testing, continuing a journey of learning what a resilient work week looks like.

If you would like to talk more about the future of work and its impact on people and the planet, we’d love to connect.

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