The brilliant benefits of a four-day working week

Written by Anna Brech

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It’s all too easy to live for the weekend.

The week passes in a frenetic blur of tasks and then there’s a brief two-day hiatus – a time so brief, the FOMO pressure is huge – before we’re catapulted right back into the thick of things.

We’re either working hard or playing hard, but never on an even keel.

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Wouldn’t it be better to balance things out? Veteran BBC presenter Kirsty Wark certainly thinks so.

“We have the lowest productivity in Europe and yet we work long hours,” Wark tells the Guardian in a recent profile.

“We should work a four-day week and on the other day learn another skill, do yoga, get fit, or look after a relative. I think it takes a radical shift to change our living for the weekend culture.”

Greater productivity 

four-day working week

Wark is not the only person to advocate a four-day working week. In fact, the idea is fast gaining traction among those who understand Parkinson’s Law.

Coined by an economist in the 1950s, this rule dictates that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

According to this law, you will take as long as you give yourself to complete a certain task.

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If you have eight hours a day, five days a week, to complete a certain level of work, you’ll let your work expand into that time – even if it involves faffing around on occasion (hello, Friday afternoons…)

But if you cut that time down, you’d still be able to complete our tasks: you’d simply start working smarter and make every hour count.

Work smarter, not harder

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Pareto’s 80/20 Rule also plays a role here. This formula says that 20% of our work is responsible for 80% of the results

In other words, it’s not how many hours you work but *what you do* in those hours that counts.

Four days working on big projects with the potential to carry major change will be far more effective than five days ticking off a series of tiny yet insignificant tasks (however satisfying that feels).

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All of this explains why certain companies have seen their productivity increase after cutting to six-hour days. It also explains why Luxembourg is the most productive country in the world, despite an average working week of just 29 hours.

If you have less time, you work more efficiently. Meetings become shorter, deadlines tighter, priorities more focused. And with less hours at the grindstone, you’re more energised for the tasks ahead.

Dial down the stress

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At a time of unprecedented stress in the workplace, working fewer hours a week also dials down the pressure a notch.

It allows greater balance, calming the relentless see-saw movement that swings from work and personal time.

One Swedish care home saw sick leave drop by 10% after experimenting with a six-hour working day.

“I think there’s a lot of evidence that suggests that when people are exhausted their productivity goes down,” says UK Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, who proposed a four-day working week last year.

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“People are working ever more hours, getting ever more stressed, getting ever more ill-health – mental health problems as well.”

Overwork is counterproductive and a major stress factor for many people.

When you reduce hours, you help to neutralise this effect. This, in turn, fuels happiness – a major element of workplace productivity.

It also takes the pressure off your weekend; with more time for your personal life during the week, your average weekend is no longer a be-all and end-all scenario, with the residual Sunday night blues.

The power of learning

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We’ve so far seen that working a six-hour day has similar effects to working a four-day week, with one crucial difference.

With an extra full day of time, you have more opportunity to flesh out new skills.

The process of learning alone is a potent elixir for happiness. When you learn something new – whether that’s Spanish, tai chi or piano-playing – your self-confidence blooms.

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Whether or not you’re actually any good at said skill is irrelevant. The learning process alone opens your world up to new people and new horizons, creating greater purpose and meaning.

Learning also taps into happiness of experience; unlike things, experiences bring us long-lasting joy. They are on-off events that are unique to us, and their novelty does not fade.

A larger skills repertoire

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In a more practical sense, new skills learnt on an extra day off can fuel your CV.

“More and more people are going freelance, developing portfolio careers and generally blending personal and professional lives,” says Corinne Mills, author of Career Coach, and managing director at Personal Career Management.

With the rise of the career chameleon, learning something new can help you to pivot between jobs more easily.

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It can be the lever you need to branch into areas such as freelance or remote working.

And, if you’re stuck in a career rut, learning something new will spark fresh perspective and ideas, too.

More time to be you

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Ultimately, a four-day working week allows you more time to flesh out untapped sides of your personality.

Instead of being a one-track pony, you get to diversify your skills and try different things.

Professionally, this is an advantage: employers want well-rounded candidates with plenty of “soft” life skills.

But personally, it’s even more crucial. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard” was one of the top five regrets of the dying, according to this viral article.

Even if you spent your free day just catching up on life admin, it would be beneficial in balancing the books.

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“People have been thinking quite hard about that third day off and how best to use it so it can change their life. Some people come back to work and are incredibly energised,” says Christine Brotherton of Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based trusts firm that recently trialled a four-day working work.

“People have been training for marathons, going to the dentist, getting their car serviced, or doing the shopping for their elderly parents. All the stuff that has been put on the back burner, but either helps themselves or their family. Life administration.”

A four-day working week is an antidote to the relentless demands of work. It quells the capacity that some jobs have to chip away at you.

It gives you more time to be you.

Photos: Shutterstock and Flash Pack


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