Last year, we wrote about the LearnJam team’s experience of transitioning to a 4-day working week. We restructured our time so that everyone could have Fridays off, allowing for rest, exercise, family time – whatever we needed to refresh, recover and avoid burnout.
So far, we’ve been really pleased with the positive impacts of this move towards better work-life balance, as well as with the support and encouragement we’ve felt from so many people we know and work with. Cutting our hours was a huge part of us getting through 2021 and emerging healthier, more connected and more energised.
But we’d be lying if we said the move to reduced working hours has been totally easy and smooth…
Grind culture is real and oppressive. The world is caught in a damaging cycle of overwork, squeezing the time we have for friends and family, for learning and rest.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We feel strongly that a shorter working week is right for humanity. But we’re also very aware that such big shifts in long-held beliefs and behaviours don’t happen overnight.
We’ve had to overcome our own resistance at times and to work through the knock-on effects on our organisation of committing to evolving our mindset, culture and practices.
There are several common and perfectly understandable objections to the notion of reduced working hours, whether that’s interpreted as a 4-day week, ‘flexitime’, or some other form of flexible working arrangements. We’ve encountered and discussed many of these at LearnJam and we don’t yet have the answers in every case.
As we continue to learn and understand more, we’ll undoubtedly revisit and refine our reflections on these common areas of resistance. For the time being, here are our thoughts so far – and if you’ve got anything to add, please do leave it in a comment below.
A reduced-hours approach doesn’t work for organisations or industries where productivity is directly related to time.
It may not ‘work’ in that workers can work less, get paid the same and profits are not impacted. But what if we measure other things as well as or instead of productivity, such as individuals’ health, their happiness, environmental impact, customer perception, customer satisfaction, brand value and so on?
This perspective – i.e. valuing our team members as whole people, and not predominantly in terms of their hourly ‘output’ – is something that feels really important to us at LearnJam. At the same time, we’re aware that not all industries or businesses operate like ours, and that the productivity focus of capitalist societies is extremely powerful and pervasive. We’re continuing to read research and case studies of organisations with a clearer or more direct relationship between input (time) and output, so we can better understand the relationship between productivity and time.
In any case, even if productivity is the main argument given for requiring a certain number of hours’ work in certain contexts, this is still not a sound justification for restricting or refusing more flexible working arrangements. Evidence from various contexts has shown that productivity doesn’t necessarily decline just because working hours are made shorter or more flexible.
There may also be other changes that can be made at the same time as reducing working hours in order to make this shift sustainable, such as changing business model, changing pricing, changing the way profit is distributed within an organisation or changing who your clients and customers are.
“What we have is an economy that needs to grow, whether or not it makes us thrive. What we need is an economy that makes us thrive, whether or not it grows.”Kate Raworth, economist and author of Doughnut Economics
Ultimately, we believe that even if reducing working hours also reduces productivity, it’s still an important change to make as there are so many other benefits.
But surely in less time you get less done?
Again, we don’t believe that productivity is the main reason to reduce working hours; but if that is an important measure, there are plenty of examples of organisations and industries where reduced working hours actually means more or better output. And is it really surprising that a team might feel more creative and committed to their work when they’re better rested, more energised and are valued for more than just the clock hours they put in?
I’ll just end up working 4 x 10-hour days!
This was a prominent fear among the LearnJam team when we first began discussing the possibility of a 4-day week pilot. We’d been so busy for so long, filling all the hours of 5 working days (and then some!) – how would it be possible to squeeze that into 4 days without extending into every evening?
We found it helpful to interrogate where this worry was coming from and to consider carefully whether reducing from 5 working days to 4 would necessarily also mean extending the length of those remaining 4 days.
Perhaps the most constructive insight that arose from our discussions on this point is that the concept of a ‘reduced work week’ isn’t just about counting hours on the clock – it’s about finding flexible ways of working, living and resting that allow appropriate time and space for all three.
This particular area of resistance really led us to appreciate the extent to which the notion of ‘reduced hours’ is actually part of a much bigger shift in systems and mindset.
We needed to think not only about if it would be possible to fit existing or potential work into fewer days, but if it was more helpful to reduce the amount of existing and potential work on our plates in general. In the end, we found that what had started as a 4-day week pilot launched far bigger conversations around what projects and commitments we were prepared to say ‘yes’ to – and which we needed to say ‘no’ to.
I can’t afford a 20% pay cut.
Many organisations have for a long time offered flexible working arrangements where team members can reduce hours and also take a pro rata reduction in pay; but we’re talking about something different.
When we advocate for less work, we don’t tie remuneration to this. It’s not a ‘minutes = money’ situation. We believe the value of a person’s contribution is determined by more than just a certain number of hours, and therefore reducing working hours shouldn’t necessarily mean taking a pay cut.
Having said that, like many organisations, LearnJam works with many freelance collaborators; and from a freelance perspective there generally is a pro rata reduction in pay, since freelance work is typically invoiced by the day. One issue we’re still figuring out is how the principle of ‘value, not hours’ (or ‘quality over quantity’) might apply to both freelance and salaried team members.
I still can’t imagine this working in the public sector or in larger organisations.
In fact, in our journey so far we’ve learned that some examples of success have come from civil service and the public sector, rather than private organisations. This indicates that there is broad applicability when the measures of success are wider than profit and productivity.
What a tremendous privilege to be able to reduce your working hours without losing pay or even your job…
It’s true that many organisations that are shifting to reduced working hours exist within the knowledge economy and tend to employ a more privileged workforce. But we strongly believe it doesn’t need to be this way.
And even if something is not universally applicable right now, this doesn’t mean nobody should be doing it. Let’s make this change where it’s possible to do so, find ways to make the change even when it’s hard or when there is resistance, and let’s advocate for wider systemic change that makes it possible for all.
In short, we believe it’s all of our responsibility to help to shift the system so that more organisations can make this change, even if it doesn’t increase productivity. This might mean a better distribution of wealth and profits, or workers getting higher wages. We believe that if we’re benefiting from reduced working hours, it’s also our responsibility to be advocating for it for everyone.
“For many people, and many industries, work isn’t working. Today’s economy is capable of amazing but unsustainable things … and shows blithe disregard for sharing the benefits of rising productivity.
“Small-scale solutions to these problems are no longer enough. We need bigger, more holistic approaches that help fix today’s problems and give us the means to build a better future.”
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Shorter: Work Better, Smarter, and Less—Here’s How
Still not sure all this is for you? Join the club!
Even if reducing your working hours sounds like a great idea, we understand it can be hard to know where or how to start. You may well be thinking: “But this just isn’t a realistic option for me!”
So in 2022, we’re inviting you to join us on a peer-led learning expedition for people and organisations who are committed to reducing their working hours.
Whether you’re a company considering a 4-day week or a freelancer chasing the elusive life/work balance, this is an opportunity to explore the practicalities and possibilities of reduced working in a purposeful micro-community.
The League of Less Work starts in March 2022 and will run over 9 months, with monthly virtual meet-up sessions. It’s open to any individual or organisation wanting to reduce their working hours over the course of the year. Together we’ll support each other towards a better balance of work and rest.
The League of Less Work is a collaboration between Enrol Yourself, LearnJam and Host David Heinemann, who are all experimenting with reduced working hours. LearnJam has already implemented a 4-day week, Enrol Yourself is trialling 90% time in 2022, and David is exploring his approach as a freelancer.
For dates, pricing and more information, visit: https://www.enrolyourself.com/hosts/League-of-Less-Work
Or join us for a discussion on the merits and resistance to a shorter working week: https://www.eventbrite.es/e/less-work-a-pipe-dream-tickets-251935825837