Flexible working? Why I won’t even entertain the idea of the 4-day week
In teams and in jobs where bums on seats don’t matter, you may be struggling to accommodate valuable employees who want to work to less traditional work patterns. This requires a degree of imagination and a leap of faith that can make you wonder if it’s worth it.
Being an economic policy nerd my twitter feed is filled with articles about why this miracle policy is the solution to the carbon footprint of commuting, lower unemployment, higher productivity, and even the strengthening of democracy.
I find this trope unhelpful and very frustrating.
It’s like that famous quote by Henry Ford often bandied about by entrepreneurs:
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
It sounds to me like “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said they wanted to work fewer hours for the same money”.
With the changing nature of work, fewer hours is not necessarily the answer.
Or rather, thinking about work that doesn’t require a physical presence in terms of hours is backward and unhelpful.
Delivery and deliverables are what matter.
But more than that, people and our lives are what matters.
As a leader, I need certain things done by a certain time to a certain standard. Accommodating people who want to be compensated for working this way suits me just fine.
I don’t have to watch out for a bum on a seat for an exact amount of time a day, stress about slackers, late arrivers, long lunch takers, or conversely, people staying late and burning out.
I am not responsible for missed piano recitals, postponed doctor appointments, or failures to go to the gym.
Don’t ask me for a 4-day week. If you do, you are thinking about the job you do for me all wrong.
Removing the concept of time from work
We need to be thinking about work completely differently, as bosses and as employees. This gets the best out of us, and out of anyone we need to do work for us.
The Multi-Hyphen Method by Emma Gannon explores the idea of flexible working as well as having several different “jobs” on the go at any one time. There are many gurus expounding on this type of working and what it looks like for the future.
Also called slashies (ick- as in writer/consultant/developer) among other things, this concept acknowledges that the whole idea of the 9–5 job doesn’t account for the fact that the way many of us view work these days just doesn’t fit. Whether that 9–5 is five days or four days a week becomes irrelevant.
Emilie Wapnick helps us understand the multipotentialite personality and skill set, and how to make them work for those of us who are interested in doing many things at once in today’s working world.
[Multipotentialites]generally have diverse interests across numerous domains and may be capable of success in many endeavors or professions, they are confronted with unique decisions as a result of these choices.” -Multipotentiality
This may be by choice, but it can also be by necessity if any one ‘job’ doesn’t fulfill all of our financial or practical needs.
These are important ideas for the future of work, and about thinking about people and lives first, then deliverables, then time.
They can make a huge impact on how we think about jobs, and ultimately, how we find ourselves working and hiring in the coming years.
Getting the best out of the best people- and yourself
When I left my 20 year career in the public sector, I knew above all else that I simply wanted to have a completely different lifestyle. The 80+-hour work week I had let myself fall into because of my high-stress job in a dysfunctional sector was eating up my life.
These ideas that are being described and supported by Emma and Emilie are what I have been living through over the past five years since I made the life-changing decision to give up a high-paying, secure job with status for a multi-hyphenate lifestyle and a multipotentialite-supporting life.
I didn’t know that’s what I wanted at the time, but I did know that I wanted flexible working and multi-potential future. Also, without that salaried but burdensome job, I needed to seek out several avenues of revenue.
Chances are you have people like me in your team.
Or you want to hire someone with exactly the right skill set who is asking for you to think about work differently to suit them.
Simply moving to a four day week isn’t going to cut it.
Thinking about how we structure work beyond time can make all the difference to how we can make modern lives work for ourselves and our teams.
Juggling hobbies, family, side hustles- having control over the way we construct our time can make these things a reality.
Staying engaged and learning and enthusiastic gets the best out of employees, and it can get the best out of you.
We must think of work differently if we are to move into a future that is sustainable, practical, engaging, and supportive of all the other things our lives require- things like raising families or lifelong learning or mental health care.
Having that control over the time structure of our working lives means we have much more control over the things outside of “work”. This allows us to be more reliable and consistent as deliverers of work, not less.
Work becomes about agreed, high-quality deliverables in a timely fashion.
It can help us overcome presenteeism, reduce carbon footprints of commutes, reduce resources needed to maintain an office environment, and have a team of happy, productive people who are good at what they do.
As long as we continue to think about work as a job = time, our ideas of what work means will never change. That is why in 2019 it frustrates me so to see this campaign conversation for a four day week ramping up.
We don’t need a “faster horse” or a “shorter work week”. We need a completely different way of thinking about how and when we work, how we deliver for an employer or client, and how we manage our whole lives to meet our and our families’ needs in this next decade and beyond.
Let’s bring modern thinking about work into the discussion. Work has value. Pay for that value. A fair living wage at a fair market rate for the skill or experience. Don’t dictate where or for how long unless that’s an essential characteristic of the work needed.
To just begin thinking of work in terms of fewer days for a better quality of life is looking at it through the same 150 year old lens.
Let’s make the earning money part of our lives a regular part of determining our whole life schedule. Not the immovable object around which we have to hammer the rest of our lives to fit.
Let’s talk about work as one of many activities within our day, our week, our lives. And let’s make all those components work together to the outermost boundaries of flexibility.
In order to do that we must get out of the days-per-week mindset. Let’s talk about real flexibility and the future of work.
My first book, Becoming a Fearless Leader: A simple guide to taking control and building happy, productive, highly-performing teams is out now. You can find access to a free pdf workbook that accompanies it on my website. If you do read my book, I would love to hear your comments.
I write about how I became the founder of a tech startup as a non-techie, over-40 female with no entrepreneurial experience, and all I am learning along the way. You can see more here. If you think this might be helpful for others on their entrepreneurial journey, please recommend and share.