Trials On Four Day Work Week
September 27, 2021
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by Stephen Kanyi

Last week cab-hailing company Bolt recently announced plans to try a four-day workweek for all its employees. The company joins a select group of companies such as Kickstarter in trying to find the answer to one of the biggest issues in employment: how to balance work and life.

Most employees are familiar with work burnout. You feel mentally and physical drained, can’t concentrate and have barely enough time for your family. This is the reality for most workers after a few months or years of employment, it is inevitable.

To address this a few companies and government institutions have been toying with a new concept: the four-day workweek.

Chances are, you have already heard of this. Recent years have seen this subject come to public consciousness, especially in light of the pandemic which saw a lot of workers operate remotely, giving them a glimpse of more flexible working hours may offer them.

But what does a four-day workweek really mean?

Well, from the face, it means what it says. Employees turn up to the workplace for just four instead of the normal five days of the week.

But this does not necessarily mean that the hours decrease. Even under the four-day workweek, there are different models, some that even lead to an increase in working hours despite it being packed into just four days of the week.

Maemo, for instance, a Norwegian restaurant implemented a permanent 3-day workweek but retained the normal 45 working hours for the whole week. This means each day workers would have to put in 15-hour work shifts. Contrast that with Microsoft Japan which in 2019, implemented a 32-hour workweek with a three-day weekend. This means a normal 8-hour shift for every workday.

More recently, Bolt, a cab riding startup, announced a four-day workweek for its employees just last week. As part of the company’s wider approach in building what it terms as a “conscious business culture,” CEO Ryan Breslow explained that “it’s all about keeping standards of execution high, while still putting the team’s health and well-being first.”

The trial will take place for the next three months after which, if proven successful, will be implemented permanently. Right now, the policy is simply giving Bolt employees every Friday off with the company even crafting an out-of-office message for the day:

“I’m out of the office today because we’re working consciously here at Bolt and are currently experimenting with a four-day workweek. I’ll be back in touch with you on [Monday].”

The new schedule was only announced last week with employees tasked with ensuring it is implemented. This includes moving or shortening meetings.

Nisha Victor, vice president at Bolt says:

“If we tried to squeeze in everything we were doing in five days into four days, whether it’s the same number of meetings, the same collaborations, etcetera, I don’t think that will lend itself well to success.

I think the key is to be intentional about how we make the most out of the four days, prioritize the things that we really need to collaborate with other folks on, and start eliminating the meetings where we’re optional attendees.”

Breslow goes on to explain that while the change might sound a little drastic, most employees do already consider Friday to be a weekend.

“People say, ‘How do I think about a Friday?’ and we say, the same way you think about a Saturday or a Sunday,” Breslow explains. “It doesn’t mean you can’t work. In fact, some people work on weekends. But you know, that three-hour block you do on a Sunday to catch up with your work? You might be able to do that on your Friday. So, you have a nice long weekend.”

He however states that the policy would be flexible such that team members who for instance, need to meet the Friday deadline will be allowed to work. But he says that it would be ‘the exception not the rule’

“We anticipate those instances becoming more and more rare as people adapt to this new way of working within four days.”

Bolt a list of companies and institutions pioneering a new model of work. Like all new ventures, it takes a lot of effort and time to finesse to get it right. Managers and executives will definitely be the biggest block in this effort as increasing rest may be seen as a decrease in productivity.

However, if companies like Bolt and Kickstarter are willing to give it a try then the benefits do surely outweigh the costs.

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