The 4-day workweek
From Iceland to Spain to Japan – from Microsoft to Unilever to Kickstarter – governments and hundreds of corporations are increasingly experimenting with and planning for 4-day workweeks (while keeping the same pay and benefits).
And so far, the pilots and research point to an overwhelming success for people, the companies they work for, the communities they live in, and the climate.
Personally, I feel like I work too much (tough boss). And I’d heard that 4-day workweeks could be a meaningful tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So I jumped at the chance to learn more when my friend Jon Leland told me he was helping to launch a global 4-day week campaign.
Jon is the Vice President of Insights & Head of Environmental Impact at Kickstarter. He has also launched two projects on Kickstarter that I really like for their tough-love approach to awareness-raising. They’re stickers saying “This place will be water” and “This place will burn” that you put in public places that are at risk according to science-based projections. These projects give people the tools to understand and communicate the local, near-term impacts of climate change and mobilize their community to take action on the crisis.
Most recently, Jon has turned his focus towards the 4 Day Week campaign as it’d be a major win for both people and the planet.
In this episode, we talk about climate psychology, climate action, and then dive into the wide-ranging benefits of the 4-day workweek.
Finally, you’ll learn how you can help make the 4-day workweek a reality.
1:10 Jon’s climate journey.
9:27 Motivating communities to speak up and act with the “This Place Will Be Water” & “This Place Will Burn” projects.
14:40 Jon’s favorite stories that have come from the projects & thoughts on climate action.
21:35 History of the 5-day workweek.
24:50 Movement for a 4-day workweek.
25:55 Results from Iceland’s 4-year study on a 4-day workweek.
27:00 The numerous benefits of a 4-day work week for people/employees & how they spend their time.
31:13 The 4-day work week from an employer’s perspective.
36:15 The 4-day work week as a climate solution.
41:20 It seems impossible to achieve this – how could we make it happen?
46:10 Will this work across industries?
48:20 Short and long-term goals of the 4-day work week campaign.
50:30 We need a shift in mindset.
51:30 Jon’s book recommendation and final message for folks.
54:40 The economy grew when it switched from a 6 to a 5-day workweek.
56:10 What should employees do if they want to help make this transition where they work?
Benefits to people/employees
- 78% of people are happier and less stressed working a 4 day week.
- Freedom to spend time how they want to:
- More time with family.
- More time to rest.
- More time in nature.
- More time to exercise.
- Healthier identity & greater sense of purpose.
- School could stay at 5 days a week, meaning parents get 1 day off while kids are in school!
Benefits to employers
- Better rested and happier employees are more productive and take far fewer sick days.
- 64% of companies see increased productivity with a 4-day week (Microsoft Japan saw a whopping 40% increase in productivity).
- Employee retention and hiring improve (because employees are more engaged and more loyal).
- 40% of employees say they’d use the time to develop their professional skills.
Benefits to the community
- People have more time to engage in local events, connect with others, participate in local decision-making, elections, etc.
- 25% of people say they’d volunteer for causes they care about with their newfound free time.
Benefits to the climate
- Electricity usage is 10% to 20% less on weekend days compared to weekdays.
- People drive 17% fewer miles on weekend days in the US.
- A recent study estimated that a 4-day workweek could decrease emissions by 21.3% in the UK. Though additional actions should be taken to encourage low-carbon leisure activities.
- The most impactful thing that Kickstarter does for the climate is helping to ingrain sustainability into the DNA of projects/companies launched on their platform. So think outside the box: what is your company uniquely positioned to do to influence greenhouse gas emissions outside of your own operations?
- The economy grew when it switched from a 6-day workweek to a 5-day workweek.
If you want to try and get your company to move to a 4-day workweek
- Sign the 4-day week petition.
- Learn more about the 4-day week. This is a good place to start. And here are two guides for organizations moving to 4-days.
- Start having conversations with co-workers.
- Approach your employer in a productive way and begin a dialogue. Over time, make the case as to why this would benefit your organization and its employees.
- Companies are beginning to join a pilot program for a 4-day week starting in 2022. Participants will get support from experts, peers, and leading researchers at Harvard, Oxford, and Boston College. Get in touch with the 4-day week campaign if you’d like some help.
“I don’t think you have to find the thing in climate for you. Start finding some things to do and I think the rest will figure itself out from there.” – Jon Leland
“When I think about the actual fight to address this problem it gives me so much hope because we have these problems of people feeling a lack of purpose – a lack of community in our society that have just gotten worse and worse. And here we have this amazing opportunity to all band together, leverage everyone’s unique skill set to do a bunch of really hard, cool stuff to save the planet together. It’s like what more purpose do you want?” – Jon Leland
Despite successful trials, growing momentum, and a staggering 85% support from the public, it still feels like the odds of switching to a 4-day workweek are slim to none.
But I’m sure that’s exactly how people felt about the possibility of a 5-day workweek less than 100 years ago.
(For what it’s worth, a 1965 US Senate Subcommittee predicted a 14-hour workweek by 2000. And famed economist John Maynard Keynes predicted we’d have a 15-hour workweek by 2030.)
The move to a 4-day workweek makes a lot of sense.
Since 1950, the average worker’s productivity in the US has gone up by 261%.
But the average worker’s hours have only gone down by 12%.
Given the fact that we’re getting more done in less time, shouldn’t we all be working far less today?
This seems especially important now as it’d help solve multiple issues simultaneously (the climate crisis, the epidemic of loneliness and social isolation, mental health, physical health, etc.).
People would be happier, healthier, more connected to their family, friends, and community, have more time to invest in themselves and education, and more time to do things they love or work on things they care about.
For a better present and a livable future, we need an all-hands-on-deck effort right now to make sure that every policy and investment decision being made is in alignment with climate science.
Ultimately, a 4-day workweek would give society the time to take a step back and focus on what matters most to us as human beings.
It would give us time to strengthen our relationships with each other and the sustained energy we’ll need over the coming decades to rebuild a safer, healthier, and more just world.