Is a 4 day work week a good idea?

The question is, Is a 4 day work week a good idea? If you haven’t read the book “The 4 hour work week” by Tim Ferriss you should. It started a lot of the ideas about reducing the working week. Some even say it started a movement. And although its title is actually about cramming a week’s worth of work into just 4 hours, for most people that simply isn’t possible. But a 4 day work week is. And that’s what I want to talk about.

How would a 4 day week work?

In some countries, such as Holland, a four day work week isn’t uncommon. It works typically with Monday through Thursday being working days and Friday being tagged on to the weekend.

What are the benefits?

The idea is that people will be more productive during the 4 days that they work by having an extra day off each week. Although statistics, if wangled correctly indicate that it really does work, it has only been incorporated by early adopters in British businesses so far. The reality is that the statistics only show positive examples. In some cases, companies have tried it and reverted back to a 5 day week as it’d proved a productivity disaster.

Public Consensus

I’d put money on it that most people would be whole heartedly in favour of a 4 day work week as opposed to a 5 day work week. Why wouldn’t they? It sounds great. More work life balance. Improved family time.

What are the hidden flaws though?

The first problem is that for this to work it needs to be the norm across the board. For example, 80% of UK companies are in the Service sector. If you’re providing a service to a customer and they work Fridays and you don’t, that customer cannot get your service on that day. But if your competitor can offer them a service on Fridays and you can’t, then where do you think your customer will take their business when their contract with you is up?

Secondly, of the many people supportive of a 4 day work week, how many would still be as supportive if their employer said yes to it but on the condition that they pay you 20% less money? After all you’re there 20% less time, right? This could be the case if like many roles you are paid on an hourly rate.

Also, from a productivity perspective, and I have read the statistics, claiming someone will generate higher productivity in 4 days as opposed to 5 by utilising a 4 day work week is bit of a fib. I’m sorry, but the statistics are skewed and look in many cases to be, for want of a better phrase, rigged. Yes, technology can support workers and take away many tasks freeing up a day in some cases, but why would a company pay you as much if a computer can do a 5th of your job for you?

How comes some companies can make it work then?

The idea itself is great from a work life, mental health etc perspective. And it can work, but only in certain industries and types of role. For example, let’s say you work as part of a project team. If the project that you are working on can be completed by the deadline date, who cares if you did 7 day weeks or 4 day weeks. As long as it’s completed to the desired quality by the deadline it doesn’t really matter.

Also, some companies can take on more staff on lower hours to offer flexibility to those staff in support of a 4 day work week. It offers more flexibility to the company also in those instances.

If it can work, why aren’t more companies finding ways to make it work?

Dependent on your industry, the UK has varying levels of skills shortages. Without delving into Brexit and immigration, it also has problems with British born workers not wanting to do roles that immigrant workers have filled gaps in. For example, the hospitality trade and NHS are heavily reliant on foreign workers. This isn’t because British born people can’t do the jobs on many occasions, but because they’re jobs that nobody wants to do. They pay low and are sometimes unpleasant. Imagine cleaning toilets in a hotel chain, emptying bins and changing sheets with 20 minute per room targets and for minimum wage.

Therefore, the idea may be great, but if companies cannot hire the staff due to a combination of skills shortages and jobs that nobody wants to do, how can they cover work needed without having the people coverage? In some industries it can work, but in many or arguably most jobs, it’s just not feasible.

Grey Time

An idea that I personally like, but isn’t written about anywhere near as much is something called “Grey Time”. In essence the 5 day work week still exists, but a 5th of the working week is utilised for non-core tasks. For example, these could be side projects, training, other types of education, creative time etc. But they could also be used as backup time for unexpected tasks or problems that need solving.

One issue I find in most businesses is that productivity is seen as something that should be maximised upon. This does make sense as any business will want the greatest return for their investment. The problem is that in practice, things aren’t as simple as that. Unexpected issues, unforeseen problems, unannounced meetings, changing priorities etc can all put a spanner in the works. So, if you have been targeted to achieve a number of productivity based tasks in a given time frame and you are already stretched right up to the ilk and then face an unforeseen problem, it causes your stress levels to rise.

Grey time means that you are only targeted to what is practical based on unbiased analysis in a 4 day period, giving you overflow time for problems as well as other side tasks. This greatly reduces stress, gives you variety in your work, allows you to demonstrate your abilities outside of your core function, gives you the opportunity to develop skills, collaborate on cross team projects and better yourself. This gives companies much more fluidity from their personnel, presents an opportunity to see what people are capable of outside of their core functions and adds a dynamic for continuous improvements. Win win.


In our business grey time is something that we are keen on. It is practical and beneficial to both the individual and the company. Grey time doesn’t need to be a set period either. It can be used with a more common sense approach rather than a structured one. For example, on a quiet day rather than stressing, this time can be used productively for all. It could be broken up into 2 hours here, 4 hours there etc. We’re not just trying to force something to maximise productivity, but setting aside time specifically for non-core tasks. It frees people up. And it let’s them pursue something in the business that they are passionate about and can contribute to. It’s something different.


Maybe a 4 day work week can work for your business or maybe you feel it can’t. The point is that it’s better not to look at this as Option A or Option B. Like us, you may see an Option C that works for your business and your employees. You may need to try a few things to find what works and what doesn’t. That is how you move forward though, by forward thinking.

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