The four day working week has been in the news a bit lately. I’ve had time to read all about it because I only work four days a week.
In New Zealand, Perpetual Guardian held an an eight-week trial where staff were paid for five days, but worked four. Productivity increased by 20 per cent and staff reported being more engaged and enthusiastic.
Here’s to the four day working week.
A study from the Australian National University which looked at how long work hours erode people’s mental and physical health, concluded that the “healthy work limit” for women was 34 hours (about four and a half days) compared to 47 for men. The ANU study said “given the extra demands placed on women, it's impossible for women to work [the] long hours often expected by employers unless they compromise their health.”
Even former colleague Emma Macdonald entered the conversation in an article where she admitted that working four days usually left her “recharged enough to ensure I can devote myself fully to my two kids over the weekend, rather than playing catch-up and screeching at them because I am losing my mind”.
My change in circumstance has meant I probably need a full-time job, given my full-time financial responsibilities, but every time I weigh up the options, I can’t see why I’d do it. I haven’t worked full-time for 17 years since my first child was born. It’s a choice I’ve made. And it’s a choice I’ve had cope with. On all sorts of levels.
Surely you’re going back full-time now the kids are in high school? Surely you need the money? What a luxury being able to swan about for a day a week! Shouldn’t you be more focussed on your full-time career? Everyone has an opinion on how my working week should be running.
But here’s the thing. I get paid to work here for four days. My actual working week runs to the full seven and then some. And that statement won’t surprise any working mother.
On my day off I clean the house, run errands, tend to the garden, I get to the doctors, or the bank, I volunteer at my children’s schools, or help neighbours with chores, if I have time among all the other things that need to get done. More so now I'm the only one at home to do them. It’s a rare moment where I might pick up a book, one I have to read for work more often than not, or catch a film. I might head out for a walk every now and again but no one is begrudging anyone an hour in the sunshine.
Having a day off in the “working week” allows me to free up time for the weekend. Time where I again volunteer, on the barbecue at rugby, or umpiring hockey, hours of time that is not really mine.
It allows me to spend time with my children, and while that might just be driving them around, or if I’m lucky, curled up on the lounge watching television, I wouldn’t change that for the world. I know time with them is a precious thing with no dollar value attached.
It often surprises work contacts that I work only four days a week. I’ve taken to putting “Please note I work Monday to Thursday” on my email signature. But you’re so prolific they tell me, flatterers. Just don’t expect a reply on Fridays.
One interesting finding from the New Zealand trial, according to Perpetual Guardian managing director Andrew Barnes, was the idea that women should stop negotiating on hours but on productivity instead.
"Women generally are paid less because they work fewer hours after returning to work from maternity leave, even though they might be delivering the same level of productivity as someone working five days a week," Barnes said.
How on earth do you negotiate that? Some of the hardest-working, most productive women I know work part-time. Imagine if we all said, actually you’re only paying me for four days so you’re only going to get four days worth of work out of me. Many workplaces would suffer.
Instead we overcompensate, feeling guilty that we’re not wholly contributing, in the workplace or at home. We feel a need to prove ourselves, to remind management that we’re as valuable as those who work the full load of shifts. I see it every day.
Instead I’ve embraced it. Happy with my tax threshold, happy with my happiness threshold. I know what’s important. And it’s not always the dollar.
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