Flex: Is shortening the working week the key to employee engagement?


A recent article in the Guardian has been making the rounds advocating the idea that working four days per week can "increase efficiency, health and happiness". This got me thinking as I have been working a four day week for around five years and before that worked a three day week for seven years. While I appreciate unlike the workers at Radioactive PR I'm not being paid for my fifth day I did wonder if working less than an ideal worker was making me happier and more productive than my full timer peers - was my loss of income offset by my increased engagement?

The answer at least for me is probably yes.

So here's how I understand my four day 'contract';

1. I look at my time over a three week period not weekly

Some weeks I do work way beyond even a standard 40 hour contract, mainly in the evenings and very occasionally at the weekend but I do not accept is that this is my weekly norm. I realized quite early on for my four day per work week (which is actually spread over five days) to work I was going to have to look at my part-time hours over a three week cycle. Over this period of time I am likely to have at a minimum two or three days of late night working to meet client deliverables but I am also likely to have the same amount of days where only the basic is expected of me and my team.

By making sure that I accept that in some weeks I will work potentially even more than a full time workers hours I then actively permission myself to take time back at other times. This is not a deliberate calculation of over worked hours but rather a recognition that that there are times I need to work harder and times when I can be more flexible and kinder to myself and my family. I appreciate not everyone has access to this type of flexibility but I suspect more people have access to it than think they do if they really started thinking about their job over a three week cycle.


2. Working a more restricted contract means I'm more efficient

It really doesn't matter if you are working three, four or five days, if you need to leave at a specific time each and every day you are just more focused on meeting your objectives. When my children are away with relatives for any period of time I find my overall efficiency declines. I dawdle over lunch, I accept more meetings than I need to be present in and I generally just do everything at a more leisurely pace. While this is great as a mini holiday from my restrictive leave times it does mean that I am less protective of my time. I tend to plan my day poorly and say yes to more things than I need. By working part-time and having specific leave times I am definitely more efficient than the mini holiday version of me.


3. Focusing on my best work gives me mental space to progress

While working part-time for more than a decade I have been able to progress my career and now run an analyst team. My progress has not been considerably slower than my peers, even taking into account two one-year maternity absences. The key reason that I have been able to progress while working part-time is that I have taken the time to focus on my best work. That means prioritizing my time, and that of my teams', towards our best work, work which will bring the most value to me and the company. This has allowed me to open up time during my normal working week to make sure that I am also focusing on my personal progress and not just surviving while working part-time.


I do believe it is not only possible to survive but also thrive while working part-time but you need to be protective of your time, focus on your best work and think of your working week hours over a three weekly cycle.


If you enjoyed this post please check out my other blog posts on the topic; Learn to plan your day and re-evaluate your calendar. All opinions are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

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