They work a four-day week – and this is what it looks like

I work a four-day week – and this is what it looks like

The concept of a four-day working week seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. More and more businesses are switching to a shorter week, according to Himalayas, an online recruiter, which compiled a list of 109 companies operating this model, such as Buffer. In North America alone, 38 companies are following a global six-month pilot program that started in April. According to Conscious Culture, a human resources company based in San Francisco, 93% of workers wish their employer would shave off one of the workdays. But how does it feel to work a four-day week? Was the transition easy or awkward? Is every week the same? To understand the reality of working this way, we spoke to a number of people doing so already.

‘There’s nothing I look forward to more every week’

What does it feel like to work a four-day week? Isabella Mindiola, growth marketing lead at Nexton, describes it as the best thing to happen in her professional life. “It really is life-changing – there’s nothing I look forward to more every week than my long weekend,” says Mindiola. “When your weekend is just two days long, you sometimes feel like you didn’t actually rest that much? It is amazing how just one extra day helps me feel truly rested.”

“You sometimes feel like you didn’t actually rest that much. It is amazing how just one extra day helps me feel truly rested.”

Laura Durfee, director of talent acquisition at DNS Filter in Nashville, agrees. “This is the most incredible benefit I’ve ever had as a working professional. I know how it sounds – but I really mean it,” she says. As the mother of two young children, Durfee values any extra time she can get. Weekends with kids are just always so chaotic. Having that one day during the week to run errands or do my own appointments has been literally life-changing,” she says. “Or just having a bit of time to do whatever I want to do, as it’s the only time when I’m truly alone.”

“Weekends with kids are just always so chaotic. Having that one day during the week to run errands or do my own appointments has been literally life-changing.”

Meghan Keaney Anderson, chief marketing officer at The Wanderlust Group, is also a mom. “Having Mondays off – which are our work-free days – when my daughter is at school and there’s no emails or messages coming in, has been a game-changer. I can go for a long walk with my dog. I can think more clearly. I have the time to read and write – I’m a big writer in my spare time,” she says.

“I can think more clearly. I have the time to read and write.”

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More rest = more energy

Having a longer weekend can help those who suffer from Monday morning blues. “Having that extra day really helps me to drop into a greater place of rest on the weekends,” says Banks Banitez, co-founder and chief executive of Uncharted. “Previously it just always felt like the weekend was never enough and by every Sunday afternoon, I would start feeling stressed about the next week coming. Now Sundays are like a buffer day for me,” he says.

“By every Sunday afternoon, I would start feeling stressed about the next week coming. Now Sundays are like a buffer day for me.”

Katie Gilmur, who is diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategist at Buffer, also says she hasn’t had that back-to-work anxiety for a while. “Simply knowing that you’ve got that extra time . . . makes you feel much calmer,” she says.

“From the DEI manager perspective, I’ve also noticed a big change on a larger company scale,” Gilmur adds. The combination of remote work and the four-day workweek has been powerful for our employees and has helped them manage their stress levels and care for their mental health.” Buffer’s employees are not the only ones who feel more relaxed since they started the four-day week. As many as 78% of employees working a shorter week were found to feel happier and less stressed overall.

“[It] has been powerful for our employees and has helped them manage their stress levels and care for their mental health.”

Less stress can lead to more energy and motivation to hit new goals. “I’m a much better employee when I feel well-rested and when I have the opportunity to take care of the things I need to do in my personal life. I come to work refreshed, ready to go, with lots of new ideas,” says Durfee.

Keaney Anderson agrees. “The first day after the long weekend is actually the most productive day across all of our teams,” she adds.

“The first day after the long weekend is actually the most productive day across all of our teams.”

How businesses make it work for them

There’s no one magic system that all businesses can follow when moving to a four-day week. Each company has to find a pattern that will work with its business goals and the preferences of the workforce. On top of that, it will need to make sure that communication with clients and collaboration with other companies is not affected.

Most companies we spoke to favor Fridays as the day off – though that varies. At Nexton, Fridays are considered the first day of the weekend for most staff, but some staff work that day. “There are some teams that rotate shifts between their members [so they can] be able to react if something pops up or a client reaches out because, at the end of the day, we work for our clients,” says Mindiola. The same thing happens at Buffer, according to Gilmur. “We provide customer support around the clock. For that reason, our support team is the only team working Fridays and weekends,” says Gilmur, adding that they get other days off and work just four days a week also.

At DNS Filter, everyone has Fridays off twice a month, but not all at the same time. The company had to take into account its global outreach. “That way, we’ve got daily staff coverage across all teams but everyone still gets to take advantage of the rotating four-day workweek,” says Durfee. On weeks containing bank holidays, employees whose turn it is to work four days need to choose whether they prefer to take their regular Friday or the bank holiday off – but not both. “A lot of our clients are based all over the world – with different work cultures, time zones, and different bank holidays. And we had to keep that in mind when organizing our new system,” says Durfee.

“A lot of our clients are based all over the world [and] we had to keep that in mind when organizing our new system.”

At Uncharted, everyone has Fridays off. Its chief executive says one of the biggest issues he faced when implementing the four-day week was overcoming the fear of how others would perceive his company and its work ethic. “I would constantly ask myself: How will our external partners and clients experience this? Will they still take us seriously?” says Benitez. He decided to stick with his plan. “Oftentimes in a client-company relationship, we just defer to the client. But at Uncharted, we try to treat our clients as partners – and we aim to co-create conditions that would collectively work for both us and the client,” Benitez says.

The Wanderlust Group gives everyone Mondays off – except for the customer support team, some of whom work Monday through Thursdays, others Tuesdays through Fridays. “We had to decide how to organize our week so that the one extra rest day would better our performance and not overwhelm our employees. But we didn’t want to put any of the weight of that decision on our customers, who were used to having support from us every day of the week,” says Keaney Anderson.

Some things have to go

To make the new system efficient, most businesses need to reorganize their routines to focus on the most important work. For many, this means cutting the number of meetings. DNS Filter does not have meetings on Fridays and Nexton decided to have meetings about urgent matters only. The Wanderlust Group has dropped the idea of meetings. Instead, the company starts its week with a message from the chief executive including all the weekly goals and priorities, and ends it with each employee sending an end-of-week update with their achievements, finished tasks, and thoughts to the head of their team.

With the shortened week, work also becomes much more task- and results-focused, and company targets become a collective goal to reach. “Throughout the week, we try to ask ourselves – Does everyone have the same number of responsibilities? If there is one person who has more on than the rest, how can we help them so they don’t become overwhelmed and can still make it without having to stay late?” says Mindiola. Time has become more valuable – and its management has to be approached strategically. Benitez says, “We have become more thoughtful about the way in which we design collaboration, and [we] evaluate which day-today interaction will add value to our shortened workweek.”

Find your personal organizational style

Business-level restructuring is important – but its success depends on the individuals in each team. With fewer hours to complete tasks, being organized is key.“My biggest difficulty was getting used to being able to hit the goals without having to work extra hours every day,” says Mindiola. “The shorter amount of time you have to complete your tasks, makes you realize that you have to spend it in the most effective way and only do what is really important.”

“My biggest difficulty was getting used to being able to hit the goals without having to work extra hours. The shorter amount of time you have to complete your tasks, makes you realize that you have to spend it in the most effective way.”

Find a system that works for you – whether it’s writing a to-do list, keeping track of all your tasks on your calendar, or creating a chart with all your tasks depending on their importance. “You need to try out different methods that work for you personally. When you get the hang of it, you will be able to organize your workload accordingly,” says Mindiola.

For Keaney Anderson, it was a matter of shifting her focus and becoming more present in whatever she does. “Before the four-day workweek, I prided myself on my ability to multitask. But now that I have more free time on the weekends for all the personal things I need to do, I find myself much more present during the time when I’m working,” she says. The benefits go both ways. “I stopped thinking about work or getting distracted when I spend time with my family,” she says

“I stopped thinking about work or getting distracted when I spend time with my family.”

Having the right mindset

Though the four-day week seems to have many benefits, getting to the point of optimum business performance and high employee satisfaction takes time. Cutting your week and maintaining the same business targets and long-term goals is as much of a psychological as a strategic change – and the biggest challenge may be allowing yourself to believe you can still hit all your goals.

Benitez says, “I’m an entrepreneur and somebody who just does whatever it takes to build a company. So at the beginning, closing my computer on Thursday evening would make me feel incomplete.” To overcome that feeling, Benitez had to learn how to prioritize the most important work – but also to make a deeper, psychological shift. “What I find great about the four-day workweek is that it normalizes and accepts the reality that you don’t always have to hit the perfect zero inbox, or that it is okay if there is still some work you leave undone,” he says. After shifting his mindset, Benitez noticed that he stopped trying to make everybody happy all the time. “I know that I only have so much time to work and I can’t do it all,” he adds. If you finish all the most important tasks and hit your goals of the week, that’s when you know the system is working.

“It normalizes and accepts the reality that you don’t always have to hit the perfect zero inbox, or that it is okay if there is still some work you leave undone.”

Team leaders are key to ensuring the implementation of the four-day week is successful. “CEOs and managers are the ones who set the tone. If they fail to respect the shorter workweek, the rest of the company follows,” says Durfee. Keaney Anderson agrees: “When you email on a Monday, it makes everybody else feel like they need to email on a Monday too.”Everyone has to be on board – otherwise the system may fail. Benitez says it is difficult for him to disconnect from work sometimes and to leave things undone. “But I just knew I had to do it – I realized I had to walk the talk,” he adds.

Work fits the confines you give it

Is the four-day workweek possible? Is the hassle of change and restructuring worth it? These five companies show that an answer to these questions can be a resounding “yes.” When done properly, adopting a shorter week can increase staff productivity, help to reduce stress, and drive engagement across all levels of the company. For it to work, each company should implement a model that works with the dynamics of the business and the needs of their employees. Benitez says, The four-day workweek challenges our understanding of work culture. We tend to think that working non-stop is a badge of honor; that to succeed you have to be a perfectionist; that every task has to be a priority and you have to be available 24/7. But that’s not the case,” he says. “If you organize yourself and your business well, you can enjoy a bit more rest and still feel fulfilled.”

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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