84

I work in a team of 6 for a large multinational IT company. The company is not in a good shape from a business perspective.

The manager has asked us to consider the idea of working 4 days a week instead of 5, without any decrease in compensation! (We would still be working 8 hours per day.) He has mentioned it is even okay if we deliver slightly less work. This sounds awesome, but we are reluctant because we suspect something is fishy.

We asked him why the company would make such an offer when it is struggling. His justification is that the senior management believes this would make the organization more efficient and they want to use our team as a pilot.

Are there any concerns we should be aware of before saying "Yes" to such a too good to be true offer?

  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Oct 27 '17 at 3:07
  • 7
    Same compensation refers to weekly, not hourly compensation, I presume? – henning -- reinstate Monica Oct 27 '17 at 15:24
  • 8
    I would very carefully make sure that when they say "no difference in compensation", they're not talking about hourly or daily compensation. There are a lot of ways to say you'll make the same amount per time period that make it sound like you'll make the same amount overall. Have you asked unambiguously, like "So I'll be paid the same amount for 4 days of work that I used to be paid for 5?" or "This means my hourly compensation will increase by 25%, correct?" – Dan Staley Oct 27 '17 at 23:01
  • 1
    @DanStaley and they ought to make sure they get that in writing, too. – John_ReinstateMonica Oct 30 '17 at 4:32
116

I understand why your team is circumspect about accepting this offer. However, this counter-intuitive offer from your senior management is not unprecedented. A google search for "four day work week" returns at least 2 pages full of links to posts advocating it. Although some of these links talk about a 40-hour 4-day week, and come from authors with varied level of authority on the subject, your company's offer of 32-hour 4-day week is not exactly suspicious prima facie.

Several companies have experimented with the idea that a 4-day work week will improve work-life balance, improve their productivity and contribute to better quality of work. The benefits have not been conclusively established, the idea is not exactly without problems, and there is the usual reluctance to change, so the adoption of this idea among companies is quite low.

It appears that your company's senior management also wants to experiment with this idea. Go ahead and sign up for it!


Some links for "4-day week" found from google search:

  1. Why you should have a 4-day workweek
  2. Why 3-Day Weekends Make Workers More Productive And Should Be The New Norm
  3. Why we should kill the 40-hour work week
  4. Memo to work martyrs: Long hours make you less productive
  5. The 5-Day Workweek Is Bad For Business.
  6. Want to Be a Lot More Productive? Work 4 Days a Week
  7. Consider The Benefits Of The 4 Day Work Week
  8. Experts think a 4-day work week would be more beneficial than 5
  9. Why working fewer hours would make us more productive
  10. The case for the 4-day workweek
  • 54
    Just speculating, but this offer may be just an experiment about how much work can be done in 4 days a week. If they discover (for example) that you are doing 90% of previous work while working 80% of time, they may offer the whole company a 15% cut to work 4 days a week and still save money and improve efficiency - at least, compared with laying off 15% of people. – Pere Oct 26 '17 at 20:40
  • 11
    There is also the "Four Minute Work Week", which is a book I wrote based on my own work experience. :) – Masked Man Oct 27 '17 at 3:52
  • 9
    France has a 35 hour workweek (five days of 7). 32 isn't massively different. – T.E.D. Oct 27 '17 at 10:33
  • 9
    Going from 5 days or work to 4 days of work is nearly a 20% savings in utility costs. – Matthew Whited Oct 27 '17 at 16:29
  • 2
    @T.E.D. the French 35-hour week mostly apply to manual workers and office employees. White-collars, managers, engineers, developers, etc. do actually work 5 days a week, and 8 hours a day (or more as their daily working time is not really recorded). They have more annual vacation leaves to compensate (e.g. 7 weeks instead of 5). – Evariste Oct 29 '17 at 7:19
61

Are there any concerns we should be aware of before saying "Yes" to such a too good to be true offer?

You haven't provided enough information to make an informed decision.

A few things to consider (and perhaps to ask management about):

  • Does everyone in the team work the same 4 days? Or do folks get to choose which 4 days per week they work?
  • Must everyone on the team decide to work this way? Or can some folks work 4 days while others work 5?
  • How is the "5th day" covered? Nobody? A skeleton crew? Rotating coverage?
  • Is this a "permanent" decision? If you decide you don't like it in a month or so for some unanticipated reason, can you go back to 5 days?
  • Are you really getting paid for 40 hours of work while only actually working 32 hours?
  • Are all the benefits kept at the 40-hour level? Or are any reduced?
  • What about vacations? Will you get 40 vacation hours, or just 32?
  • What happens regarding overtime? Is that expected to go up?

The way you have presented it here would be very unusual in my part of the world. In fact, I've never known a company to go to a 4-day week and only expect people to work 32 hours while maintaining the same 40 hour salary. (Far more typical would be four 10-hour days). Perhaps your company will be different.

I know, if this is really as you present it and everything else checks out, I wouldn't hesitate to sign up. It seems like a terrific deal. I don't see a lot of downside here.

  • 2
    If as presented its a no brainer. Hell, I have tried to talk my current company into allowing us to work 4 ten hour days versus 5 eight hour days. – Mister Positive Oct 26 '17 at 17:17
  • 23
    I agree with everything stated but if it were me I would immediately use that extra day of the week to start looking for new work. This reeks of "fail" and even if the company does survive, it's a good bet that the stench of impending doom will cause others to start looking and when they leave, you'll be expected to pick up the slack. – Chris E Oct 26 '17 at 17:45
  • 2
    I would also want to know about coverage on the day you aren't working. In fact, the one time I worked a 4-day work week, it was the coverage of work on the days people were off that killed it. When people want an answer and the only person who knows it isn't there, it becomes a problem pretty quickly. – HLGEM Oct 26 '17 at 19:21
  • 3
    In Sweden, they have experimented with 5 days x 6 hours = 30 hours total per week. Apparently with good results (increased productivity and happiness). – Juha Untinen Oct 27 '17 at 6:23
  • 3
    @HLGEM you could easily have that problem with the 5-day week too if you allowed people to choose their "weekend" instead of having Saturday and Sunday off across the board. The poor implementation of the 4-day week by itself doesn't make it a bad idea. – Masked Man Oct 27 '17 at 9:30
26

they want to use our team as a pilot

Hence the no reduction in salary. If they suggested to reduce salary too then you'd likely say no and the pilot scheme would fail.

If the pilot scheme is a success then I think the plan would then to be to roll it out across the company, but this time with a corresponding reduction in salary.

Asking people to work less for the same money does not make the organisation more efficient in any sense of the word and this only makes any sense if a reduction in salary is to follow. More efficient in terms of employment means more work for less money, not the other way round.

What you must make sure of during the pilot is that projects now take an increased amount of elapsed time to complete and you must work strictly to rule. Otherwise the company will be dishing out a 20% pay cut for the same work. During the pilot you must work at the same rate and you must deliver 4/5 of a weeks' work per week.

  • It's just like living in France. – vikingsteve Oct 27 '17 at 12:16
  • 6
    This is my thought exactly, based on the context that the business is struggling. This is an experiment, and OP should read management's statement "your salary will not decrease" with an additional "for now." – James Oct 27 '17 at 13:23
  • Depending on the prevalence of other companies in the area, this doesn't make much sense. Anybody unhappy with a 20% pay cut can just find a new job. A company using a 4 day work week to cut payroll 20% is pretty much telling their employees to move on to retain their full yearly salary. The only way this really works is if the company has a particular draw to retain talent. But as an IT professional, almost every company needs IT talent, so there's nothing to really encourage employees to endure a 20% cut in yearly salary. – Ellesedil Oct 27 '17 at 18:36
  • I think this is the best answer for the simple fact that if the company really wants to pay the same why would they accept less output, how could that possibly benefit them? – Michael J. Oct 27 '17 at 18:56
  • 2
    Note that rather than dishing out 20% paycuts, the company might also go for a 20% headcount reduction (which is a different kind of problem). – Dennis Jaheruddin Oct 30 '17 at 9:57
21

Yes, I would definitely be concerned.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics sets the benchmark for full-time employees at 35 hours a week.

It could be that the company is attempting to "reduce the workforce" for earnings reporting (restructuring or other nonsense). It could very well affect your employment status in many ways including benefits.

The PPACA's requirement for employers to offer health care coverage to employees working 30 or more hours per week to avoid penalties may result in some employers hiring more part-time employees who work less than 30 hours per week. (Source)

It's not much further to push you down to 29 hours; and healthcare enrollment/updates are just around the corner.

Another possibility is that this is actually an individual productivity test... Those individuals that remain closest to the level of productivity of the 40 hour week get to keep their job. Switching back to 40 hours with five people is about the same number of hours of six times @32 hours.

Make sure that everything is written out and signed, by your manager, by HR, your team members, etc. If this is a trial, have a specific short-term expires date (30-90 days) in which the trial will be evaluated (may be extended with an addendum). If this is a permanent change for your team, make sure that is stipulated as well.

  • 3
    Note that this may also help lower their unemployment benefits payments if they plan on laying off people. They might reclassify those 8 hours they're paying you for as an actual bonus and not as your base salary. Remember Kinkos when it was still called Kinkos, the corporate salespeople who previously made six figures because of their bonuses were transferred to minimum wage positions. And then, they couldn't even quit their minimum wage positions, or they would be ineligible for unemployment benefits. Eventually, they sued, but still lost. – Stephan Branczyk Oct 27 '17 at 0:20
  • @StephanBranczyk Sounds to me like a good reason to save plenty while you have plenty of money coming in. If you're in the US and making well over $100,000/year ("six figures"), whether before or after bonuses, it shouldn't be too hard to set aside a significant chunk of money even if you live in a relatively-high-cost-of-living area. You never know what life will throw at you, and though seeing a massive cut in pay would probably be uncommon, plenty of other things can happen that cause a reduction in net income. Having lots of savings then will cushion the blow. – a CVn Oct 27 '17 at 12:41
  • 1
    Even if this is what they're thinking, what good would it do to turn down the offer? – Casey Oct 27 '17 at 18:06
  • If it's a productivity test, maybe they are going to fire they people whose productivity doesn't dip, because they think that they must have been slacking off before? – Michael J. Oct 27 '17 at 18:57
  • @StephanBranczyk Interesting angle, but I suppose that if they wanted to roll out a strategy to lower unemployment benefits, it would be a bit strange to start with a small pilot group. – Dennis Jaheruddin Oct 30 '17 at 9:25
17

This was my exact case but from the side of the employer.

I run a small UX company. We have 7 employees who used to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. At some point, I noticed that everyone, including myself, was not very productive. Also, I noticed that the stress load was really big.

Since my partner is a PhD in Psychology, I asked her to see if she could improve the process. The answer was very simple:

Being that our work demands a high load of creativity and thinking solutions, analyzing data and turning them into creative form, with constant changes between digital and physical environments and the cognitive load that this represents, our level of stress was very high and it was impossible to perform as we should for 8 hours. Worse yet: given that the stress is cumulative, we could not start the next day "clean of stress", but accumulated the previous day's stress.

The solution? She asked us to take a week off, and when she got back to work she measured our response levels at work for 3 weeks, filming the process. She discovered that we were actually working only 4 hours a day.

With this discovery, we reduced working hours to 5 hours a day (I continue 8 or 9, but because I like it, not by obligation). Our productivity and our quality of work took a very remarkable leap, almost immediately.

A year after that, we added the possibility of an additional day off every 15 days. In no case did the employees earn less, we simply optimized their time. Additionally, since creative people tend to fall asleep very late at night, 5 hours start at 1:00 PM (although one of them starts at 10 AM). So they don't have to stop for lunch: they're supposed to have lunch before start.

Of course, in case of a deadline or some trouble, they have to work normally, but they do not take it as a burden anymore: they know that it is an exception, and that this exception is what makes these schedules they allow them to manage their times and work fewer hours.

I am not saying that it is necessarily the case of the OP, but I found it interesting to give a perspective "from the other side", since that may be what is happening in your case.

  • What do you mean by "5 hours start at 1:00 PM"? Do you mean "5 employees start at 1:00 PM"? – Peter Mortensen Oct 27 '17 at 23:07
  • 1
    @PeterMortensen, they work 5 hours a day. Those 5 hours shifts start at 1:00 PM (so they work from 1PM to 6 PM), exception made of one employee who starts at 10 AM . Sorry, English is not my native language and sometimes I don't know how to properly explain what I mean – user78863 Oct 27 '17 at 23:24
  • @Devin I wasn't confused by it, but you could make it more explicit like you did in the comments. Saying "those 5 hour days" would work great. For a native speaker, it would probably be enough to put a definite article in front: "the 5 hours"; that would make it clear that you're referring back to the previously mentioned 5 hours. But your comment is more explicit and probably easier for non-native speakers. =) FYI, your English is fine. As a native speaker, I'd be more inclined to attribute any lack of clarity or mistakes to typos than language issues. – jpmc26 Oct 27 '17 at 23:32
  • 3
    @JoeStrazzere, to address your first concern, think about someone running a long race: you can run at a regular pace then save your effort for a final fast sprint. You can't run the race at a fast pace all the time. Same here. Our team is more creative and productive this way. Asking them to work 8 hours 2-3 days every 2-3 months isn't a burden. Bottom line is they know thye have something good and they care for that – user78863 Oct 29 '17 at 15:24
  • @JoeStrazzere: as for your second comment, yes, we asked our team, and yes, we used many available studies. Remember we're an UX company, so working with data and research is the core of our business. While this is a generalization, it's one that has proven correct. Besides, they can choose. As I said, one of my employees starts at 10:00 AM (we start at that time), the other 6 chose to start at 1:00 PM. Very rarely, one of them may start in the morning if they need to go out earlier (or on a deadline, as mentioned) – user78863 Oct 29 '17 at 15:29
7

Are there any concerns we as a team should be aware of for saying YES to such a too good to be true offer?

If you like the offer then I see no problem in taking it. Make sure you understand and read thoroughly the new specifications of your new contracts, so you are actually sure you want that.

It may be that they are trying to reduce the stress or burden on their employees, but this is just speculating on their possible intentions, as that would depend on you having to work less hours (and not the way around to compensate for that missing day).

The "no decrement in our compensation" part sounds like it could be they expect you to do the same hours.

Another important thing here is to consider what happens if you don't want to take the offer. It may be that this could be some sort of formality, and they are planning to try this anyways. But seems you like this idea so this may not be an issue now.


Another important thing is that even though this is truly as good as it seems, you as a team should be extra careful not to slack off with this change. Sometimes being there actually helps a great deal in team productivity and synchronization.

I suggest you stick more to your periodical meetings (maybe make them a bit more frequent), as well as any other management or project tools you use.

  • 3
    I doubt they issue a new set of specifications or contracts. it seems more like a verbal agreement. – comxyz Oct 26 '17 at 16:30
  • 14
    @comxyz Just remember that a verbal agreement is only as good as the paper it's written on. – Chris E Oct 26 '17 at 17:47
  • 4
    @ChrisE That's true of most written agreements too, if we're being honest. Especially if the business is failing (or ultimately fails), enforcing even an iron-clad contract becomes problematic when there are no assets with which to pay a judgement. Honestly, when this strategy doesn't turn the company around, the deal will change and/or the company will fail, and everyone's out of a job. So... I don't really see the benefit of getting this in writing. – HopelessN00b Oct 26 '17 at 21:04
  • 1
    @HopelessN00b I think attempting to get this in writing would be harmful. It draws attention on yourself and would make the person the first target during a layoff (which I believe is inevitable anyway because I think they're being fed a line of crap). – Chris E Oct 26 '17 at 21:27
  • 2
    @jamesTrotter Normally a verbal agreement cannot overrule a written one. Any changes to a written contract of employment must have a written agreement. This is pretty standard everywhere. – StephenG Oct 28 '17 at 22:05
2

Accept, and enjoy the free time. The key is in your statement: "The company is not in a good shape". There's going to be re-organisation. There are going to be redundancies. Obviously you'll deliver more than 'slightly' less work in 4 days, compared to 5.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.