Reinventing Friday: Work, wellbeing and the 3-day weekend
Have you got that Friday feeling? But if Thursday is the new Friday, what is that Friday feeling and what does it mean in a four-day week?
In 1926, Henry Ford reduced the working week of his factory from six days down to five, motivated by the productivity gains of a better rested workforce. The predictable outcome was greater output off the production line. The consequences of an infrastructure built to accommodate these revolutionary motor vehicles were, however, less predictable. The motor highway led to better healthcare and nutrition as supply networks spread further away from rail and shipping routes, as well as an explosion in art and entertainment, from roadshow programming to the drive-in movie theater.
Transformed by the road and its infrastructural benefits, the smallest of Canada’s 10 provinces, Prince Edward Island (PEI), now hosts Canada’s largest population density. Snow still lingers on the ground as Josh, Emma and Toby, their nine year-old Schnauzer Mix, head out for an early walk. Josh works for Sensei Labs, one of the Canadian firms trialling the four-day work week. “The idea behind ‘4 Day Week’ is that it’s a gift,” he says. “There’s still the expectation that you're doing 100% of the work for 100% of the pay in 80% of the time.”
With trials in the US, Canada, the UK and across Europe, the four-day week is the latest remedy being explored for the global challenges of burnout and recruitment/retention, but how is it benefitting employees and what are the wider implications?
Until recently, Josh and Emma were based in Toronto. The normalization of remote working has allowed them to accelerate their long-term goal of moving to PEI, giving Toby more space. “We were in a basement apartment, so we had to take him for a lot of walks. He’s kind of a handful and needs a lot of attention,” explains Emma.
One of the many unopened packing boxes tumbles with a crash as Toby bounds through the front door of their new home. Some swift tidying and the couple settle in what will be their permanent remote working office, still bare, with only some shelves to store a multitude of brightly coloured discs (presumably for Toby’s amusement).
How was Josh’s transition to a four-day week? “I was pretty excited, but very early on the question quickly became, ‘How do I fit everything into four days?’ Sensei Labs took a very measured approach. They announced the four-day work week trial in the spring of 2022 and we started rolling it out in the fall. We’re just at the tail end of our trial.”
Emma’s firm is not part of the trial, so how has the couple adapted to their newly mismatched schedule? “I was happy for him, but I was also very jealous!” she laughs. “I had a ton of days off. I took them so we could go and do stuff together. That really helped with the adjustment.”
Josh beams with enthusiasm when discussing his new work/life balance. “It's a weekday, right? So things are open. There are so many things that are notoriously hard to coordinate your normal life around because they're only open during office hours. Just being able to go, walk in and get a haircut - it's a big thing.”
Bark! Crash! Josh and Emma leap up to check on Toby.
What are the benefits of a four-day work week?
According to one study, the average person will spend 47 days queuing over the course of their lifetime. No one likes to stand in line, but with more time to organize and attend those medical and dental check-ups only available during ‘standard’ business hours, could a third day off not also lead to a reduction in cases of those diseases that often go undetected?
Josh and Emma return. Toby sits on Emma’s lap, mostly voluntarily. Josh discusses the evolution of his Fridays. “Maybe I'd sleep in, or spend a few hours playing games or watching soccer, but then my instinct was to go do something. Now I have a Friday off, I see it as a big opportunity.” Emma interjects: Josh would go and play disc golf “pretty frequently.”
For the uninitiated, the Professional Disc Golf Association (no, really, it’s a thing) describes the sport as ‘much like golf [except] instead of a ball and clubs, players use a flying disc or Frisbee.’ PEI has become a hub for the sport, regularly hosting the national championships. With over a quarter of a million players registered, Josh is not alone in his enthusiasm. “I know at least two groups of guys from the Toronto community who vacation [on PEI]. That’s an 18-hour drive just to play disc golf here.”
Toby is also a fan. He lurches at the shelf of brightly coloured discs that, in retrospect, may not be his toys after all…
Recreational sport and leisure travel are predictable outcomes of a four-day week. However, as with the impact of Ford’s motor car, could that third day of rest not give rise to a regional renaissance of leisure and entertainment? Might a liberated audience be reinvigorated to travel further to experience those forms of culture in person, rather than remotely? Indeed, could increased audience demand give rise to new forms of experiential media beyond traditional sports venues, stages and screens?
Shelving calamity averted, Josh explains the escalating impact of disc golf on his Fridays. He now operates a course on the Glenaladale Estate. “The estate is run by a non-profit. They wanted to get more people out to the community, especially younger people. We have about 30 acres or so - a mix of wooded and clear terrain. Some Fridays I’m out there all day working with chainsaws. The course just opened last year, so there's a lot of work that still needs to be done and we’re changing things constantly.”
Amateur tree surgery may not be everybody’s ideal start to a three-day weekend, but with 20% of people’s ‘standard’ working week no longer allocated to their employer, could the four-day week lead to a resurgence within the voluntary sector? Will workers choose to sleep in or might they take the opportunity to work with non-profits, re-establishing their engagement and presence within local communities?
Josh continues, “Now, I'm doing administrative tasks related to the course more than anything. Ordering those discs,” he points at the shelf behind him, “helping establish a new brand, working with the designer and getting incorporated as a business. We put countless hours into it. The funding for it was initially done through a government program, as non-profit. Now we’ve incorporated and transitioned into a pay-to-play course with annual memberships.”
So, is a new work schedule really worth it?
Much has been made of the gig economy and side hustles, but could the four-day week give workers the opportunity to fully explore their entrepreneurial aspirations without cost to their principal employer? Could a standardized three-day weekend give rise to a generation with dual careers in a new era of artisanal products and boutique services, revitalizing local economies?
Emma returns, leaving Toby with a squeaky playmate in the kitchen. It is clear that Josh has fully adapted to the four-day week. “I would be shocked if in the next two years more companies were not introducing it in some way,” she says. “There are all these offshoot benefits. Whether it's in two years, or five, I would imagine that it will be the norm.”
So what will Josh be doing with Friday this week? “Spring being sprung, we’re starting a league this coming Sunday, changing our layout and putting up all kinds of signage.” Okay, but if Thursday night is the new Friday night… “So I bought a laminator. I'll be laminating signs tonight.” They both laugh, shaking their heads.
With the global adoption of a remote working infrastructure, new technology has once again presented opportunities to evolve working practices. The four-day week is gaining traction around the world with almost all of the 61 employers in the [UK] trial keen to keep the new model. If this model is indeed the future, then the next challenge may be to help workers to operate differently, balancing their traditional employment commitments with their own aspirations, for a golden age of wellbeing, engagement, self-expression and presence.