We are in the middle of a shift. Not just in the way we think post-pandemic, but we are already in a global reinvention. Right now, business and life are evolving in a way we never could have anticipated. The 40 hour workweek is disappearing.
There have been signs for decades, but the global covid-19 pandemic has shaken loose thoughts and feelings that have been below the surface. After seeing how we can work remotely, have freedom in schedules, and flexibility, very few people want things to go back exactly how it used to be.
Don’t get me wrong, there were many people that suffered and struggled through the pandemic. It wasn’t all making sourdough and watching Tiger King (but I sure did that). But even in industries that one would think couldn’t transition online, explosive creativity took over.
This shift is happening because of five major changes in ideas and understanding of our history, current worker frustrations, and opportunities moving forward.
The Babylonians made up the seven day week
Thousands of years ago, the Babylonias started the seven day week. There’s nothing in nature that says it should be seven days. They believed there were seven major celestial bodies: sun, moon, earth, Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter.
In nature a year makes sense, since that’s how long it takes us to go around the sun. A day makes sense, because of the rotation. Months pretty much follow the moon cycle. But we could just as easily have had a five day week with 73 weeks.
In fact, the Romans had an eight day week and the Egyptians had a ten day week. Our global schedules and calendars didn’t even align until the mid-twenty first century!
In other words, we made all of this up!
Henry Ford gave us the 40 hour workweek
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the average person worked 10-14 hour days, 6-7 days a week. Protest groups, unions, and workers tried to create better conditions. It wasn’t until 1926, when Henry Ford switched to a 40 hour workweek that things began to shift. Ford did this primarily to sell more cars to his workers. He had the belief that if they had more time to recreate, he could sell more cars to them.
Other businesses, labor unions, and advocates pushed for a 40 hour workweek. It was a huge step in the evolution of business. But it was based on the Industrialist model of people being part of a machine.
Fridays were already dying
Remember ABC’s TGIF line-up. This programming block in the late 80s and early 90s was a huge hit. TGIF was all about kicking off the weekend. But when we really look at Fridays, they really have been a half worked day. It’s when people host birthday parties or baby showers. Maybe it’s a visioning day or team-building-trust-fall-let’s-all-bond day. Employees are planning their weekend and putting in enough work to make it seem like they’re working a full day.
Friday was already cheating on the workweek, it was part of the weekend. Then the 2020-21 covid-19 pandemic hit and it all came to light.
We realized that we can get the same amount done in a shorter period of time. With no commute, many of us realized that we could manage our kids, zoom, lunches, and adulting more efficiently. Sure, there was a lot to juggle and most of us hated managing zoom school, with work, and household duties. But, for many of us, we saw that the old Industrialist model was already dead.
We aren’t just part of a machine. In fact, just like 1926 shifted us into a 40 hour workweek and away from the 10-14 hour days, we might now be living through the same level of transformation.
The four-day workweek research
Next was the Iceland study. This large scale study evaluated over 2,500 people who worked fewer hours. Most of the reporting quotes it as an “overwhelming success.” Workers are happier and more productive.
Other countries like Spain, New Zealand, and Denmark are testing the four-day workweek. One community college in southwest Michigan, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, has been doing a four-day workweek in the summers for years. They’ve saved millions on just air conditioning costs, while also improving health outcomes of staff and serving students at times they prefer.
Study after study keeps showing us that this shift will occur in our generation.
But there are still Industrialists among us. Questions like, “If we cut a day, won’t we lose 20% of our profits?” still are common.
But step back for a moment and think about that. Is Friday as productive as Monday? When you slow down and actually refresh your mind and body, do you do better work or worse work? How sloppy and redundant are you when you’re stressed out and maxed out?
Deep down, we all know that Friday is not productive, so let’s just move it to the weekend column.
How to do a four-day workweek
Right now, we are in the messy middle. We no longer believe that people are machines. Imagine if you had another day to clean, get ready, buy groceries, or in some way feel like you have your act together. How much more relaxing would a Saturday and Sunday be?
The first step is to test giving yourself less time. It could be one less hour or day. Do this for a set period of time, for example, take Fridays off for one month and see if your productivity drops. During this time, find a way to evaluate success. How will you measure if it’s worth it. If you’re employed, talk to your supervisor about doing an experiment. It may be leaving at noon on Friday. It doesn’t matter, just work less in some way.
Next, genuinely unplug when you’re not working. The #hustle culture makes you feel like you need to always be running full tilt. But that’s just not how the brain works. Instead, slowing down will actually help you kill it when you’re back to working. Set clear boundaries around what you will and won’t do during your time off.
Lastly, look at the data. Was it a success? What information did you receive? Where did you drop the ball? Maybe you need to cut things from your schedule or outsource them. Either way, the data will help you move toward making Thursday the New Friday!
Joe Sanok is the author of Thursday is the New Friday: How to work fewer hours, make more money, and spend time doing what you want. It examines how the four-day workweek boosts creativity and productivity. Joe has been featured on Forbes,
GOOD Magazine, and the Smart Passive Income Podcast. He is the host of the popular The Practice of the Practice Podcast, which is recognized as one of the Top 50 Podcasts worldwide with over 100,000 downloads each month. Bestselling authors, experts, scholars, and business leaders and innovators are featured and interviewed in the 550 plus podcasts he has done over the last six years.