170. 4 day workweek

More workers are calling for a four-day workweek, with many claiming that it increases productivity, revenue, and workplace satisfaction. In today’s episode, we dive into the subject with show producer William Jeffries who is in the enviable position of having the mythic four-day workweek. While it didn’t seem impactful to him from the outset, William lays down the math showing that moving to a four-day workweek shifts the workday to weekend ratio from 2.5 to one to 1.3 to one. We talk about William’s other atypical work arrangement, which is that he works in South Korea while his team is in California. After touching on the lifestyle of sleeping whenever you’re tired, regardless of traditional sleep and work times, we discuss the arguments against the four-day workweek. Looking at the argument that four-day workweeks benefit your competitors, William suggests that instead of valuing the length of your workweek, we should instead focus on the product strength and your place in the market. We then talk about the challenges of negotiating your four-day workweek and the sacrifices that it might require. We touch on how the pandemic and the need to sustain your mental health puts you in a good position to negotiate for a four-day workweek. At the end of the episode, we offer a bolder strategy for getting a four-day workweek. One that involves finding another job. Listen to this episode to hear more about the four-day workweek. Along with remote working, it might be the future of work.


Key Points From This Episode:


  • Producer William Jeffries shares his experience of working a four-day week.
  • The significant effect of the four-day workweek in shifting your workday to weekend ratio.
  • Time zone confusion from living in South Korea and having a team in California.
  • How a four-day work-week might be one of many variables leading to increased productivity.
  • A new lifestyle idea; sleeping whenever you’re tired and working whenever you’re awake.
  • How William hasn’t been able to pick up on any shortfalls due to a four-day workweek.
  • The idea that your competitors want you to be working a four-day workweek.
  • Needing someone on call versus having a four-day weekend.
  • How William negotiated for his four-day workweek; you might have to sacrifice to get yours.
  • Why the pandemic is a good time to ask for days off to nurture your mental health.
  • Finding a four-day workweek by applying to other jobs.
  • And much more!

Transcript for Episode 170. 4 day workweek




[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast. Live from the boogie down Bronx. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Our co-host today.


[0:00:09.3] DA: Dave Anderson.


[0:00:10.1] MN: And our producer.


[0:00:11.3] WJ: William Jeffries.


[0:00:13.3] MN: Today, we’ll be talking about the four-day workweek, is it a good idea or a bad idea, we’re here to discuss.


[0:00:20.2] DA: I don’t know, how am I supposed to work 60 hours in four-days? That just seems too much, that is nuts.


[0:00:30.5] MN: You are a crazy person.


[0:00:32.4] DA: I mean, that’s just what we do, right?


[0:00:35.3] MN: That’s the American way, I guess right now. William, you mentioned before we started recording that you have currently been working in the four-day workweek fashion, tell us about the dream, the paradise that is a four-day workweek?


[0:00:49.3] WJ: I was surprised at how big of a difference it made in my quality of life because you know, I was thinking, one extra day doesn’t really seem like that big of a deal. It’s just one day. But what I didn’t realize is the ratio of weekday to weekend is 2.5 to one? You got five workdays and two weekend days, it’s 2.5 to one. When you move one day from the weekday column to the weekend column, it actually has doubled the impact because you’re adding a weekend day.


Your ratio goes down to 1.3 to one. It’s four week days to three weekend days, it’s almost a one to one ratio of workday to weekend.


[0:01:39.4] DA: that’s just math right there.


[0:01:40.9] WJ: Yeah, The weekend is just so much more restorative, not just because it’s an extra day longer, it’s 50% longer but because it needs to compensate for so much less.


[0:01:55.5] MN: It sounds like it’s great because you gained more of a weekend just by that one day till you got like an extra day of break and then stress doesn’t pile up as much because you lost a day at work, does that make sense?


[0:02:08.2] WJ: Yeah. You know, if you work a stressful job, you kind of rely on your weekends to restore your sanity and sometimes it feels like, you know, the weekend wasn’t really enough and you come back on Monday and you’re like, I’m still kind of toasted from last week.


[0:02:23.8] MN: Right, I guess I’ll ask you since you’re currently doing the four-day workweek — what day do you take off? Is it like on — do you take Mondays because Mondays are the worst and then your Tuesday’s the new Monday? Or do you take Friday off to start the weekend early so you know, you can go and have a drink while everyone’s busy at work. Do you do it straight down the middle, Wednesday, what’s your day?


[0:02:46.8] WJ: This is extra weird because I am in Korea and my team is in San Francisco. And so I take Mondays off but they think I take Fridays off because of time zones.


[0:03:05.4] MN: Wait, what happened to Saturday and — wait, what?


[0:03:08.9] WJ: It’s crazy.


[0:03:09.6] DA: You’re going to have to write this math out for me. I got the other math but this one is some ‘Beautiful Mind’ stuff here. Like the marker on the window.


[0:03:20.3] MN: Bro, that’s 48 hours, where did the 48 hours go? What day do you take off in Korea?


[0:03:27.7] WJ: In Korea, I take Monday off, right? But Monday in Korea is Sunday in California.


[0:03:36.3] MN: Right.


[0:03:38.8] DA: That’s when everyone else is taking Sunday off too.


[0:03:42.0] WJ: Right. And then, when Friday rolls around in Korea time, I’m like, all right, it’s the end of my day, I’m done for the week and everybody’s like, but it’s Thursday here. You're not coming in tomorrow, you’re not coming in on Friday. And I’m like no, Friday is Saturday, and tomorrow is Saturday.


[0:04:04.2] MN: I see. You take Friday, which is at the end of Friday, which is the end of Thursday, you’re off. Friday happens so that you have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and then you come back.


[0:04:18.7] WJ: That’s what they think. From their perspective, I’m off on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, right? But from my perspective, I’m off Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, because I live in the future. I’m a day ahead.


[0:04:33.1] MN: Yo Bobby, you are the new time lord, bro.


[0:04:37.1] DA: I mean, I have seen Cloud Atlas and South Korea is in the future I think, that’s true.


[0:04:45.1] MN: I guess, the question I have is, do you find that because of the extra weekend that the job is less strenuous or like less stressful and you come back energized like ready to tackle the upcoming days?


[0:05:02.7] WJ: Yeah, I definitely feel more productive on this team than on previous teams where I worked a five day workweek, although, there are a lot of other variables. I don’t know if I can directly attribute that to the four-day workweek like one of the other weird things about being in the opposite side of the planet from your team is that my team is asleep for most of my day and because of that, I can go to sleep in the middle of the day and nobody knows.


[0:05:36.1] DA: Damn, seven-day weekend.


[0:05:41.6] MN: The seven-day weekend.


[0:05:41.4] WJ: I’ve been doing some serious napping and I got to tell you man, if the four-day week is a revelation then the midday nap is —


[0:05:51.9] MN: It’s clutch.


[0:05:54.1] DA: You got a nap pod, you got a four-day workweek, living in the future.


[0:06:00.8] WJ: Here’s what I do, okay? If I am tired, I sleep. And then whenever I’m not tired anymore, I get up and start working again.


[0:06:08.3] MN: That’s probably like the working agreement with your team, as like, as long as the work gets done is like the idea.


[0:06:14.8] WJ: Yeah, I got to do a certain amount and I got to be productive but exactly when that work happens, doesn’t really matter. I mean, I have a morning meeting which is their evening so you know, I have to be awake for that. But the rest of it, it’s like, you know, whenever you are — want to work, you can work, it’s okay and I don’t know.


I heard this guy on a podcast say this thing that he was doing where he would just sleep whenever he was tired and wake up whenever he rises. He’s like, that is insane, you’re a crazy person, that could not possibly work. And then I tried it and it’s amazing.


[0:06:50.9] MN: Today, I would have, like, totally just passed out during demo, during our sprint review, I was so pooped. I don’t know. I don’t know, there’s got to be a downside, right? Do you feel like your colleagues are crushing you in lines of code? In the keyest of key metrics, are they just like pumping out so much more code than you are?


[0:07:19.8] WJ: I don’t really check those metrics. I don’t know. Maybe this is a question for the product manager or —


[0:07:28.0] DA: — You got to get on that, you got to get blame, look at those lines of code, check out, go reach out to friend of the show, Jacob O’Donnell. He’s got a script, he’ll let you know. —


[0:07:41.0] MN: — Yeah, that’s right, he does have a script that like, we’ll investigate who is doing what, who is slacking off, William, if you’re slacking off, you gotta watch out.


[0:07:51.3] WJ: Right, yes. The person who adds the most lines of code is definitely the best coder.


[0:07:59.6] MN: When you have ascended to a point to where it’s like, “I’m not checking those things, I know I’m useful, and the team knows I’m useful, and everyone’s okay, everyone’s happy with the work that he’s doing and he’s crushing it.” Good on you William, that’s awesome.


[0:08:12.1] DA: I mean, I guess, you guys have a commitment as a team, right? You’re meeting the team commitment.


[0:08:19.0] MN: I imagine there’s no complaints.


[0:08:20.7] WJ: You know, the team seems pretty happy with me, I don’t have any complaints and honestly, because of the timezone thing, I think some people just straight up do not know that I work four days instead of five.


[0:08:31.2] MN: Work just gets done and okay. We give William some work, it get done, four days, five days, sounds good.


[0:08:39.0] WJ: They’re just like yeah, that’s that guy who is not in meetings because he’s in Korea.


[0:08:42.7] MN: Man, I hate you. I would love to be that person. Can’t make it to the meeting, I’ll get the work done, don’t worry about it.


[0:08:50.4] DA: Sorry, we’re a day ahead in the Bronx.


[0:08:55.0] MN: I wish.


[0:08:56.6] DA: International dateline just really taking a weird left turn around the Bronx.


[0:09:02.4] MN: We did run into an article. If you right now take the time, as you’re still listening to type in, the four-day workweek, you’re probably going to get two different articles, one that tells you, what’s the pros and cons, you know, a sane person will look at the pros and cons of something. But then there’s another one that’s just like “Hey, the four-day workweek is a terrible idea” and I think we want to kind of just read them and then talk to William to see if they’re true or not.


[0:09:30.5] DA: Well, I mean, this one’s definitely true. Your competition wants you to skip Fridays or Mondays, depending on where you are in the dateline I guess. It’s true, William, I do want you to skip Fridays.


[0:09:46.8] MN: As a competitor, he wants you to skip Fridays. It’s so weird.


[0:09:50.1] DA: I’m getting those lines of code in.


[0:09:53.9] MN: It seems like the business doesn’t see their competitors as a threat, where it’s okay for their team members to take a day off. Good on you?


[0:10:03.9] WJ: This is predicated on the notion that the number of hours that you work is directly correlated to the amount of work that you get done, right? If that were true, then competitors would — could plausibly be said to care how many hours you’re working, right? But I think the reality is that your competitors care how many features you’re building, what features you have, like how good your product is. Are you beating them in the market? They don’t care whether you work Sundays or Wednesdays or Fridays or whatever.


[0:10:39.8] DA: Yeah, there may be a frame of management theory that considers like the late 1800s before the advent of labor laws to be the true peak of productivity for the human race, you know? People crushing like you know, 13 hour days, six days a week.


[0:11:02.1] WJ: Yeah, bring in baby Gio into the factory to start doing some manual labor.


[0:11:06.7] MN: Can we do that now? He needs a job, he needs to carry some money around here.


[0:11:10.8] DA: Right, he’s going to buy his own milkshakes.


[0:11:13.4] MN: Exactly, can’t be spilling them all over the floor if he’s not paying for it, get out of here.


[0:11:17.3] DA: Something that I’m wondering about is like, it seems like you have a lot of separation. Not everyone is doing four-days a week at your company but you’re separated by time and distance. Nobody’s bugging you, they’re not going to wake up at midnight, I imagine, and reach out to you. Or have you ever had something happen where you had to respond to a situation that occurred on Saturday, their Friday?


[0:11:52.7] WJ: No, it hasn’t come up yet. I mean, I’ve only been on this project for a couple of months so maybe it will but so far so good.


[0:11:59.4] MN: I imagine that your — if they were to respond during your Saturday or your weekend and you didn’t respond back that, like, your team will probably be honest enough with you to say like “Hey, we were trying to reach out to you, is everything okay?” Then, if a new working agreement needs to be drafted because they need you to work five days a week, then that’s like a discussion that whether you want to put your foot down and say “Hey, I want to work four-days a week still so don’t change that.” Or like, the working agreement is going to change where you may have to work those five days.


But I think like you mentioned, since you’ve only been there for a couple of months, you can’t assess whether it’s been a huge issue enough where complaints are coming in.


[0:12:43.1] WJ: Yeah, I mean, if somebody wanted to get in touch with me, they would ping me on Slack and if I — I have Slack on my phone. So, I mean, I guess if I wanted to respond, I could and I definitely would see it on my Tuesday, their Monday. When I sign online to start my week. And you know, because I’ve only been on the project for a couple of months, I think it’s hard to say for sure that this will never come up but I think that’s also true for people who work five days a week.


Even if you’re on the same time zone, same office as everybody, like, sometimes things come up over the weekend and I don’t’ know, that’s not going to change just because you’re working four-days a week.


[0:13:25.3] MN: Right, we all work with an internet connection so they could bother us at any time to make sure something is up and running.


[0:13:25.3] WJ: Right, I mean, if your website goes down, like, hard down and most of your revenue is generated over the weekend, you need to have an on call rotation. You need to have a working agreement. You need to have somebody who is able to respond on weekends, like, that’s just the reality.


Hopefully, you have enough infrastructure management and like engineering in place that weekend outages are extremely rare. You can’t ignore the possibility that something could go wrong but I think that’s a separate issue from the “What day the weekend falls on or how many days the weekend lasts.”


[0:14:16.1] DA: Right. Yeah, just like a different conversation because like, especially in your case, where the weekend is different, what’s one day to you is completely different for the people in the States. I have one last question I guess I’ll ask you and let me know if you don’t have an answer. Suppose I’m working five days a week, do I just, like, roll up in my manager’s office, like, “Hey, I want four-days but you have to pay me the same exact amount.” Is that, like, suggested? Or do you think about, like, “I’ll take 80% of the pay to work four-days a week? How did that work for you? Did it just manage to work in a way that benefited from both parties for you to work four-days a week?


[0:15:00.3] WJ: I think if you already work at a company and they don’t’ have a four-day workweek and you just roll up and ask for one, I think you’re fighting an uphill battle there and then maybe saying you’re going to take 80% of the pay is a good way to get that done. I think the problem is, you're going to need to make some sacrifices. Because, I don’t know, the status quo is you know, that you’re not going to get a four-day workweek and you're going to have some trouble challenging that.


I negotiated this at the beginning when I took the job. And so there wasn’t really any precedent. It just, I mean, there were lots of reasons why it made sense. Not least of which being that I didn’t want to work Saturdays, which would have been required if I were going to work a five-day workweek and overlap with that team.


[0:15:50.3] MN: Yeah, that sounds really rough, I don’t think, even if, like you wouldn’t ask for anyone to do that in the States to — I need you to work Tuesday through Saturday. Like that sounds like hard to do and sounds harsh essentially.


[0:16:04.1] WJ: At least, in this industry, in engineering.


[0:16:07.3] MN: Well, you heard William, if your current place doesn’t have the four-day workweek, you may have to do some harsh negotiations to make that happen. And expect the company might still say no unfortunately because you know, in America, you gotta work those 60 hours! And what way to do that, how are you going to do that in four days? That doesn’t make any sense.


But I do imagine, in the times of COVID, where they may be a little bit more lenient, you know, they may actually allow the four-day workweek to happen. Because it’s, as William mentioned, it’s easy on the mind and you know, you want to come back to work with more energy and stuff. Give it a try, I don’t know, or don’t. I don’t want you to try this, go to your boss’s office and then try and you get fired, right? Don’t listen to me, don’t ever listen to anything I say.


But the idea is that, I think it would have been helpful for, you know, your mental health. If you feel like you need the extra day and like, definitely talk to your  manager about that, they can give you some more insight, more information.


[0:17:09.0] WJ: What I would do is, I would get an offer from another company that includes a four-day workweek and that seems like an offer I would be interested in taking. And then I would go back to my boss and say “Hey, I really want to continue to work here but I want to switch to a four-day workweek.” And if your boss says, like, “Hey, we need you to take a 20% pay cut or we need you to make it up on weekends,” or, I don’t know, something that you’re not willing to agree to. Then you just say, “Look, you know, this is really important to me, I would like to stay here, if you can’t make this happen then I’m just going to have to go to a different company.” And then if he says no, then go to the other company.


[0:17:52.4] MN: There you go, I mean, that’s the negotiation tactic I imagine, that’s a whole other episode we can get to. But with that in mind, yeah, that sounds like a path towards that. And you know, continue to do the research on whether four-day workweek is for you and if so, you know, try to do the best to live that four-day workweek life. I mean, William is doing it effortlessly living in the future and stuff.


[0:18:16.6] DA: Taking naps.


[0:18:17.8] MN: Yeah, taking naps, living in the future.




[0:18:20.7] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five star review and help developers like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole. And never miss an episode, subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.




Links and Resources:


The Rabbit Hole on Twitter


William Jeffries

Michael Nunez

David Anderson

Jacob O’Donnell

A Beautiful Mind

Cloud Atlas

‘Why the 4-Day Workweek is a Terrible Idea’