Can The Four-Day Work Week Prevent Burnout?


With BBC News reporting trials beginning in the UK for the Four-Day Working Week the main focus is on whether this will increase productivity and yet this isn’t the only benefit that the four-day week provides. True four day working works on the premise of the 100:80:100 ratio. 100% pay, 80% hours worked and maintaining 100% performance.


In 2014 when I founded The Chrysalis Crew, even before I had a business plan, I knew what the purpose and values would be. I’d burned out in 2013, the toxic environment, backstabbing by the Exec team and prolonged stress broke me. I’d ignored the signs of burnout for months and the physical symptoms became overwhelming. I knew there had to be a healthier way to work and a more ethical way of consulting.


In 2018 I wanted to reward the team at The Chrysalis Crew, provide them with a different sort of benefit, and yet with big investments into the business, I didn’t have pockets of cash. So, what could I provide the team that would be a long-term benefit to them, support the values and ethics of the business, and not be of a huge financial cost to the business?


I’d heard about the four-day working week, and as The Chrysalis Crew were known for doing things differently, decided that this could be the best solution. I spoke to my COO, we then discussed it with the team and we decided to trial it from January 2019. Three years later and it remains one of the best decisions ever made.


The apprehension from the team was initially unexpected. The immediate concern was that five day’s worth of work would have to be squeezed into four days and therefore there wouldn’t be a benefit, in fact the worry was that they’d become stressed and not feel the benefit. Plus, they were worried that they would have to pick up work on their non-working day.


As a team we worked together to make the initial trial run as smoothly as possible. We looked at everything we did, for the business and for clients, and removed anything that wasn’t adding value. We streamlined as many of our processes as possible, automating where we could and also looked at the services we provided. The decision was made to close on Monday’s and work Tuesday to Friday. The working hours on the working days could still remain flexible to suit the team and our clients.


Why Monday?

Over the years I’ve seen people work compressed hours, nine-day fortnights and part-time hours taking Friday’s off. Over a period of time, people reverted back to full time hours over a five day week, because it was too easy, and they faced too much pressure, to ‘pick work up’ on Friday’s or feel they needed to attend meetings. They were not allowed to maintain their flexibility because of business pressure and if they weren’t seen to be ‘all in’ and ‘doing what’s right for the organisation’ they were considered disloyal or disengaged. Their needs, personal lives and commitments came second the needs of the business over and over again, and so the ‘overtime’ on a Friday could only be reduced if they reverted back to a five day week.


Over the past few years when I’ve spoken to clients and other organisations about four day working I’ve been faced with apprehension, comments about how easy it is for small organisations like the one I was running but that it wouldn’t work for large organisations, and yet when Andrew Barnes starting to look at the four-day working week, it was as a result of the amount of unproductive and wasted time that goes on in so many organisations of every size. If you strip out the 20% of unproductive wasted time, you’re left with an 80% working week.


So many leaders are still focused on the amount of time that bums are on seats, and not enough time is focused on the outcomes and how long it takes to achieve these.


I’ve worked in organisations with over 300 priorities, yes, you read that right, over 300 priorities, which of course is ludicrous. There can never be 300 priorities. Most companies will agree that there are three priorities, look after your people, improve customer service, increase revenue. And the time being wasted on discussing these 300 priorities could absolutely have been spent better elsewhere.


In 2019, during the four-day week trial at The Chrysalis Crew, two big things kept coming each week; guilt and the pressure at home.


Guilt

We’ve all been so conditioned to believe that busy is a badge of honour and that unless we are working a 60+ hour week then we cannot be successful, so being given the gift of time, to use as you like, on whatever you like felt alien. Spending time on yourself, for yourself, felt inappropriate. The guilt of not being at work whilst family were working, felt too much. The feelings of ‘I should be at work’ were hard for some of the team to deal with. We talked it through regularly, continued to give permission to enjoy the time, worked on changing mindset and gave suggestions of what to do with the time. By the end of the trial, the guilt had disappeared.


Pressure at home

Some members of the team felt even more pressure by being gifted an extra day off each week because their partners were providing them lists of things to do on their day off. With these lists, the time wasn’t their own. And if the lists weren’t completed then there was guilt, sometimes arguments, and they couldn’t see the benefit of the day off, they might as well be working. When Charlotte Lockhart, Founder and CEO at 4 Day Week Global visited the team on her trip to the UK, she gave some insight into this. The day off tasks, were tasks that would need to be done anyway, usually at a weekend, usually eating into family time. By completing the tasks on the non-working day, more time was available at weekends allowing more time for fun with the family, this removed the pressure from those who had this concern.


So can Burnout be prevented by implementing a four day working week?


When the World Health Organization redefined Burnout in 2019 they said it was defined as:


“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;

  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and

  • reduced professional efficacy.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”


The Four Core-Ners

Burnout, whilst recognised as workplaces stress, doesn’t just impact our work, it impacts all four core-ners of our lives: Self, Relationships, Work and World. And whilst Burnout isn’t recognised as a Mental Health Condition or illness, it can lead to anxiety and depression as well as other physical health conditions if not identified and recovered from quickly.


One week off won’t prevent burnout

During 2021 we saw a number of leaders making the decision to close for one week in order to prevent burnout for their people. One week off whilst a lovely gift, will do little to prevent burnout or help people to recover from Burnout, if the working practices continue to add chronic workplace stress for people and do little to help manage this.


The same can be said for the four-day working week. If the workplace and workload remain stressful for prolonged periods of time, one day off a week will not prevent Burnout. But, if leaders create cultures and organisations that eliminate prolonged periods of stress and ensure that unnecessary, non-value added tasks are removed whilst cutting out meetings that are non-productive and time wasting, then the four day working week can help to prevent Burnout.


Managed effectively, four-day working has a benefit to people's lives, health, career and productivity. Add to that the economic and environmental benefits and it's a no-brainer. Charlotte Lockhart, CEO or Four Day Week Global visited with Kelly and the team on a trip to the UK and was so impressed with how they had implemented it, she regularly refers to them for people who want to consider this approach and suggested them for a research paper that she commissioned.


I stepped away from the operational running of The Chrysalis Crew in 2021 having moved my attention full-time to my own Coaching Practice, and I still maintain a four-day week, my goal is to be working three days a week by 2025. Four day working has become the norm and if I can do all I need to in that time, why would I extend the hours just for the sake of it.



The Chrysalis Crew were one of the very first businesses in the UK to trial this and to maintain it with many others having already followed suit. The more companies that embrace the true essence of four day working, the greater chance we have of preventing the next big issue in the UK, a mental health pandemic.


Kelly


In 2013, Kelly had a successful 15-year leadership career, yet she was burned out, exhausted, and missing out on life with family.

Determined to enjoy the success that she had earned, she's learned to create a life of balance and boundaries that is also highly successful.

Today, at kellyswingler.com, Kelly helps women leaders all over the world to prevent and recover from burnout by becoming their own VIPs, without giving up their career or jeopardising their wellbeing.


Join me at Power Up 2022