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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

The 4-Day Week's Potential To Reshape Business And Society

Two smiling men discussing the 4-day week on the Sticky From The Inside podcast
Dr. Dale Whelehan (left) and Andy Goram (right) discuss how the 4-day week can reshape business and society

In my most recent episode of Sticky From The Inside, I got to speak to Dale Whelehan, CEO of Four Day Week Global, about the growing momentum behind the 4-day week and ask him to share his views on the potential benefits and challenges of implementing the time-saving strategy. With a background in healthcare and research, Dale champions the idea of a shorter workweek to improve employee well-being and productivity. In what I hope is a lively and informative episode, we address concerns about stress and burnout, look at highlighting the psychological benefits of reduced working hours, and provide valuable insights into the transformative impact of this model on organisations and society as a whole.

Dale's evidence-based approach and global perspective offered practical considerations for businesses looking to enhance work-life balance and overall productivity and by shedding light on the approaches and experiences in different countries and industries, we offer up some insights on the multifaceted benefits and potential challenges of embracing this alternative work structure. If you're a business leader seeking to create a more sustainable and equitable work environment while enhancing employee well-being, this episode may just be useful in helping you assess your own opportunities, and if you, like me are an interested individual, perhaps looking to influence your workplace to look at this phenomenon, it may just help you too.


You can listen to the full episode on the player below, or read the following transcript.


Podcast Introduction

00:00:10 - Andy Goram

Hello and welcome to Sticky from the Inside, the employee engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier, competition-smashing, consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host, Andy Goram, and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tons more success for everyone.


This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode, we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work, and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it. So if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.


The 4-Day Week In Context

Okay, today we delve deep into one of the most transformative ideas reshaping our work environment today, and that's the four-day workweek. The concept of trimming down the traditional workweek has ignited a global debate fuelled by a post pandemic re-evaluation of work life priorities. Advocates argue that a four-day workweek could herald a new era of productivity, happiness, and environmental sustainability, pointing to pilot programs and companies worldwide that report significant success. Yet as momentum builds, so do the questions and controversies. How does the idea stack up against concerns of workload, stress and the feasibility about it working across different industries. Amid rising living costs, particularly in places like the UK, can a shorter workweek offer a buffer, or does it pose new challenges for those grappling with economic pressures? Furthermore, with the rapid advancement of AI and technology, there's an opportunity at our doorstep, I think. Could this shift in how we work encourage a leap towards redefining the role of work in our lives, prioritizing long term wellbeing and innovation over immediate profits?


Well, I'm joined today by our special guest, Dale Whelehan, CEO of the Four-day week Global. It's a non-profit organisation supporting the idea of the four-day week, globally, Dale's a trailblazer, championing a shift towards a more sustainable, balanced, and productive work life model, which means we absolutely am the very, very best person with us today to help understand more about it and what those opportunities are that it provides. And on that note, today's conversation is just about unpacking the four-day workweek as a concept. It's about critically examining its implications, understanding its challenges, and envisioning its potential to reshape our society and economy. So join me as I engage in what I hope will be an enlightening conversation with Dale, exploring the possibilities that lie ahead and what could be the future of work.

Welcome to the show, Dale.

 

00:03:24 - Dale Whelehan

Hi Andy. Thank you so much for having me.

 

00:03:26 - Andy Goram

Oh, fab to have you here. I mean, talk about hot topic. I mean, is there any topic hotter than the four-day workweek right now?

00:03:34 - Dale Whelehan

Probably not, but that's pretty good business from my end.

 

Introduction to Dr Dale Whelehan

00:03:39 - Andy Goram

Well, we're going to get into this in a sec, but before we do, Dale, just do me a little quick favour, would you? Can we just get a little bit of a background into you, what you've been up to and where your focus is now?

 

00:03:50 - Dale Whelehan

Yeah, sure. So my own background is a bit colourful. I originally trained as a healthcare worker, so as a physiotherapist in the Irish healthcare system called the HSE. And I was always interested in health and wellbeing of people, but realised pretty early on that physiotherapy was not the way in which I was going to achieve that sort of life mission. And so I went into the world of research after that and I did a PhD looking at the impact of sleep deprivation and fatigue on performance in surgeons. And it was during my PhD that the pandemic hit us. So while working part time as a physio and doing my PhD and evaluating the surgeons that I was working with, I became acutely aware that the systems in which we operate are not really working for us. And if anything, the pandemic showed us that to a much larger degree.


I went after that and I went into corporate for two years and tried to hone in some of my skills in behavioural science and leadership, and worked with public and private sector enterprises. And what I've realised over the last few years is that organisational leaders are really struggling to understand how do you make business sustainable? How do you build performance in a sustainable way that's not going to constantly compromise on staffing, or on profits? And I don't think many leaders have cracked that code just yet. I've been always interested in is getting back to the idea of improving people's health and well-being. And it was through that lens of how can we create sustainable well-being to create sustainable performance that the idea of the four-day week came to the forefront for me. So I was volunteering with the Irish campaign at the time and eventually studying as CEO of 4-day-week Global. What we have found is that there is a much broader narrative here beyond just people and business, but actually reduce working time being good for issues of equity, sustainability and health within our societies. I think with all of the global trends that we're seeing now around mental health crises, political turmoil, economic turmoil, we need a new paradigm in how we approach work in a way that isn't going to burn the entire workforce out. And we are hoping through the conversation over four-day week that either the conversation around reduced working hours, but it's actually a broader conversation around how we approach work in a way that's going to future fit us for the global challenges that we undoubtedly face now and we continue to face into the future.

 

The Purpose Of The 4-Day Work Week

00:06:18 - Andy Goram

I did say in the intro this isn't about just discussing what the four-day workweek is, but just to get everybody on the same page. What do you see as the primary purpose behind the four-day workweek?

 

00:06:30 - Dale Whelehan

Depends who I'm talking to. So if I'm speaking to business leaders, it is how can we figure out how to get the most out of your human resource, and how do we get people to work smarter but not longer? We see in businesses constantly efforts to innovate and become more efficient and lean and agile. But what those interventions fail to account for is that human motivation is what's going to drive the effectiveness of any change in an organisation. So you need to figure out how do you motivate your workforce intrinsically to actually want to improve efficiencies. And if your workforce feels that they're doing that with the view to getting more work, it's just never going to work. I think guaranteeing time, which is a hugely valuable asset for people, in return for improved efficiency, it's like the, you know, the golden equation. When speaking, though. And what drives me more so is I look to the future, my future, and the future that I hope my kids that I have will enter into. And very much I feel this burden of responsibility to actually try and make change at this point. And my own expertise being in the space of organisational psychology and behavioural science, that's how I can best improve this world by leveraging my skills, is truly changing how we approach work.

 

00:07:48 - Andy Goram

It certainly sounds like a perfect fit. The purpose I get of the four-day workweek, and I want this to be a really positive view about where we could go. But I would be lacking if I didn't kind of like, flag up some of the, I guess, concerns or criticisms that four-day work week gets. And then perhaps we should kind of lay some of those out on the table before we start so that we can respond to them and take them apart, Dale. Listening to what you've just sort of said there, there is a view that is well, you're just going to get the same amount of work out of the employees in a shorter amount of time. And actually that's going to lead to more stress, more burnout, more dissatisfaction at work. And I'm sure there's a massive piece about how we implement and technically what we do with a four-day work versus what we do today. But how do you respond to that? Because that must be a question you get asked an awful lot.

 

Addressing Concerns & Criticisms

00:08:44 - Dale Whelehan

Yeah, totally. And thankfully, in the organisations that we've worked with, over 300 to date, on the contrary, we found burnout reducing, stress reducing, people feeling like they have more control over their schedule and their time. And it's because of just what you said. This is the 4-day-week implementation alone is not the only answer, it is how it is implemented that is going to lead to the real benefits. So reduced working time is good, it helps to create better parity between work and life, but ultimately, it's the transformation organisations undergo in order to achieve the same level of output or performance standards while doing so in less amount of time. So we use this principle, it's called Parkinson's Law, which is that work will fill the allocations of time that it's given. And so if you give someone a task that's 40 hours, or we give it to them for 20 hours to complete it, people will focus in and narrow in on what the key activities are that's going to drive the realization of that outcome versus if there's a longer period of time, they will find work to add to it that's not necessarily productive. So one of the largest things that we see with organisations as they undergo this transformation is they do change work. They change how they approach work, both within individuals, teams and leadership.


Working time or meeting time is one of the major things we see producing. So we have become death by Zoom, death by MS Teams. And really what I think is driving a lot of that is actually poor leadership. It's an unwillingness of leadership to actually make a decision there and then instead kicking the can down the line. So it's a behaviour within teams, but it's actually a change in leadership style as well, to be more deliberate, make quicker decisions, make more informed decisions. That's one thing we see. We see a change with regards to how people approach their working week. So actually being much more deliberate around what are the key outcomes that I must achieve by Thursday close of business, assuming that it's Friday that we're going to close, and then working backwards. So actually saying,

Okay, I will have deep individual flow work on Mondays and Wednesdays for three to 4 hours, and I'm not be disturbed during that time because it's critical time for me to achieve my outcomes. I will have meetings from two until four on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But those meeting times are actually an opportunity for me to collaborate, create new things, innovate. It's not meetings for the sakes of meetings.”

So every single activity and work has to have a deliberate outcome associated with it. And I think when people get into that, that outcome-based way of thinking, they realise I actually don't need five days’ worth of work. I can be much more highly reliable with regards to how I approach my work week, and I can get the most important work done in less time and be less stressed as a result of it. The reality is, what causes people to be stressed and burned out is actually not workload per se. It is actually all things around workload. It is not getting decisions made quick enough. It's, you know, poor communication, it's poor leadership, it's poor culture. And a 4-day-week forces organisations to reflect introspectively and see what are the current barriers to us being able to actually achieve the same in less amount of time. Identifying those and then actually trying to resolve those. Resolving them works because you have this vested interest of both management and non-management on wanting to make this work, because there's mutual benefits for both parties.

 

00:12:32 - Andy Goram

Raoul, I think that alignment piece is absolutely crucial here. I mean, only last week I was working with a bunch of young, thrusting managers in Hospitality, and we're having a great time talking about productivity and what have you, and then all of a sudden we just hit this wall of an issue of, like, Teams being something like, evil, because everybody had just taken mad control of their diaries and their calendars and stuff is just flying in all the time, and they felt completely powerless to really control their workweek. And, you know, to me, listening to how you describe that ideal four-day workweek, it's a nirvana. These are my focus days. These are my collaborative days. These are my creative days. That takes an awful lot of alignment and agreement and the restructuring of work and some real discipline right, behind those things.

 

Understanding Human Motivation & Organisational Behaviour

00:13:21 - Dale Whelehan

Absolutely. And humans are messy. So, like, organisational behaviour is one of the most complex things that we actually do. It's why we have whole consultancy businesses who are, you know, cured to try and help organisations with these issues. But what behaviour change within organisations fails to often account for is actually how do you motivate people to want to make the change? And, you know, this is where my behavioural science background comes out is that we need to understand the science behind human motivation. And all research would suggest that there's three psychological needs that we need to fulfil in order to feel a high level of intrinsic motivation. That's the type of motivation that we want our workforce to have. They're doing this change because they want to, because they feel good about it, not because it's enforced upon them.


Those three psychological needs are feeling of doing a good job, feeling confident in what they're doing. In the traditional five-day work week, we have such poor parameters of what good looks like because we use time as this arbitrary metric of dedication to the job, loyalty to the job. You're good because you stay long hours. In a four-day week, we say time is no longer allowed to be used as an evaluation metric. You must focus on outcomes, and the ownness is on leadership to actually define what good looks like in HR, what good looks like in tech, what good looks like in sales, and that's hard. And that's the process that we undergo with leadership. In defining,

Well, you talk about productivity, but what is productivity in your frontline staff or your admin staff?”

That's one. Once you can define what those productivity metrics look like, you can start crafting competency and a feeling of doing a good job, because people can see whether they're reaching those standards or not.


The Psychological Impact Of Work Hours

The second thing is a sense of autonomy in our work, or a sense of autonomy over our time. By gifting people more time, obviously you are giving them more autonomy over their lives. But actually in the context of work, by giving them time where they can do dedicated focus work, you are giving them autonomy in that process as well. It's like you said, people, managers who have work needs to be done, but then they're being constantly hijacked by other members of staff and teams. That takes away from that sense of volition or control over our own time. That's allowed culturally in a four-day week.


The last thing is a sense of connectedness or relatedness with colleagues or with our business or whatever it is. So once people feel that they're being part of something bigger than themselves, people tend to get a high level of intrinsic motivation from that. And organisations know this because they have things like values and mission statements and purpose. But if people feel a disconnect between what's written on the wall versus the lived reality, there is going to be an undermining of that intrinsic motivation. What you find in four-day week organisations is that management are putting to the forefront and saying, we look after our staff and we actually do that because we're doing the hard work. We're changing culture and leadership and how we approach work in order to improve the well-being of our workforce. And people are going to have a higher level of commitment, of loyalty to organisations that put their best foot forward like that.


So you're fulfilling all of those psychological needs in workplaces, but we need to also get beyond this idea that work life balance actually exists anymore. We need this idea of work life integration. So fulfilling those psychological needs outside of work is equally important in order to have a positive transference into workplaces. So if I finish my work day and I feel exhausted because I've been working long hours or working traditional five day a week, I'm much less likely to have the energy to be able to fulfil my psychological needs outside of work. So I'm going to be, I'm not going to feel like a good parent or a good partner. So therefore I'm not going to feel very competent. I'm not going to have the time to go take up any sports, take up a new instrument. I'm going to have a poor level of autonomy over my time. I'm not going to have the time to connect with my family or my friends. I'm going to have that sense of isolation and loneliness. So really what we're trying to do is reducing working time, fulfil psychological needs in both work and outside of work by transforming how we approach work overall.

 

The Evidence A 4-Day Week Can Work

00:17:42 - Andy Goram

And that's just a massive change, isn't it? That is a huge change even…, well, not just from a process perspective, but psychologically, like how we expect, what we expect, or the vast majority of people expect to work. I love a bit of science, so I love the science of the motivation. As a sort of scientist yourself, obviously, we're talking about proof and evidence a lot of the time in science. And when it comes to a four-day workweek, do you think we've got the breadth of evidence now to say that this is a workable thing? It can work, how long it's going to take, the key factors in not falling over and making this another piece of change that doesn't land. What have you seen in all the studies that you've done so far, Dale?

 

00:18:29 - Dale Whelehan

I do think so. I think we have created this body of evidence over the last year and a half and that have created a ripple effect beyond just the organisations that we've studied into a broader narrative and organisations experimenting with new, flexible and reduced working hours schedules across the world. So the four-day week is here and it's here to stay. And that I could say with confidence now in a way that I probably wouldn't have said twelve months ago. And I think that's to be contributed by the fact that this is not just union people, this is not just employees saying that this is good. This is billionaires like the head of JP Morgan Chase saying three-and-a-half-day work week is coming in the next ten years. There is obvious recognition that working time reduction is here, and this is not the first time that we've had this conversation, by the way.


We've been talking about how technology and innovation is going to revolutionize us and how we approach work and how we approach life, and we have failed at every single hurdle that we've been given that opportunity. Technology was supposed to be the great barrier of making our lives easier in the two thousands. And in fact, what it did instead was suck us in more into a perpetual state of feeling connected to our work. And we are now facing the repercussions, I think, of that in a society nowadays cannot disconnect and relax and recover, and instead finds itself perpetually stressed out. AI is the next generation that affords us the opportunity to look at this critically once again and decide what our future looks like. And it would be foolish of us not to take this opportunity now.


What the research shows us is that we need to look at it from a micro to macro level. I think business leaders and policymakers need to consider it from that lens. By reducing working time, we are, never mind the changes that we see in business, which is just generally good for business, we see that people report lower levels of stress, lower levels of burnout, coupled with increased levels of physical activity and increased levels of sleep quality and quantity, really important lifestyle factors for longer term health and performance. At the team level, then we see this increased level of collegiality and cohesion within team dynamics, which is actually really important. When teams work really well together, they can produce much more, we can produce better outcomes, but also quicker outcomes than if individuals work by themselves. When we look at business outcomes, then we see this high level of reported productivity by management of staff, coupled with an improvement in level of revenue generation in companies who’ve done a 4-day-week, which is really quite significant when you consider that actually organisations main fear about going into this is that this is too much work. And it is a lot of work as we’ve come to learn. But the fact that these organisations are not even just able to maintain revenue, but actually grow revenue despite this huge organisational change is testament that this is an intervention that is worthwhile experimenting with.


Broader Societal Impact

Broadly, then beyond that, we spend about a third of our adult lives in work, if not more, in recent years. And that is obviously going to have a, a positive or negative impact on some of the broader societal questions that we now face. And they're issues of sustainability, issues of health, and issues of equity. What we found in trials to date is that if we take equity, for example, gender pay gap remains one of the biggest issues for many organisations. And that's because women typically exit, on average compared to men exit the workforce in the early thirties when they had their first child. And that creates this lag in regards to career opportunity progression once they return to workplaces. Couple that with the fact that then culturally, we still have this issue that women miss out on promotions because they aren't showing the same level of time dedication to the organisation as their male counterparts. In four-day week organisations, we evaluate outcomes instead of time. And in those sort of situations, the gender parity becomes much more equal because women thrive in settings of outcome based work, as opposed to how much time they can dedicate to their work. So the playing field becomes a bit more levelled.


Similarly, though we have found that actually parenting time by men doubles throughout the UK trial, which was when looking at qualitative findings, men report,

This is the first time I felt organisational permission to actually take some time away from work and to help with that second labour shift.”

So there's a broader societal change there as well around men and their expectation and the cultural milieu around men and work. If we move on to the second one, then health. I spoke to you about physical activity and sleep, and all sorts of great things. We face many global health issues now around obesity, around stress and mental health, blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, all things that actually are influenced by high levels of stress within societies. So we need to be able to start making extrapolations as to what the cumulative effect of reducing stress within workplaces might be on some of the population health issues.


And if we look lastly then at sustainability, which is something that leaders cannot ignore, particularly ‘ next generation of leaders like myself, it is going to be ever present in how we approach business and work. And yet I feel we are still very much in an infantile understanding of how we can make more sustainable practices in businesses. And what’s missing is actually you need to create sustainable well-being in people in order to create sustainable performance, in order to create sustainable business practices in order to create more sustainable outcomes in society. That's a narrative that we actually need to create. And what we've found in 4-day-week trials is that things like commuting time reduces, things like energy usage reduces.


But more broadly, at the behavioural level, we saw 42% of people reporting more prosocial behaviours. So much more likely to use public forms of transport instead of private forms of transportation, more likely to engage in volunteering and local community development. All of these things that we know are actually really important in order to create a much more sustainable ecosystem. And so that's a narrative that we will be continuing to build on across the next twelve months is showcasing that a four-day week is not just good for business, for people, but ultimately good for society.

 

00:24:55 - Andy Goram

I mean, there's so much in there, Dale, to kind of like even have time to talk about on this little podcast in there. The piece around like, you've been doing this for now 18 months, some trials have been going on, right? Do you think that the longer-term effects are clear within that timeframe? Because I guess you've got companies shorter and longer within that 18 months and we're dealing with systemic change here, so even the learnings, I guess you've had to date, they're obvious of a smaller time period than I guess we would like. But have you started to see some of the longer term? And are people moving, are companies moving at very different paces in the trial? Is there an industry difference? My God, I've got so many questions. I do apologise.

 

Long Term Effects & Industry Differences

00:25:43 - Dale Whelehan

No problem. So what we found is that 92% of companies continue on with the four-day week at the six month mark. So actually about 8% of companies who embark on trials will not get to the six month mark. And that's because they often fail maybe at the first few hurdles around the stress and the change resistance and maybe all of those sort of things and not setting themselves up for success. What's really interesting is that based off that 92%, when we follow them up at the twelve month mark, all have continued on with their 4-day-week trials. So actually once you seem to get over that initial hump, it seems to be a more, you know, a near guarantee that this is going to be something that's going to be standard practice for your business. We'll actually be looking at presenting our 1st 24 month findings in the next few months as well. So actually evaluating the first cohort who went out and did this a good few years ago, now in the US, and evaluating how they got on.


So I think that when you talk about the changes that organisations go, yes, some organisations actually approach this from a much more mandated point of view. So they actually will close business, others will keep business open and juggle around their human resource structures so that actually business service provision is maintained. But people are working on alternate days, and our academics actually have been looking at how many hours are people actually working when doing the four-day week. So the policy exists, but actually what is actually being the reality? And it seems that it actually takes about twelve months for people to get down to 32 hour mark. So there is a gradual reduction in working hours despite the policy being in place. I think that's probably a testament to the fact there is a willingness from employees to not just clip the fingers and just drop everything, but actually realise that there is systemic change that's required here. And so this is a longer transition period for us as a business. And I think having those findings, particularly from an academic point of view, it was hugely powerful in the narrative for a 4-day week.

 

Use Of Employee Free Time

00:27:54 - Andy Goram

And in the studies, have you looked at what employees are doing with their time? I mean, are they actually taking the time for, I guess, what this is intended for, for well-being, health connection, all those sorts of things? Or are they whacking themselves into the gig economy and going,

Well, I've got another day or two here, I can, I can get some more work”,

and then we're sort of spreading the problem differently? What have you seen in the research?

 

00:28:17 - Dale Whelehan

Yeah, it's a great question. And look, it's not our role as business leaders to determine what people do in their time off, but what we have found is that by and large, people aren't taking up second shifts or third jobs or whatever. And that's the only acceptance to that actually is in South Africa, where we found more people taking up, you know, some entrepreneurial activities, some new side hustles. But by and large, people are using the time off to do life admin on one day, and on another day, take care of elderly parents, take care of kids, and more importantly, take up a new hobby, engage in volunteering, do things that actually make people feel good. They're the typical things that we see people do. And what's really interesting is people don't come back with that same Monday fear. People come back actually on Mondays feeling quite energized, which again reflects the fact that the five day week probably isn't working for us anymore, if people actually are coming into Monday mornings or Mondays overall feeling exhausted, it reflects that we don't have enough time off to actually rest and recover in the first place.

 

00:29:30 - Andy Goram

Yeah, I concur with that. Just because I'm fascinated by these things, what do you think it is within the four-day week that is… I mean, you mentioned there’s a more collegiate approach to work and that employees are working better together. What specifically have you found to be the cause of that? Is it just because they’ve got renewed energy and they’ve got some kind of renewed focus and maybe there’s an amount of time pressure in there, but what have you found?

 

The Importance Of Psychological Safety

00:30:00 - Dale Whelehan

Well, I think you’re right. I think that’s definitely feeding into it. I think the right type of leadership creates what we call psychological safety within teams. So actually the ability to not call out, but to identify barriers to what is stopping effective working. And we know that those don't tend to be issues of technology or procedure as much as it is people and their interaction with those sort of systems and processes. So actually, organisations become much better at saying,

You know, your communication style is not working for me. I'm still not clear on what you're looking for from me.”

And having those open and honest conversations with the view to actually improving performance instead of oftentimes, what it is, is those conversations going deep into the underbelly of the organisation and creating this churn of poor and toxic culture and incivility within workplaces.

 

00:30:53 - Andy Goram

Yeah, you've mentioned South Africa, so, I mean, the clue is in the global element here. What countries are leading the way with this, Dale? And why is that? Why is there a different approach or perhaps a more enthusiastic approach in those countries, do you think?

 

Countries That Are Leading The Way

00:31:12 - Dale Whelehan

Yeah, great question. I think that there's probably two continents leading the way, and that's Europe and Australasia. And that's unsurprising because they're the two continents that have typically had a conversation around working time for quite a long time. Australia, I would say, is probably really at the forefront of the conversation. So we've seen not just small and medium enterprise, but large enterprises, government bodies, public sector entities all looking and experimenting with this. I would say Europe, you know, has always, particularly the European Union, has been looking at conversations around working time and protection of worker… protection, worker rights, particularly over the last few years since the pandemic. And so we have seen, we have the largest, largest continental trial happening in Germany at the moment. We'll be launching trials in France, Switzerland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands over the next few months. And I think that's going to really create a huge conversation. The Nordic countries are always pointed to around the conversation, around work life balance, but they've equally had converse or issues of overworking within their societies. We just don't, aren't privy to those conversations as much because we hold them up in the gold standard.


The UK had the largest trial, so 60 companies, and I think the private sector in the UK has always innovated and experimented with new ways of working. The City of London has had nine day fortnights in many companies for a long period of time. So we're not reinventing the wheel of a culture that often exists within larger cities in the UK. The public sector in the UK, on the other hand, and political leadership is very against the concept. And there has actually been a lot of discourse from the Tory government, with particularly one county council, South Cambridge or county council, which brought in a four-day week and a lot of mandates by government, stopped the trial. And the Scottish government then have come out with a public sector trial. So creating that, again, discord between Scotland and England and how different sectors are approaching it. So I think the UK is a hotbed for activity, but also a hotbed for discourse.


The US then, has actually approached it from a slightly different lens, in the sense that we have had two bills come to the House of Representatives and the Senate, through Congressman Mark Takano and Senator Bernie Sanders, whom we're all aware of, who brought in the 32 hours work week act. And that has created a lot of conversation in the US around legislative change, and particularly workers rights. The United Auto Workers, famously Henry Ford's workers, had asked for a four-day week as part of their recent negotiations. So there's a lot of trade union conversation happening in the US.


And then lastly, we looked at South America and Africa, and we currently have trials happening in Brazil, due to launch in Chile as well. We have South Africa completed and Namibia forthcoming as well. So I'm really interested to understand what those differences would look like in some developing countries as well. I'd say lastly then, Asia is probably the market that is the hardest nut to crack. And we have seen experimentation and innovation with regards to flexible working in the likes of places like Singapore, Japan. But there is long cultures of overworking within systems and very rigid hierarchy systems. The Middle East is also another hotbed for activity and being driven in many instances by this desire to be the new leaders of the world. So the UAE, Saudi Arabia, pumping huge amounts of investment into creating new cities, new ways of working, trying to create attractable jobs for expats to work in. And so the Sharjah government in the UAE actually brought in a four-day week in their public sector, their teaching body. So I expect we will see some similar things happening in some of the competitive regions over there. Over the next while as well.

 

The Economic Impact Of A 4-Day Week

00:35:24 - Andy Goram

Fascinating. So clearly a very interesting global picture emerging with this stuff as we go forward. There's a couple of other topics I want us to try and cover today, if we can, in the time that we have. The first of which is, I guess, incredibly timely for us in the UK, particularly around the impact around cost of living. I mean, you can't turn on the telly or read anything or bump into someone in the street who hasn't got a struggling story to tell about finances and what have you. And you don't have to be a genius to sort of see link's potential positive and negative links between moving to a four-day week and an impact on people's financial situations or businesses financial situations or economic situations. What do you think the impact of a four-day week could be? And could it offer a solution? Could it be that buffer? Or is there a chance it could exacerbate the situation?

 

00:36:22 - Dale Whelehan

Again, I think this is all up to leaders and how they approach this. So in our trials, organisations do not reduce pay for their staff. We require organisations to commit 100% paid, because the proof that we're trying to show is that we're rewarding performance instead of time. And with that viewpoint, then we would hope that actually this wouldn't negatively impact on salaries of people, if we are changing the narrative to actually evaluating outcomes and performance. In doing so as well, businesses should grow and perform better, thus being able to actually compensate people more effectively. We know that businesses, they’re all talking about how do I reduce my overhead costs? How do I stop staff that leave, and presenteeism and absenteeism costs that are huge for our business. And if we know that this works, that free up some money for people to be able to play around with and hopefully increase salaries for organisations and their people in the future.


I take the point though. It is a risk bringing in reduced working time can be taken advantage of by leaders to actually cut staffing. But that is totally the antithesis of the philosophy of what we're trying to showcase, is that we're trying to create sustainable human resource structures here that can actually produce outcomes that are sustainable for the business longer term. So actually cutting staffing is just going to put more of these people under pressure and create that great resignation cycle that we've seen so much happen over the last few years.


The Global Economic Picture

The other thing as well is that we are going to have fluctuating economies forever more. And we're highly globalized society, which means that we rely so much on other countries, actually not facing too much turmoil in order for us to not face too much turmoil. We take, for example, Ireland's economy, highly precarious in the fact that we rely so much on foreign investment in the tech industry. And so when tech job losses happened back in the beginning of year, the Irish economy went into fight, flight or freeze mode in regards to how it reacts. And I think that's a question that political leaders need to question. Is globalisation in the way that we currently have it actually good for local economy if we know that political turmoil of war, climate change, all these things are actually going to be here to stay and that's going to forever more impact on local economies? So I think that's up to leaders, political leaders to figure out how do we manage that globalization question? That's not for me to answer. But what I can say is that people in times of uncertainty require some sense of stability. And if a thousand euro here or a bonus of 400 euro at Christmas time, if that's becoming increasingly useless to people because of the rising cost of living, what is it that leaders can give people in return that will equally help with their sense of well-being? And that is time. So if we know time is a gift, it's a precious commodity, we know that it's one of the, not having enough time is one of the top five regrets of the dying in times of uncertainty, provide people with certainty by giving them more time to do the things that they would like to be able to do.

 

00:39:47 - Andy Goram

Again, there's so much in there, Dale I think what's really interesting in the whole globalization piece is it's unlikely we're going to have one day. We're all working the five day week, and then globally we say, right today everybody switches to four and you've got level competition across the globe. We're going to have lead and lag. And there's going to be, like you said, maybe Asia will be the last to go. Who knows? But I think this is where the whole productivity question, what that really means, versus the quality output of what that really means, really comes to play. And that's a massive mind shift change for businesses and leaders and for global economies, because we've got hundreds, thousands of years to unpick with a lot of this stuff, or at least it feels that way.

 

00:40:32 - Dale Whelehan

And more is not always better. In fact, I think AI is going to showcase that to us very quickly in the next few years.

 

The Influence Of A.I. On The 4-Day Week

00:40:38 - Andy Goram

Yeah, and that's the piece I would like us to have a final look at, Dale, is that tech, AI it's going to have a massive role in the future of work. I think. I watched some YouTube video this morning on society 5.0 and, and how all that kind of aligns. So what are these courageous leaders going to need to do going forward to harness all this stuff and put it alongside something like the four-day workweek to really kind of change and redefine the role of work in our lives?

 

00:41:13 - Dale Whelehan

Yeah, great question. I'll use some examples, actually, in how we approach AI in our business. So we use Notion as one of our kind of task management systems to leverage AI in a way that helps to systemise and simplify our work packages for people so that we're not spending 10 hours trying to do this very complex task. AI can give us an 80% completed version that we can simply redefine. For me, then in meetings, we use Otter AI. So actually we have these long conversations, but often people aren't jotting down what the outcomes are and people need. One of the big things is that people don't realise what they have to do after a meeting. Otter AI simplifies all that and helps us to quickly and succinctly manage those sort of things. I take, for example, there was a situation where I had two partners that I was working with, and we need to create a memorandum of understanding, and Otter AI had summarized the meeting points, and I was able to create an MoU using chat GBT within five minutes. In the past, that would have taken 10 hours of me trying to summarize the main points. Getting legal to design something for me, me editing it, you know, it suddenly revolutionizes how we can do very complex tasks into simple ways.


AI is going to either create job losses or create job opportunities, and that's up for us to decide. The differentiation we need to start saying is that AI must be harnessed to do what it's very good at doing, which is the grunt of the work and the hard, repetitive work that creates huge cognitive burden on people. The differentiation of humans and the future work is actually being to critically appraise what AI produces and tailor it according to specific nuances of a situation. But more importantly, innovation and creativity are going to be critical skills for the future of work, and AI is just not going to be able to create that for us. It will help give us a blueprint of what it is, but it'll be up to humans to figure out how do we create a human centric version for a product or a service or an offering. But people are not going to be able to innovate or be creative. If they're burned out, the two things just kind of coexist with one another. So that's where the, the opportunity of four-day week comes in to say, we know that reducing work and time and changing how we approach work will help to reduce burnout. So therefore we will be able to access these new human capabilities of innovation and creativity.


And we need to realise how good the outcomes of those sort of human capabilities are. And if we focus and put a time metric on them, we're going to set ourselves up for failure. You know, I used to work in academia, and I could read ten papers across 5 hours, or I could sit down in the morning from four to 05:00 a.m. And write for 45 minutes. Guess which one led to me complete PhD much quicker. And that's the sort of way of thinking we need to focus on it's quality over output, and AI will produce more and more and more if that's what we ask it to do. But we are… it would be foolish of us to think that more is better. In fact, I already think we're beginning to see the implications of that through content creation, through the arts, where AI is being used more and more, is creating this prism between people actually being able to connect with what's being written. It's just from a biological basis, when people feel that something's not written by a human, they just disconnect somewhat. So we need to be able to rectify that if we want to create a world of work that's not just robots talking to robots.

 

Sticky Note Wisdom

00:44:51 - Andy Goram

I agree. I mean, I look at my own productivity. Let's be honest, it kind of wanes from being awful to being not too bad. The impact that AI has had on me has been amazing. And I think your point about the 80/20 rule is one that needs to be well understood by people, is that it will get you in the ballpark really quickly, and then it's about using your skill to kind of hone it and saving yourself a lot of time. And I agree with you. I think if we can really understand how we can take away some of those grunt pieces away, then aligning this with the four-day week, it can make sense. In the same way that AI's got critics and four-day week has critics. It depends what we do. It really depends what we do. And that's, I guess, the final thing I'd like us to think about. Dale. We've come to the bit in the show I call sticky notes, which is where I'm asking you to summarize everything that's in your head on three little sticky notes. So when we're thinking about businesses considering making a move to the four-day week, or even thinking about it, what three pieces of advice would you give them, Dale?

 

00:45:56 - Dale Whelehan

I think we need to look at four-day week beyond just employee well-being and productivity. But realise that all of the things that you're trying to do around equity and sustainability and health is people working time. And how we approach work is going to be critical in helping you achieve those goals.


The second thing is this needs to get past the C suite. So there is a need to actually have a strong business case for the four-day week. So you need to approach this from the lens of risk as opposed to nice to have. And I think when you look at the cost for organisations around burnout and stress, leave and absenteeism, and you know that a work intervention like 4-day-week helps to mitigate a lot of that, that's your business case for getting you in the door on this.


And lastly, the last thing I would say is it's about time that business leaders started learning some of the psychology of work and realizing that they would get a huge return of investment in their efforts, in their workplace interventions and their efficiency interventions, if they could just crack the code how to motivate their workforce. And we've spoken today about what are the key psychological needs that people need to feel that they have in order to feel motivated, feel like they're doing a good job, to feel like they have autonomy and to feel connected to people. And that's both inside and outside of work. And the conversation around working time reduction helps to start the conversation around fulfilling those needs.

 

00:47:26 - Andy Goram

Very, very wise words, my friend. Thank you for leaving us with those. I've thoroughly enjoyed this conversation with you today. As always with these conversations, feel like we'll just open up a whole bunch of questions for more research and for more understanding. But I really appreciate you coming on before I let you go. Where can people find out more, Dale? Where should they go?

 

Find Out More

00:47:47 - Dale Whelehan

So we're 4-day-week.com, so check us out there. Our aim is to create a million new years of free time. So you'll see how we're trying to achieve that by working with more organisations across the world. We have free resources like how to convince your boss, how to make the business case for four-day a week. All of our research is available for you to review, including how organisations have approached a four-day week, the different versions of a four-day week, how rigidly it was implemented, all of those sort of things. And you can check us out on social as well. We also post a lot about the general conversations around the future work context of hybrid working and flexible working and happiness in work and all of those sort of concepts. And so we're always sharing the latest up to date research on our socials as well.

 

00:48:32 - Andy Goram

Brilliant. Well, I'll stick all of that in the show notes so people can kind of get easy access to it. Dale, thanks so much for coming on, my friend. Really appreciate it. And good luck with everything.

 

00:48:43 - Dale Whelehan

Thank you, Andy, thank you for having me.

 

Podcast Close

00:48:44 - Andy Goram

No, absolute pleasure. Okay, everyone, that was Dale Whelehan, and if you'd like to find out a bit more about hear more, any of the things we've talked about today, please check out the show notes.


So that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting, and heard something maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forward. If you have, please like comment and subscribe. It really helps. I'm Andy Goram, and you've been listening to the sticky from the Inside podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.


Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world. 

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