Working 4 Days On, 3 Days Off

Having today returned to work after a bank holiday weekend, having finally felt fully and properly relaxed on the third day, and feeling so much more energised in work today as a result… it stuck me that this is something we should all do more often.

My own personal perception of the benefits is clear enough: the long weekend has been of obvious benefit to my work-life balance, and consequently I’ve been more productive throughout the working day because of my greater energy. The client has gained something through my greater energy, my family has gained a lot because of the extra time we spent together.

So why don’t we all do this more often? As always, let’s take a look at the maths.

I’ll start with a few basic assumptions:

  • You’re currently working a pattern of 5 days on, 2 days off;
  • Your daily commute is 1 hour each way;
  • Traffic is sometimes worse, or trains are cancelled, such that your 1 hour commute becomes 2 hours twice a week (making a total 5 day commuting time of 12 hours).

Scenario 1 – 35 hour week

If you’re one of the lucky ones, perhaps a civil servant, with a mandated 35 hour working week and allowed to take a short 30 minute lunch break (the minimum after 6 hours work according to Working Time Regulations), then your total time away from home on a 5 day working week will be 35 (work) + 2.5 (lunch) + 12 (commuting), making a total of 49.5 hours (an average of 9.9 hours/day).

Now let’s assume that you get agreement to distributing those same 35 working hours over a four day period, then your total time away from home on a 4 day week will be 35 (work) + 2 (lunch) + 9.6 (commuting), making a total of 46.6 hours (an average of 11.65 hours/day).

So you’ll recover 2.9 hours each week that are currently wasted from your life (which, over a 40 year period totals more than 5,000 wasted hours), and spend an extra 1.75 hours out of the house on the 4 days each week that you attend site, meaning if you would have got home at 5pm you’ll now get home at 6:45pm, but you’ll get an extra full day to do with as you please each week (whether that be gardening or going away for a long weekend) in return.

Scenario 2 – 40+ hour week

Now let’s assume you’re not so lucky, perhaps a contractor for a client who’s determined to extract everything possible from you each week, with a mandated 40 hour minimum working week and forced to take (or work through!) an unpaid 60 minute lunch break, then your total time away from home on a 5 day week will be say 42 (work) + 5 (lunch) + 12 (commuting), making a total of 59 hours (an average of 11.8 hours/day (already longer than Scenario 1’s 4 day week)).

Now let’s assume that you get agreement to distributing those same 42 working hours over a four day period, then your total time away from home on a 4 day week will be 42 (work) + 4 (lunch) + 9.6 (commuting), making a total of 55.6 hours (an average of 13.9 hours/day). Certainly it’s a long day, but then so is a 40+ hour week anyway.

So you’ll recover 3.4 hours (that’s half a working day for the scenario 1 worker) that are currently wasted each week (totalling 6,500 hours over your career, which covers about 3 working years!), and spend an extra 2.1 hours out of the house on the 4 days each week that you attend site, meaning if you would have got home at 6:00pm you’ll now get home at 8:05pm, but you’ll get an extra full day to do with as you please each week (whether that be gardening, visiting a museum, spending time with your family or going away for a long weekend) in return.

For any contractors paid a day rate who are concerned that doing the above will simply allow them to be exploited [even more than is already the case with the minimum working week they have signed up to under scenario 2] the solution is mercifully simple: you have agreed a day rate, now multiply that by 5 to get your weekly rate, and then divide by 4 to get your new daily rate. Obviously you’ll need to get a change to your limited company’s contract to reflect this, but then you would anyway to reflect the revised working arrangements. Remember that any contract should always accurately reflect the reality of the working arrangements. The principle is the same for permies too: you’re working the same number of hours each week so you should get paid the same for doing so.

Consider too that – regardless of scenario – if you are driving daily then your mileage will go down along with your costs of doing so, and of course your carbon footprint will also be reduced (isn’t this the way we’re all supposed to be going?), and if you’re staying over rather than commuting your hotel costs will reduce too (which leaves more money in your pocket). Whatever way you look at it, less days on site are a good thing.

So who may not go for this? At a guess:

  • Couples with children who have currently structured their start/finish times such that one parent drops off and another collects;
  • Companies determined to screw everything possible out of their staff by making them work past their contracted hours, every possible day;
  • People with no life outside work who therefore prefer to avoid the work-life balance problem entirely by never leaving work.

Wising up and looking into the future though it should be possible to have a 3 day weekend, work 2 days onsite and work 2 days from home each week. I doubt it’ll happen in my lifetime, certainly not in my working career, but the smart money is on it happening sometime. I’d like to see some enlightened UK companies piloting parts of this strategy in the relatively near future, not least because some US companies have already successfully implemented parts of it, and I’m told that many Dutch people working in Brussels have been doing it for many years too. Carsonified agrees with me.

It’s not just Carsonified though, take a look at these respected publications who also believe that I’m heralding the future here, and the current 5+2 pattern is destined to become history.

Attending site 5 days each week is simply an outmoded and unnecessary waste of everything.

If you enjoyed this post please share it with others, for example by ‘Liking’ it on LinkedIn, and/or leave a comment below. And if you disagree with me, and think that everybody should work 5 or more days per week, or simply that your one project is an exception for some reason… please share your reasons why.

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3 Responses to Working 4 Days On, 3 Days Off

  1. David Linten says:

    Having worked with Andrew at ICL many moons ago, and enjoying the relaxing art of running behind his Discovery, literally being pulled out of the mud while green laning…I can honestly say this guy knows what he is taking about when it comes to the work vs home divide!

    Productivity, surely has to be the primary goal of any organization! Not to mention the future repercussions of having longer hours both at work and at home, resulting in better family well-being…and actually enjoying work at the same time. Why can’t organizations see this as a benefit?

    Dave Linten

    • Dave

      It’s great to hear from you after all this time. Thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment.

      I don’t think that there can be many corporations looking to make less profit, by reducing their productivity or increasing their costs, so like you I’m surprised that they are not by now at least experimenting with less Victorian working methods to see if there are benefits to be had. Surely happy workers spend less time demanding more money, and more time producing something useful…

  2. Graham Hill says:

    I’ve belatedly found this, but it made me think and inspired my own blog post at which links back to here

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