This resource is meant to give you step by step actions for how you can bring the 4 Day Workweek to your employer in a way that benefits you and your employer.
It is based on research by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and stories from the many companies who have made the shift. We’ll include some “done for you” templates and a timeline for how this may look.
Ultimately, this resource is meant to provide strategy and tactics that you must fit to your unique organizational context.
Overcoming doubt: the toughest sale is to yourself…
First, let’s recognize that as an employee, taking this to senior management, executives, or the board of directors could feel daunting.
What if they think I’m a slacker? What if they feel it’s not my place to do this? What if they laugh me out?
Here is our view of the situation.
When you bring this to leaders in the manner we’ll outline below - a neutral, curious, and business-outcomes-focused perspective, the downside risks are rather low. Top leaders recognize that innovations often come internally through middle management initiatives or ideas. You’re floating to them a topic that was recognized by TIME as one of the 100 most influential ideas of the past year. You’re sparking conversation and thought around the future of work within the organization.
Any executive who doesn’t respect this discussion or thinks it’s out of line for a diligent employee to voice a new thought is more fit for the barn than the boardroom. That’s not an organization in which you want to stay.
So the absolute worst-case scenario is apathy. The best case is of course that the leader or leaders you engage with admire your forward-looking perspective and ability to think critically about the dynamics shaping the modern workplace. And they move forward, in some capacity, with the idea.
That being said, here are a couple other points to consider to feel as confident as possible in starting this conversation.
Present the topic neutrally and frame it around the fact that, as executives, they ought to consider the role of this movement in the future of work conversation. Know (and share if you feel the need) that you aren’t trying to tell these folks what to do but rather appreciating that innovation often comes from within the ranks of the organization and so you are responsible for sharing big ideas. Finally - this is important - get yourself one collaborator. This is someone on or near your level within the organization - it can ideally be someone with ties to ops, comms, or HR. But that is not a must. The idea is that if you frame your approach as “hey so-and-so and I have been talking about this and thought we’d share…” it will make you feel more comfortable and show that you’re not the only one thinking about it.
So once you’ve got an ally (note you only need one or two, you’re not starting a union) and you recognize the value in the dialogue you’re about to initiate then you’re ready to go and the hardest sale is done.
The big idea - Make the leader(s) the hero of the story.
Before we get into the steps, let’s examine this big idea.
Looking at the history of the 4 day workweek so far, in most cases it started with an owner, CEO, or other top executive reading or hearing about the concept. They frequently report an “aha” type moment and decide to make it a priority. Once they set out on this mission, they find a couple co-sponsors at the top of the organization.
Then the trial is off and running.
Key points from this common pattern:
(1) You need a champion for the idea who is “above the bureaucracy”. This is someone at a level of leadership that has the authority (within the whole organization or a single department) to bypass much of the red tape.
(2) This champion needs to feel like their “aha” is theirs. DO: Let them “trip over the truth” of the idea and make it feel like their baby. DON’T: Oversell or focus too much on specifics up front.
(3) Depending on the size of your organization, if it would feel totally unprecedented to go directly to an executive, you might consider going one level down as they may, purely given organizational dynamics, have easier access to an ear or know someone on the executive team most likely to listen. You can find an “in” at that level.
Step 1 - Curiosity: Getting the AHA. (One week)
As I shared above, most of the companies got started with a key leader having an “aha” moment or personal experience. To get the “aha” there are two great methods. Share a resource to spark curiosity and share a relevant comparable (either same industry, strategic profile, or development stage).
Here are a few of the resources we recommend.
Resource 1: Best for top leaders and board - Andrew Barnes’ TED Talk.
Resource 2: Best for folks who like podcasts or work in tech - Is Now the Moment for the Four-Day Workweek? Wall Street Journal
Resource 3: Best for those who prefer reading and/or research - Scientific American: A Four-Day Workweek Reduces Stress without Hurting Productivity
Here are some relevant industry comps to consider.
Remember you can also frame this comp based on growth stage or strategic profile / positioning. For instance, you’re a high growth SaaS startup focused on transportation logistics - you could reference Bolt.com even though they’re payment processing. Or if you’re a mature, fairly mass-market company, maybe you reference AWIN Global.
Energy - Some day
Materials - AE Harris
Industrials - Toyota Gothenburg or Advanced RV
Consumer Goods - Amazon (*piloting with some teams) or Unilever (piloting in NZ and Australia)
Healthcare - The Glebe (Roanoke, VA) or 4C Health
Financial services - Perpetual Guardian
Tech - Kickstarter or Bolt
Communication - Buffer or PrayTell
Utilities - Some day
Real Estate - Highland Commercial Properties (HCP)
Consulting - Tyler Grange
Here is a template you can use for crafting an email. It is the one I would have written if I was still at my first corporate job with McMaster.com - a huge industrial supply e-commerce company. The parts in bold are things to change based on what we’ve covered so far.
To: Tammy, Vice-President [Note I picked someone one level down who I had a personal connection to.]
Subject: Interesting Perspective on Productivity and the Future of Work
Hey Tammy, I appreciated catching up with you the other day. [Warm them up and ideally you’ll have some relevant rapport.] I saw Amazon is piloting a four day workweek with a few of their teams and did some digging the other night. Have you seen Andrew Barnes’ TED Talk? It’s 13 minutes and I trust it’ll be worth your time. Given your expertise in lean operations/productivity, I’d love to get your perspective on it. [I picked Amazon because they’re a direct competitor and Barnes' talk because he speaks like an owner. I referenced her expertise for why it’s worth her time.]
Step 2 - Why?: Advancing the Conversation. (One month)
Now if the above spark generates even a little bit of volley or dialogue then you move to why. If the above is well received but doesn’t lead to much tangible action then you can still follow up with the why, treading a bit more softly. Let’s look at how.
The idea here is to find a context specific “why” for your organization to ground the conversation. Research from the 1000s of companies who have done global pilots find it as a mechanism to address the below concerns. Pick what is best for your organization.
- Burnout / Stress
- Retention (could be at a specific level)
- Work-life balance
- Creativity / Innovation
Here are a couple approaches you might consider for advancing the conversation.
If things are going well you can use the “yes and” approach.
*Conversation around the potential of it…*
Yeah absolutely and I wonder if it could help with stress and work-life balance. I know that’s something I hear folks in management struggling with - especially at the supervisor level.
If things have fallen off here is a sample.
Hey I reached out about this a few weeks back. I know we’ve fallen off a little bit but I was thinking about how I’ve heard that a priority for the next year is improving retention for our systems and tech teams [insert relevant problem]. I wonder if the 4 day workweek approach could help? Here’s a reference to a related article.
At your service,
Step 3 - Starting the Adventure. (One quarter)
Most adventure movies start with a call to adventure: an aha, a crazy idea, a mission impossible…
Then what happens? The hero (the champion at the top of the org in this case) recruits a team and makes a plan. Unfortunately you might not get the movie quality “getting the gang together scene” - but the process still occurs.
So you want to position yourself as part of a supporting team moving towards a plan.
The team should follow Amazon's “Two Pizzas Rule” – the team should be no bigger than a group of people able to be fed by two pizzas. It should have folks who capture various stakeholder interests and have good personal relationships with one another.
When it comes to a plan, the key thing is framing it as a pilot. You will want to focus your plan on two first order questions: How will we know it worked or did not work? How or with whom will we try it?
In terms of generating dialogue for a plan, it could sound like:
I think the two things to figure out are how we will define “success” and who would take part in this experiment. What if we were to try it with xyz team and if there was an increase in satisfaction as measured by a survey and no loss in productivity as measured by our existing things we’d call it a win. What do people think?
Finally, when you get to this point you can bring it home by joining a pilot. Please reach out to us and we’ll get you set up with a pilot and play an advisory role. Go to our employer contact page.
You know have a framework that will take you from a glimpse of possibility to, potentially, making it a reality in the course of a few months.
Bon voyage. Changing the working world won’t happen on its own. And remember, the toughest sale is to yourself.