You shortened your 40-hour work week to 25-35 hours. Was it awesome?
August 4, 2021 11:56 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about asking for a shorter work week, probably four days instead of five. I feel like I'm in a pretty good position to make the ask but I want to make sure that this is what I really want and that it would be worth it. I've read articles and books about a four-day work week/shorter work days, but now I want anecdata: what was it like when you scaled back your work week? Who does this kind of arrangement work well for, and who crashes and burns? Also, if you asked for this change, how did that work?

About me and my job, if this helps: I don't think asking would be particularly risky - I'm a valued member of my team, I would be difficult to replace, and other people at my company have worked shorter weeks in the past. I'm also in an in-demand industry - even if it turns out I wildly misjudged how much professional capital I had to spend on this and asking for or accepting a four-day week led to me being laid off or fired, I would expect to be able to find another job in my industry if I wanted to.

On the one hand I have a fairly cushy job - my team is mostly-remote and likely to stay that way post-pandemic, and that works fine for me. In general, I like my work and my coworkers. It's easy for me to flex my current schedule for things like healthcare, home maintenance (dealing with the plumber/electrician) and even things like continuing ed classes (I've been taking music lessons over Zoom, for example). I get generous benefits and more pay than I need - if I keep working at my current level I can probably afford to retire in a few years, around age 50. I rarely need to work more than a 40 hour week. So maybe I should just stay the course.

On the other hand, I still feel like the weekends are waaaay too short, like I don't see my friends and family enough (parents/siblings/niblings/extended family - I am a widow with no kids), and like I don't have enough time for the fun and creative and relaxing pursuits that I enjoy. I feel like I could be a better member of my community if I had more time. And I'm pretty sure I could get almost all (if not all) of my work done in a shorter work week.

So, does this sound at all familiar? If you switched from a five day work week to four days or from 40 hours to 30, how did you make it happen and what was it like? Was it worthwhile? Was it great? Was it disappointing?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (30 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I had a job where I realized most days I only needed to work about 4 hours (and some occasional days, 12!)

I asked to work from home 2 days a week
worked extra hard on the days in office so there was little or nothing to do the other days
and it was great

my mind was still on work
and I still checked into items and meetings here and there. But it was nice to spend the day in my home, in a cafe, or in another city

Another option could be to agree to work mornings on Monday and Friday, and take the afternoons off
posted by jander03 at 12:08 PM on August 4, 2021 [8 favorites]

I did this! When my kids were old enough to start school, I went to my boss and asked to cut my hours to 32 hours a week, to get my kids on and off the school bus. I work a job with fairly flexible hours, and after a bit of negotiating my boss accepted my proposal. I got my kids on the bus in the morning, went to the office, and left in time to meet the bus in the afternoon. I think it worked in my favor that there were several part-time people in my department who set their own (very non-standard) hours, and that I was planning to keep regular hours.

Overall, it's been great! My kids are still young enough that it's nice to have the time with them in the mornings and afternoons, though I think once they're in secondary school it's likely I'll renegotiate to make the 32 hours happen in four eight-hour days instead of spreading it over five days like I do now. I'm sitting here trying to think of a downside and can't really come up with any.
posted by SeedStitch at 12:16 PM on August 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Are your benefits tied to a 40-hour workweek? Everywhere I've worked until now (where I noticed the language was a little vaguer), 40 was the magic number to get insurance. It depends on how that would be for you, I suppose, and if your employer would/is obligated to make that distinction.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:18 PM on August 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

I think for women, the advice has been to just figure out how to work that 35 hour week without asking for an official reduction. Most employers are glad to reduce your take-home pay and then undermine your work hours so that you are working just as much as were before if not more. But, I think the calculus might change if what you're wanting to be is totally off the clock by a certain time on Thursday or Friday and have a whole day away.

In that case, I'd advise that you ask for 4 10s and then just make that schedule work for you during the week in whatever way makes sense.
posted by amanda at 12:28 PM on August 4, 2021 [23 favorites]

Despite capitalist norms to the contrary, 40 hours is way too fucking many. If you have the capacity to get by on less, and it sounds like you really do here, you should do it. Like you say, more time for friends, family, creative pursuits. I can’t imagine you’ll regret it.
posted by Gymnopedist at 12:30 PM on August 4, 2021 [11 favorites]

I've worked a 24-32 hour work week for over 30 years now in a variety of different work settings.
There is something really healthy about being able to have a good work-life balance now instead of putting it off until some future retirement. You will probably need to work longer but if you are able to enjoy your life during those years, it isn't a problem. It is great to be able to more of those "some day" things right now while still have the income and (hopefully) engagement and gratification of a job that you (mostly) like. I'm in a situation now where I could retire but I don't want to - it is worth it to continue with the current mix of work + free time that I have for a while longer
posted by metahawk at 1:01 PM on August 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I did this once, not entirely voluntarily, when I was an hourly employee. The short answer is that it's not great for hourly employees if you need the money, but it works really nicely if the adjustment in pay is not a problem. The place I worked dealt a lot with schools, so summers were really slow, and they gave us the option of a four-day work week. My expenses were pretty low at the time, so the reduction in pay didn't cause me problems, but the extra free time really improved my life. I did a lot more things outside of work, and I felt less burnt out when I was at work. (This probably isn't helpful for your situation, OP, but pro tip for others: if you're burnt out and you get the opportunity for a four-day week, ask for Wednesday as your day off. It's a mini-weekend in the middle of the week.)

The benefits question is important. My company considered anyone over 30 hours full-time and eligible for benefits, so it worked. I've seen the threshold at 30, 32, 35, and 40, so make sure you know what your company's is.

If they deny your request, your fallback plan could be to still work 40 hours, just in fewer days. Four 10-hour days makes every weekend a three-day weekend. Three 13-hour days makes every weekend four days. I've done the latter as well, and while the three days you're working are harsh, the four day weekend is incredible. You don't really have free time on workdays, and most of the first day off is going to be sleeping in (at least it was in my case, but for me the former isn't much different than how I feel after an 8-hour day, and the latter was OK because I still had a 3.5-day weekend. Obviously this is dependent on how your company schedules meetings and information sessions, but if you think cutting your hours is a possibility, this should definitely be your backup plan.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:05 PM on August 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I can't speak to a formal reduction in hours, since I am a salaried employee who is expected to work full time (in my country, 37.5 hours per week). That being said, ever since COVID started and my role shifted to permanent WFH, I have tried very hard to keep my "work" to a set number of hours each day (usually 8am to 12noon), leaving afternoons free as much as possible, although I do have attend the odd meeting or respond to an urgent situation. You need to be well organized and have a good handle on what is truly urgent in your job and what can be delegated, as well as how long it takes you to properly complete different tasks. I wouldn't recommend it for people new to their jobs, or where you are under constant supervision (I am mostly left alone except when I need my boss's assistance).

Some benefits of this additional free time:

-exercise; I can usually fit two mile-long walks with the dog each day;
-reading / keeping up with podcasts.
-checking in and visiting with elderly relatives
-Naps - let's be honest, this is one is great and shouldn't be dismissed.
-less stress for my partner, who is a freelancer and lives with frequent tight deadlines.

Most importantly, though, I can almost always fit all the household errands, minor repairs and chores into the weekdays, leaving the weekends truly free for fun and family events. It's amazing how much you can pack into the weekend when you're not spending half of it getting groceries and cleaning.

I highly recommend clawing back this time for yourself; good luck.
posted by fortitude25 at 1:07 PM on August 4, 2021 [11 favorites]

Yes 100% worth it and it's what I am doing right now.

I am currently on a part time work trial which ends soon. My work week was actually 37.5 hours and it was shortened to 22.5 hours (which I still think is too much). I had to go part time to get my head together and it gave me the space I needed. I felt in control for the first time in years. I am far more productive with chores and creative projects, spend more time with my mum, I have more energy and my days off just feel better instead of my weekends consisting of Saturday as my "recovery day", Sunday AM as my actual weekend and Sunday PM spent dreading the following Monday.

The only downside is that mine is a full time job squashed into a part time job, so I feel quite drained by the end of the working day. That's also down to the department just taking on more work anyway.

I think my experience has also been positive because of the days I've chosen to take off. I don't work Mondays so the dread isn't there and I'm not sure why. You'd think Monday dread would then become Tuesday dread but nope. The feeling of overwhelm from work that floods in on Mondays isn't present either. I don't need to deal with people's Monday moods or panic. Going in on Tuesday is so great because people did all their freaking out the day before but also mainly because I know I'm off on Wednesdays. It's great working when you know you have the next day off. I then work on Thursday and Friday, which is fine. I would choose your days off wisely.

It has been so essential for my well-being that I intend to leave my day job when the trial is up. The job is toxic anyway and I absolutely cannot ever work full time again unless I do temp work with a month's break in between.

Go for it.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 1:12 PM on August 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you can swing more time for yourself, do it. This is your LIFE we're talking about! You don't know how much time you'll have, so getting more for yourself now is so important!

However, don't underestimate the career consequences at your workplace. In my industry (law), lawyers who ask to go part time aren't taken seriously, for the most part, and even requesting it can damage your position with the firm, chances for advancement, etc. Hopefully your industry is different.
posted by bluesky78987 at 2:08 PM on August 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

In a previous job I scaled down to four days a week, and it was great. Especially in today's remote culture I think you need to make sure that you really totally take that fifth day off; it's easy to just check in on email and Slack, but before you know it your brain is 50% occupied with work on what is supposedly your day away.

I took Mondays off, and it's great to spend Sunday doing your weekend things knowing that you still have another non-work day coming up.

It almost feels like you're cheating math, in some ways: your work weeks are only 20% smaller, but your weekends are 50% bigger.
posted by dfan at 2:10 PM on August 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

Since covid began, my employer has given us one Friday per month off, and some months two, and it's been remarkable, the weeks I get an extra day off I usually spend doing errands that backed up over the last few weeks and I return on Monday refreshed and less stressed. If I was offered a permanent 4-day workweek, I think it'd be a dream situation even if I had to reduce my pay to get it, and I would wholeheartedly say if you can ask for it, you should (but make sure you don't lose any benefits like healthcare, etc by reducing hours).
posted by mathowie at 2:10 PM on August 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I did this for a while as a salaried employee in academia. I didn't like it. (a) my workload didn't change commensurate with the reduction in hours, which meant that either when I was "on" I was trying to do things in an insane sprint that was highly unpleasant for me and also conducive to errors; and (b) to the extent that it did change, I lost out on opportunities and fun stuff (which depended on being in the right place at the right time or having the flexibility to be there all of the time) and not the parts of the job I hated (which were mainly administrative but urgent, so couldn't be put off).

So in the end I was getting paid less to work in a more gruelling way doing fewer of the things that made the job rewarding. It sucked.

Obviously from the anecdotes above, going down to less-than-full-time doesn't have to be this way. But if I were you I'd really make sure that you had processes in place to prevent this from happening to you before you go part time. How will you ensure that your workload decreases appropriately, especially if you're salaried now and/or have multiple managers? How will it affect your ability to advance, or have your pick of challenging things? Is there a way you can trial it for a few months before making it permanent?
posted by sir jective at 3:00 PM on August 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I haven't done this but have worked in teams where people did. Mainly as long as you aren't expected to do full-time work in part-time hours it seemed to be fine. But this was in an organisation which encouraged a culture of flexible working (and so, there was also an expectation that you would sometimes be flexible about which day you didn't work). In this context working 4 days a week did not incur any penalty for being a part-timer, although 3 days a week and fewer did.
posted by plonkee at 3:04 PM on August 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I work in medicine where a lot of my friends have moved to a 60-80% schedule for mental health and general burnout-reduction reasons.

The biggest drawback I've heard of is that the employer doesn't really respect the reduced schedule--that you still have the same amount of stuff to do but in a smaller amount of paid time, or that a certain amount of the work really demands fast turnaround so that there's no real way to be truly be "off" during that time. My friends who have done this successfully have set up systems where other people cover their inboxes for urgent things.

Benefits can be an additional factor--most employers will ask employees who are less than full time to take on some share of what would normally be the employer contribution for health insurance, etc., and so there can be a financial penalty over and above the loss of income.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 4:12 PM on August 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I was part of a cohort that was reduced to 4 days (80% pay) instead of 5 days (75% pay) - virtually everyone on 4 days was turfed, one way or another, sooner rather than later.
posted by porpoise at 5:21 PM on August 4, 2021

I went from about 40 salary hours to 27 part time hours. Mainly it was about the commute. I had a 65 mile 75 minute commute and it was killing me. They would not allow any salaried person to work from home on a permanent basis unless the employee was in a distant state. So I basically said I'm 65 and you can either have me full time from home or part time from home or I quit and go somewhere that is closer to home full time or part time. They picked part time at my current hourly equivalent rate so they could give me no benefits (I've got Medicare now of course).

Pro tip: it also gave me the ability to never sign-on for more than 27 hours a week, though I will take calls to answer questions and such.

I felt it really was a win-win because of my decades with the company and my extensive knowledge of their systems.

The glitch with my true story is that I didn't realize when I was negotiating all this that COVID was going to cause them to send everyone home. But it still has been great for me. Quality of life, no commute time, working with the same people, knowing my job well. And they're going to be bringing people back to the office soon but I still will have this arrangement.
posted by forthright at 5:30 PM on August 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I did this for a while. I wanted more free time so I asked if I could work 32 hours instead of 40. I presented it as a win-win deal - my employer could save money on my salary while in reality getting about the same amount of work out of me and I could have more time to do what I wanted. It wasn't a hard sell. I definitely enjoyed having three days off every week. I still made enough money to live on and the extra time was more valuable to me than extra money would have been. After a year or two of that some things changed at work and they wanted me to come back to full time and I was okay with it because at that point I had reasons to want more money.

If you have big plans for retirement - things you really want to do that you can only do if you don't have to work at all, like hiking the Appalachian Trail or traveling the country in an RV - then maybe it makes sense to work as much as you can now and retire as early as possible. Otherwise, I think it would make sense to start having more fun right now, even if that means you have to wait a little longer to retire.
posted by Redstart at 5:48 PM on August 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I do this now - I was briefly laid off at the beginning of covid, and when I went back I went back for a 4 day week instead of 5, so i've been on this schedule for about a year now.

It's amaaaazing! I never feel overwhelmed by household chores anymore, I'm way more likely to say yes to socializing because it doesn't make half my weekend disappear. I've gotten way more projects done on the house, and it's just really nice. My life feels balanced in a way it didn't before.

Plus, the work week feels significantly shorter, I'm busier the whole time which is more interesting, and I feel much happier and more pleasant at work now, too.

dooo it!
posted by euphoria066 at 6:30 PM on August 4, 2021 [6 favorites]

I have worked 30 hours a week for over a decade, and it has been an immensely positive experience overall. I read over 150 books a year, ride my bike to work, and have time to do yoga most days. I am also union, so I have decent job security. My health insurance is prorated - I get 75% of the amount of money that my employer would spend on a 40 hour employee's premium. This has worked out to me having an HDHP.

But I did want to also say that there have been periods over the years where a 4-day or 3-day workweek has been awful because of my mental health challenges. Having an extra day off each week doesn't feel good for me if I'm depressed, because I can't find much enjoyment or even relaxation in that time. I just beat myself up for not doing anything or going out, or not making dinner or running errands. In those depressed/anxious periods, having a 5-day traditional work schedule provides some needed structure and helps me keep on track with taking a shower, getting outside, talking to others, not taking multiple naps for 6 hours a day, and ultimately feeling better. But the key for me is that it's still a less than 40 hour workweek, but spread over 5 days.
posted by lizard music at 6:54 PM on August 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

My work switched to a 9/80, hour longer.most days, but every other Friday off. I was imagining lots of 3 day weekend trips, but few of those have happened.

My friends still work Fridays, my dentist doesn't work Fridays, I don't do much productive on the day off.

My point is, what do you plan to do with extra days off? Weekend stuff may not be possible, and other people are busy. I'd think about what you would do with the time before taking a pay cut to do it, only to possibly find you can't do the things you wanted.
posted by TheAdamist at 7:37 PM on August 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I had the opportunity to do this a few months back with a change of role in my company.

I now work 4 days a week, with Wednesdays off. I freakin' love it and I will never go back. I took a 20% pay cut with it, but I am at an age and stage where I can accept that (also note that if you live under a progressive taxation regime, your net pay won't drop quite as much as your gross).

Apart from just having more time:
- a mid-week break de-stresses the week
- I only work two days in a row
- I can do admin/appointment type stuff on my Wednesday and the weekend feels completely free for recreation

I feel my employer benefits because many little things that I might otherwise sneak out to do or squeeze into the workday I now park for my day off. My attention is more concentrated on the days I am at work.

So far I am mostly using this time to deal with issues around the house we have moved into, and some small hobby projects. Later on I foresee study and regular commitments elsewhere but for now I treasure my new-found flexibility.

I made this happen by asking for when I changed role. Like you I'm valued and so it wasn't a big ask to say "could this new role be 80%?"

Professionally I'm a 50-something manager in an IT services company with some responsibility for pre-sales. My crew know how to roll without me and I have a trustworthy 2nd in command, so they can cope fine. Customers generally don't realise I'm not there, if they get an out of office message saying "I'm not here today" it doesn't occur to them that it's not a one-off. I don't mind the odd phone call and if it's not from a customer but a work colleague who doesn't realise, I just politely tell them I'll call them back tomorrow. I'm not a complete dick about it: if there's an emergency, I'll deal with it, and if there's an immovable event, I'll take time in lieu another day.

It's true that at some level you squeeze more into less time, but equally: I'm a knowledge worker in a system with hand-offs and delays. There isn't really 40 hours of full effort in a 40 hour week. So taking 8 hours out of it doesn't really mean 20% less productivity, just 20% less time on the clock. Fine by me.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:15 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Didn't work for me because the workload didn't decrease in proportion, same for a friend of mine. I can imagine that, given that you're OK with the reduced income, it works if you have a job that is set up such that you are done for the day at the end of the workday. If you're hourly, if you have a job that entails presence, or if you have a type of work that can be scaled up or down depending on the hours, then it might be possible. Otherwise, I'd go with the 4x10 instead of 5x8 setup as suggested above.
posted by meijusa at 4:30 AM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

My mental and physical health was never better than when I was underemployed (hourly) and worked 30 hours over 4 days. I worked out, saw friends on weekdays, leaned in hard to my hobbies, read a ton, visited family, cooked everything from scratch (also a hobby), kept my apartment clean to my standards, ran errands. And everything in my life in general had a slower pace. It was great and I hope I can work out something like again sometime that without the shit pay.
posted by carrioncomfort at 4:44 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

It didn't work for me - I took the paycut, worked four days a week, and ended up working the extra day regularly because projects were staffed with junior people. The obvious clue I missed was that I was regularly working >40 hours per week and that workload was not going to change.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 7:09 AM on August 5, 2021

Several people I knew at a law firm tried to go part-time and/or work different schedules, and encountered a lot of friction.

They kept getting assignments that put them back up to full time work. One had to talk to HR every single pay period. They did not get raises or bonuses. The way to get flexibility there was to leave.
posted by mersen at 8:16 AM on August 5, 2021

I worked 30 hrs/week (spread over 3 days, theoretically 10/10/10 but really usually more like 8/11/11 so I could sleep in on Mondays) for about a year and a half and it was great. 30 hours was the minimum for benefits at that company. I made this happen by talking about it at the beginning of the job. I wasn't really looking, but they were interested in hiring me for a particular project and were looking for something to sweeten the deal, so the agreement was that I would do 4 months fulltime and then drop back.

It was terrific! Enough structure to keep me from falling into a slough of do-it-tomorrow, enough money to pay rent and eat delicious food, enough time to hang out with friends and make things.
posted by inexorably_forward at 10:13 PM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen anyone address this issue - I had some friends that worked for a big tech company that went to 4-day weeks (although occasionally they had to work on weekends because of the nature of making changes in big data centers). They told me having 3 days off each week was nice, _but_ one thing they didn't foresee: because of having long weekends every week it was more tempting to scheduler short trips and other activities which meant they ended up spending more money. It sounds as though this won't be a big problem for you, but it _is_ something that needs to be considered.
posted by TimHare at 9:17 PM on August 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

My answer is similar to fortitude25's. I'm salaried and exempt from overtime. So I work until the work is done then do things for me. Some days I'm busy and some days I have virtually no work, and on the latter days I don't try to come up with tasks to look busy or suck up to management. I keep my work cell phone on me for emergencies and so I can respond to minor requests quickly, but I deal with fewer than 4 true emergencies per year and most requests don't need a quick response, so I can reply at the end of the day or early the next day. No one has complained since I started enforcing those boundaries for myself. When there's work to be done I work hard to do quality work as quickly as reasonably possible, and when someone needs help I try to be as helpful as reasonably possible, but I judge myself on my output rather than my hours and it seems other people are following suit.

It's not as free as having every Wednesday off since I can't be passed-out drunk or hours away from my work laptop, but I get full-time pay and my days are structured around my life instead of my work. If you asked my boss he would probably expect that I put in at least 40 hours per week but it seems all he notices is my work is high quality and finished on time. In fact I just had a performance review and my boss praised how reliable I am. It seems spending a lot of time in my home gym or canoeing on a local lake has not hurt my output in his eyes.

Obviously this depends on the specifics of your job, your team, your boss, and yourself. If your team can't wait an hour for a response it will be tough. If your boss likes to micromanage it will be tough. If you can't relax because you feel "on the clock" it won't be as good as officially going part-time. I've been 100% remote for years so there was already some distance and some lag when communicating with my team, so the fact that I'm away from my desk and just carrying a work phone is less obvious.
"You need to be well organized and have a good handle on what is truly urgent in your job and what can be delegated, as well as how long it takes you to properly complete different tasks."
- this is very true.
"I'm a knowledge worker in a system with hand-offs and delays. There isn't really 40 hours of full effort in a 40 hour week. So taking 8 hours out of it doesn't really mean 20% less productivity, just 20% less time on the clock. Fine by me."
- this right here. A shorter work week, whether official or unofficial, works best in this sort of work.
posted by Tehhund at 6:44 AM on August 9, 2021

I did this! I negotiated a 4 day (32 hour) work week when I started my current job as a "drift" into early retirement. While I love my 3 day weekends, I still don't particularly want to work the other 4 days a week :D I do feel like it takes me longer to do things due to being OOO one day a week, but as a bonus plus, most of the folks on my team get one extra meeting-free day!
posted by theRussian at 5:23 PM on August 13, 2021

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