Time Management, Four Day Work Weeks, and Vacation Policies

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    Hey there!

    If you are a regular, you know the drill by now – a video from Paul (BillionMinds CEO) to help you be more productive in work and life, a future of work insight, and our favorite new thing.

    So, let’s get on with it!

    For a couple of years now there has been a lot of chatter on Social Media and over water coolers about the four-day work week. One of the largest early studies on this was with Microsoft Japan, but there have been many others, and in general the findings have been very positive, with employees appearing to get at least as much done in four days than they previously accomplished in five.

    We’ve been following these studies closely, and here is our summary of what we have seen, combined with our own research.

    • When employees are performing unstructured ambiguous work, they are at their most sustainably effective when they have the right mix of work, rest and play.
    • For employees performing more structured work, the positive effect is diminished and may disappear entirely.
    • The right mix for many employees appears to be closer to four days of work than five, but alternative working arrangements like 9 days from 10 also seem to work well.
    • The effects can be quite variable. Some employees function much better with a four-day work week, others struggle to fit their work into four days.
    • The reason that four-day work weeks can work is that when employees work fewer hours and have more rest, the work periods become much more focused, and employees are approaching the days more rested.
    • When work extends beyond five days, there appears to be a rapid drop off in productivity for many employees. They basically distribute their work over a longer period rather than getting more done (something we talk about in this week’s tip)

    So, what does this mean in terms of policy recommendations we are making to employers? Our take is this. The five-day work week is a historical artifact based on negotiations between employers and organized labor. It has never been shown to be the optimal arrangement for productivity, but nor is there concrete evidence that an alternative arrangement (for example four days) is better for all types of work.

    Because the effect is variable, companies should focus on providing flexible work options for employees, but supplement that with giving employees and managers the skills to make the most out of those flexible work options. If employers do NOT give employees the skills to master flexible work, employers and employees are unlikely to reap the benefits of those options.


    Our favourite new thing this week is a trend. In fact it’s more of a micro-trend at this point, but noticeable nonetheless. We are starting to see companies trial radically different vacation policies.

    It is well known at this point that unlimited time off policies in isolation only work well for a small group of organizations. This is because employees tend to take less time off overall and are typically much less rested as a result. So what’s being tried now? Some companies (such as Goldman Sachs) are trying minimum PTO, where they require employees to take a minimum number of vacation days. This includes a minimum number of consecutive days each year.

    Another experiment is paid time off at the START of an employment term. The logic here is simple. Many employees jump from an old role to a new one with nothing more than a weekend in between. This leads them to approach the new role exhausted, and with half an eye on the job they just left. We’ve been talking to BillionMinds users who have experienced this. The early anecdotal evidence suggests that these employees are more engaged and focused on their new job from day one. Not only that, but they tell us that they have received a powerful signal from their new company that it cares about the mental health of their employees.

    As with the unlimited vacation policies, it will be some time before we understand the full results of these experiments. However, the good news is that these arrangements come from an understanding that rest and recuperation is important, and leads to more sustainable effectiveness over time.

    The Tip – Using Biology to Manage Time

    Video Length: 109 Seconds

    Have you noticed that the number of hours you are doing work related things seems to continuously increase? There are many reasons for this, but one is related to how work and the rest of our lives are merging together. In this week’s tip we look at how to combat that through some effective time management.

    Check out the video below for more information

    About Us

    BillionMinds brings you this newsletter each and every week. But that’s not all we do. We also help employees and managers in companies around the world embed key soft skills to thrive in the modern workplace and get certified in those skills. Each of our Learn/Do experiences is less than 10 minutes a day and you can see meaningful change within two weeks.

    We work with both companies and individual employees. Certification programs start at $200 and we provide discounts for those seeking work. For more information, visit us here.