The 3 Problems That Come With a Shorter Work Week — And How Best to Adjust

Woman stressed at her desk at work.

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Sara London for Hive
Sara London for Hive
May 30, 2024 at 1:8PM UTC
Compressed work weeks might seem like a dream. You’re in and out of the office in just four short days, you can compartmentalize work while still feeling productive, and you have a three-day weekend every week. In fact, according to research, four-day workweeks are seemingly universally loved. So what’s the catch?

The problem with compressed weeks

Unfortunately, there are some problems with this seemingly flawless schedule, and executing it well is no walk in the park. Allard Dembe, a professor of Public Health and Ohio State University, is an expert on longer-than-average workdays. After studying the effects of longer working hours for 30 years, he says that while it might be nice to have extra days off, working for too long can cause unfortunate problems.

1. The cost to your health.

Dembe’s research says that work accidents increase when employees are working for 12 or more consecutive hours. While warehouse workers might have trouble operating heavy machinery after too long, knowledge workers can also suffer on-the-job accidents such as repetitive injuries or falls if they’re disoriented from prolonged computer usage.
Just as well, working in front of a computer for more than ten hours a day (which unfortunately is a vital part of the compressed work week) results in back and neck issues or eye strain.

2. Your productivity.

In addition to health issues, working hours play a huge role in your productivity. According to numerous studies, efficacy at work falls dramatically the longer you work, and you only have certain productivity peaks during the day. Some even say that shortening working hours makes teams less prone to mistakes.
So, while you’re trying to cram in all of your mandatory working hours into just four days, your productivity could be suffering. Then, by the time your three-day weekend rolls around, you’re preoccupied thinking about all the things you didn’t get done throughout the week.

3. Your work/life balance.

Rather than having five days of work in a compressed work week, you have four longer days. This results in less commuting and more full days off. But Dembe also mentions that this might create less flexibility on the days you’re in the office.
When you’re working ten or more hours per day, it goes without saying that you’ll have less time with your families, friends, partners, or pets. Compressed schedules mean that you’re essentially spending four days doing little else but getting to work, working, sleeping, eating, and maybe some personal activities, like working out. It may not be the best fit for some people who need more time every day to de-stress.

Preventing shorter work week problems

While working a compressed work week might feel great for many, you should be aware of the issues it may cause. Be proactive when you’re working a compressed schedule, and be mindful that you’re not pushing yourself too hard on a daily basis by using the following tips.

1. Pace yourself.

Remember that you’re running a marathon, not attempting a sprint. By packing your days and putting too much pressure on yourself to turn in work before your long weekend, you’ll end up feeling like you’re both overworked and never getting enough done. Don’t be afraid to say no to an additional task or block off no-meeting afternoons to focus on important work.
Also, make sure that you’re not neglecting your mental health, as you may feel lonely or isolated as you’re getting used to long working hours. If you take it slow and make sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard to start, you’ll get used to your new week in no time.

2. Schedule well.

Lonnie Golden, a professor of economics at Penn State Abington, recommends what he calls the “Goldilocks schedule” based on his research on four-day work weeks. This means that your working hours aren’t too long, but they’re not too short either.
“A Goldilocks schedule satisfies both the employer’s interest in maximizing and improving productivity and the employee’s interest in maximizing well-being,” Golden writes.
Golden adds that compressed calendars may succeed if workers are able to work flexibly to fit their own needs. This means using working hours to do everything from skill-building to knowledge sharing, getting ahead on certain projects, or networking with colleagues.
“A shorter work week may improve workers’ well-being if it allows more free time to be used at employees’ discretion and gives them greater control over work,” he continues.

3. Take breaks.

If you feel like your compressed work week has you in a bind, utilize your time off to the best of your abilities. Remember that your schedule is compressed for a reason and that your weekends are off-limits when it comes to Slack messages or work emails. You can still take days off during a compressed work week, especially if you feel like you need them. Don’t fall prey to hustle culture – put yourself first.
Throughout your day, you should also integrate breaks to reinvigorate and re-energize yourself as the hours tick on. Remember to look away from the screen every so often or stand up and walk around to get your heart pumping.

4. Check up on your health.

Lastly, if you’re going to work long hours, you should make an effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle outside of those times. Don’t let long days sitting make you sluggish and exhausted; remember to get enough sleep and nourish your body well. You could even integrate a daily workout into your morning routine to get you galvanized for the day.
Additionally, if you’re finding that back and neck issues abound during your long hours, you can investigate a standing desk or treadmill to walk on as you’re working. After all, just because you’ve compressed your work week doesn’t mean that half your week is for work and the other half is for yourself. You can still live a healthy, enjoyable lifestyle, even if your hours are a bit longer than you’re used to.
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This article originally appeared in Hive — the world's first democratically built productivity platform. Learn more at Hive.com.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for compartmentalizing work on a short work week? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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