Community engagement leader Lianna Etkind discusses the benefits of a shorter working week and how you can go about working fewer days and taking longer weekends.
Who says you have to work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday? What could you do with an extra day off each week? And how can you make a shorter working week a reality?
Lianna works for social enterprise Civic, leading community engagement on the Future Libraries Initiative. She has significant campaigning experience through leading campaigns at London Community Land Trust, and as part of social justice organisations including the Campaign for Better Transport, Sustain and at Transport for All. Lianna holds a BA from Cambridge University and an MA in Community Organising from Queen Mary University of London, where she wrote a dissertation on the potential for a campaign for a shorter working week. Outside work, she enjoys books, sea swimming and cooking for friends.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- [01.28] Lianna introduces herself and what she does for work.
- [03:14] How Lianna became involved with community organising.
- [03:52] How time is critical for those who want to participate in democracy and make political change.
- [05:06] Lianna explains how she started working a shorter week.
- [05:59] How our work culture exacerbates gender discrimination and mental health issues.
- [07:18] The benefits of a shorter working week.
- [09:50] The different models of flexible working.
- [12:20] Overcoming the financial barrier to working shorter hours.
- [13:46] How living a more frugal and simple life can make you happier.
- [16:14] Negotiating flexible working hours instead of a pay rise.
- [17:17] How flexible working could be an option for people nearing retirement.
- [19:00] The importance of showing that flexible working is possible as part of the evolution of our work culture.
- [21:36] How the approach to shorter working weeks can differ depending on sector.
- [23:10] How working flexibly in busy and unpredictable workplaces can interact with a shorter working week.
- [25:40] Figuring out the best way to make a flexible working request at work.
- [26:00] How flexible working helps diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.
- [28:22] Legal rights to request flexible working.
- [31:38] What steps to take if you want to work shorter weeks.
- [32:44] Online resources to research flexible working.
- [37:10] How automation in the workplace is gaining momentum and what the results could be.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a small commission in the event that you make a purchase. This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.
To see the resources recommended by all our guests, visit the Resources page.
Episode 71: How to have a shorter working week - with Lianna Etkind of Civic
Jeremy Cline 0:00
Monday to Friday, nine to five. That's how we're taught it is. Monday to Friday, then two days off for a weekend, and then back again, Monday to Friday. But who says you have to do it like that? Suppose you want to take off an extra day a week, maybe have a three-day weekend? Why should you have to work five days a week with just two days for the weekend? Well, that's what we talk about in this episode. I'm Jeremy Cline, and this is Change Work Life.
Jeremy Cline 0:39
Hello, and welcome to the Change Work Life podcast, where we're all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. Now, we have it ingrained in us from quite an early age that working five days a week and then getting the weekend off – that's just the way it is. It starts when we're at school, then continues through adulthood. But does that really have to be the case? Might we all have the option of working fewer than five days a week, if that's what we want, if it suits us? Sure, it's not uncommon for new parents – particularly, it has to be said, mothers – to work part-time, but why not everyone? This week, I'm joined by Lianna Etkind, who has looked into this in quite a lot of detail and who actually wrote a paper as part of a master's degree all about this subject. Lianna, welcome to the podcast.
Lianna Etkind 1:21
Jeremy Cline 1:21
Before we turn to the subject of working shorter weeks, can you give us a bit of background as to what it is you actually do for a living?
Lianna Etkind 1:28
Sure, I am a community engagement lead for a social enterprise called Civic, and I work closely with libraries to transform them into community-led public space.
Jeremy Cline 1:38
Wow, fantastic. So, what sort of thing does that involve?
Lianna Etkind 1:41
I think in normal times, it involves lots of workshops and facilitation and talking to people about what their vision for a library is, what they'd really like to see beyond the obvious offer of books and DVDs, and really encouraging people to think, are there events or services, or resources that they'd like to offer from the library? So, the library goes from being a place where the council offers things to service users, to the library being a hub where local people, where local organisations, where library members can really have a great idea and initiate something. Whether that's starting a sea shanty choir or starting a library of things where people can borrow a drill, but building on the library as a place where even if you're not that interested in books, there is something for you and something to bring you along. And hopefully, all of the interesting cross-pollination and meeting that happens when different people from different walks of life are sharing a space.
Jeremy Cline 2:41
Fantastic. And I should say, if anyone's listening to this far in the future, when Lianna talks about normal life, we are still in the midst of this COVID pandemic. So, life is far from normal at the moment. Who knows how things are going to pan out, but we shall see.
Lianna Etkind 2:54
Exactly. At the moment, there's a lot more digital convening, and writing about what we will do once COVID comes to an end!
Jeremy Cline 3:02
Yes, absolutely. So, you did this dissertation, 'Workers of the world relax: what prospects for a campaign for a shorter working week'. Can you just talk about the context? What course were you doing when you wrote this dissertation?
Lianna Etkind 3:14
I did a part-time course in community organising at Queen Mary University, because at the time I was working as a campaigner. And Barack Obama had just come to prominence, and everyone was finding out that he used to be a community organiser – and the more I read about community organising, the more intrigued and fascinated I was as a way of people making grassroots change. And it was such an amazing course to do, a mixture of big ideas and political thinking, but also a lot of, how does this really happen, practical levels, on the ground? And one of the things that kept coming up was the need for time. So obvious, really, for people who want to participate in democracy and make change. Every big movement that's ever happened, whether it's the suffragettes, or the civil rights movement, or the anti-apartheid movement, has largely relied – as well as the big figures that we read about in the history books – on an army of people who might be doing door-knocking, might be organising at a local speaking event, might be writing letters to their newspapers or lobbying their MP. That all depends on people having the time to participate in democracy. And at the moment, so many people that I know work their jobs. They come home, they make supper, they crash out, and at the weekend, they do their laundry. If they're lucky, they have some time and headspace to catch up with friends. But often, there's very little time to kind of go beyond those essentials of just keeping on top of the daily grind. And time and the way that it's unevenly distributed between men and women, between groups from different social backgrounds, seemed to me a bit of an overlooked issue.
Jeremy Cline 5:03
How did that translate into deciding to do this as a subject for a dissertation?
Lianna Etkind 5:06
A lot of it came down to my own personal circumstances. At the time, I was working for a wonderful disability rights charity called Transport for All, and when I'd taken up this job at Transport for All as their campaigner, it was advertised at four days a week. And so, almost by accident I fell into a job that left me with a three-day weekend, that left me working Monday to Thursday, and then very smugly – when most of my friends were getting up on Friday morning and going into work – having that extra day free in my life to do whatever I chose. And I found it was really transformative and wonderful, and left me with more energy to do things outside of work, more headspace. And it was something which I felt had not only big personal implications, but big social implications as well. Many, many feminists have written about the way that the care burden falls unequally on women, and the way that women are sometimes held back at work and have lower pay, is often down to the fact that working part time is seen as the mummy track, seen as a natural thing – when women have children, maybe they'll go down to three or four days a week, whereas men carry on climbing the career ladder. And that is not good for anyone in society. Mental health as well. Personally, I could think of quite a few of my friends for whom anxiety and depression, a sick feeling in their stomach on a Sunday evening and thinking about the next week at work was really affecting their quality of life. And so, both from a personal point of view and enjoying very much having a four-day week, and from a political point of view, I felt that this subject deserved a little bit more investigation.
Jeremy Cline 6:54
So, you mentioned how it's often seen as the mummy track, and you've touched on some of the advantages. But if someone was to ask you – maybe they're not a parent, or they're a single man or a single woman - and they're listening to you and thinking, okay, but what's the benefit? Other than just having that extra time, what sort of benefits do you think people should be opening their eyes to when considering whether or not to try and achieve a shorter working week?
Lianna Etkind 7:19
The benefit is just having a richer and more interesting life and having more freedom to spend your limited years here on earth doing things that you care about, doing things which are your passion, or achieving your dreams. And I think we live in a really work-centric society, and there's a pressure sometimes, a narrative about finding your dream job, finding your passion. And lots of people devote years to trying to make it as an artist or as a masseur, or finding a job that will both give them joy and give them enough money to get by on. And I feel that that can work out for some people, but it can be really difficult and competitive. And actually, having a job that doesn't have to fulfil every part of your being but allows you the time, allows you the headspace and emotional energy to do the stuff that really fulfils you, to do the stuff that really brings you joy, is so key. For some people, that might be having extra time to read novels, or to learn the language they always wanted to learn, or to go fishing. For some people that might be getting more deeply involved in community life and doing lots of volunteering, or contributing lots to their neighbourhood, starting a community garden. For some people that might be spending more time with their family or care work. It's different for different people. And I think that everybody should be able to enjoy life now, rather than deferring leisure, and deferring learning and fulfilment and thinking, 'Ah, when I retire, I'll go travelling.' Or, 'When I retire, I'll write that novel.' Why wait? We should do that now. We could be hit by a bus tomorrow, and life is to be enjoyed here and now.
Jeremy Cline 9:03
I really like the idea of this blended lifestyle, where some people will look for and some people will find the job which they absolutely love and work isn't work, and they're happy to be doing it all hours of the day. But for many people, they either won't necessarily get there, or they need the space in order to start exploring what that might look like, and just working full-time they might not have the time and the headspace in order to do that. So, I think that's an incredibly valuable point. In terms of the different types of ways that people might have a shorter working week. Is this just working a day less than you do? Or are there options like compressed hours or longer days when you are working? What sort of models are there that people should consider?
Lianna Etkind 9:51
I'm really non-dogmatic about the different ways people pursue a shorter working week. I think there's lots of different recipes, and different things work for different people. Working a four-day week, which I have chosen to do in my last four jobs, has really worked for me. But I have a friend who works for the NHS, and by temperament, she really enjoys working really long days for a chunk of weeks, and then having a whole week or a week and a half off. That pattern of really going for it and then having no work is something that fits in with her life, as well. For some people, it might be working shorter days and going in and doing a five-hour or a six-hour day, and then leaving the office at five or six. And that's something which some companies have experimented with. In Sweden, there was a care company which had two shifts of some people starting early at 7am and then leaving early afternoon, and then a shift of people who came in later in the morning and then worked later in the evening, and that helped the company to be able to cover the shifts longer. So, I guess it's a mixture of what works for the person and also what works for their boss and their workplace, and when they initially open up those discussions about flexibility, just figuring out what fits in with their role.
Jeremy Cline 11:12
I'll certainly come on to talk about looking at this from the employer and the boss's perspective, but let's focus first more on the employee and some of the objections that people might have, that people might have told themselves why this isn't something that will work for them. Two things which come to mind that I'd be interested to hear your view on, one is the idea that working, say, a day less a week means getting less pay. So, it might mean taking effectively a 20% pay cut. Can I afford to do that? And the other thing is perhaps more of a mental state, a belief that in taking a decision to work fewer days a week and saying to your boss, 'That's what I want to do', there's a fear that maybe you won't be taken so seriously, possibly be passed over for promotion. If there is a redundancy situation that comes up in the future that maybe you put yourself at greater risk if you've gone down to working a four-day week or a three-day week, or whatever it might be. Shall we first talk about the pay aspect, maybe what people can start to think about to get over that as an objection?
Lianna Etkind 12:22
I'm really glad you brought up the pay aspect, because I think this is the major barrier that stands in people's way of working shorter hours. And while there have been a few companies – actually, quite a few recently during the coronavirus pandemic, with people looking at different ways of working – which have offered their employees shorter working weeks but keeping the same pay. By and large, people considering cutting their working week are also going to be looking at taking home less money at the end of the month, which is quite a big deal for lots of us, especially those of us who live in cities with expensive housing, people who've got the cost of childcare – it's not easy. I guess for me personally, it was a little bit of an easier choice to make, in that I asked for four-day-a-week working when I was starting new jobs, where I was going for jobs where I was already getting a bit of a pay rise, just because it was taking a step up the ladder. And that has helped. And politically speaking, I was reading that in the Netherlands, they have been offering four-day week, fast-track graduate schemes, which seems to me a really excellent way of mainstreaming this from the beginning. So, rather than asking people to have to readapt their life and their rent or mortgage payments to a smaller pay packet, just factor it in from the start. But it's going to be a difficult decision for lots of people, and I would just say there's lots of resources out there about living a more frugal, simple life. And sometimes you might make the decision that you might be able to afford less in your life, but you will be happier. I definitely spend less because I work four days a week. For example, I've got the time to do some hunting and gathering in the charity shops, which I quite enjoy, rather than just going, 'Ah, I need a new work wardrobe. I'm going to go online!' And I take a pleasure in things like fixing my own bike punctures. It sounds silly, I definitely take a lot longer to do it than I would if I dropped it off at a bike shop and got somebody else to do it, but having more time allows me to do more things for myself – cook for myself, for example, rather than getting a takeaway and rather than outsourcing parts of my life to professionals.
Jeremy Cline 14:37
I'll link back to an episode I did with Pete Matthew of the Meaningful Money Podcast. I'll put the link to that in the show notes. But he talked in that episode about spending purposefully. So, you know, not necessarily deciding that you have to cut back on everything but looking at what you spend money on and realising which things that you actually use. So, it's not necessarily cutting out the one Starbucks or Costa coffee a day because you really like it and you enjoy it and it's part of your ritual, but it's looking at things like, am I using my Netflix subscription, or Disney+ subscription, or Amazon subscription? There's so many different subscriptions that you can have these days. Am I actually using all of them? Am I using my gym membership? I guess at the moment no one's using their gym membership, but that sort of thing. So, it's not necessarily taking this really frugal, 'If I'm going to do this, I'm going to have to start doing all of my cooking for myself and all of my cleaning for myself', which, frankly, might defeat the objective of trying to get more time in the first place, but it's being purposeful about what you spend your money on.
Lianna Etkind 15:45
That makes a lot of sense. And I think in the longer term, if we think about having a culture change and having a society where people have time to both work and have a life, that really needs to go along with things like raising the minimum wage. The fact is, at the moment, the average wage in the UK is around £30,000, and it might be easier for people who are above that to start thinking through that option. Another thing is thinking about the junctures at work where you might be in a position to ask for a pay rise and asking for more time instead. I think lots of organisations are thinking about ways to reward their employees, and that doesn't always have to come in a pounds and pence way. There might for some people be a way of saying to their boss, 'Look, I've hit all my targets this year, I think I would normally be in line for a pay rise. Would it be possible instead to leave early at Friday lunchtime instead?' And that might be a way for some people of keeping the money they need to live a decent life, but also having more time.
Jeremy Cline 16:51
I really like what you were saying about what they're doing in the Netherlands about starting on four days a week, because I think if you start with something, then you get used to it. So, if you start with a higher salary, then maybe your spending rises to meet it, whereas if you start with something which is a bit lower, and with the four days, then you make it work, you budget accordingly and you get into the habit, which is going to be quite a challenge for people. But I can see it as, it's a really interesting starting point.
Lianna Etkind 17:18
The other way of doing it is at the other end of people's working life, I think the mainstream way is you work and work and work Monday to Friday, and then you retire and you fall off a cliff. And lots of people find that a very difficult adjustment to make. And there's evidence that the mortality rate actually rises after retirement where people are just like, 'Oh, my gosh, what do I do with my life?!' And I think some employers are beginning to look at the possibility of rather than just going from five days a week to nothing, giving their employees an option of going down gradually in a stepped way from four days a week to three days a week, maybe combining that with a handover to new staff as well. And I feel like that is such a great way of easing gently into a new phase of your retirement. Because leisure is a faculty that we develop, we don't come out of the womb with an ability to enjoy reading literature or to enjoy gardening or whatever hobbies we get into. That's something that we learn. And I think retirement can be a time where having just that bit of extra time to start exploring new friendship, new group, new interests – bit by bit, not all at once – can be massively helpful.
Jeremy Cline 18:36
So, what about these other fears, these fears that, 'Oh, if I go down to four days a week, then I'm not going to be taken so seriously as an employee, I might be passed up for promotion, I might be first in line when redundancy hits.' First of all, is there truth to those objections? And secondly, whether there is or isn't, how do you get over those and stop them preventing you from possibly taking this step?
Lianna Etkind 19:02
I've had a fairly good experience with my employers being open to four-day-a-week working. But I think culturally speaking these are still really real concerns. We live in a society where work ethic and working hard – even to the point where it's making some people ill – is valued and is something to think carefully about. And it's something where the more of us who take this path make it easier for people who come behind us as well. I remember talking to a friend who works in engineering, a very male-dominated sector with some elements of machismo, who talked about how he had requested taking shared parental leave and taking a few months off to care for his new baby and he got quite a pushback – did he not care enough about his career and his work? And he was a strong enough person to go for it anyway and set an example of a successful senior employee who'd taken that chance. And I think like any change in society, in the workplace, sometimes it's about the trailblazers who can show that it is possible. For me, when I first went for a job that was five days a week at a small campaigning charity and said, 'Actually, thanks for offering me this job. I would love to take it up. Can I take it up on a four-day week basis?' There was some scepticism about whether such a busy job could be done properly on four days a week or whether some things would get left undone. And the way that I approached that was framing it as a pilot and saying, 'Okay, let's not commit to anything now. Let's try this through my probation period, see how it goes, review again'. And I think that made it a little bit safer for my new employer to say yes to.
Jeremy Cline 20:52
It reminds me of another earlier podcast episode with Stacy Mayer where we were talking all about promotion, and she made the point that just working harder and working longer hours isn't necessarily going to be the way that gets you promoted, particularly to senior positions. And it's much more about communication and advocacy and demonstrating the skills rather than necessarily the long hours. So, if you've got the mindset of still going for a promotion, and have a plan for how to do it, then working shorter hours doesn't necessarily rule it out. But it sounds like from what you're saying, we're still somewhat in an infancy of attitude there as regards employers. So, it's going to be harder for people, perhaps, who are looking for promotion to see how that will tie up with working a shorter week.
Lianna Etkind 21:39
It's different in different sectors, as well. I think maybe in creative sectors, there's more of an appreciation that it's not just about putting in the grind, and putting in the hours. And actually, having more time when you are open to reading other things or enjoying wider culture or just having a different headspace, where instead of staring at a screen, you're more open to new ideas, I think, is an attractive argument. And I've certainly come across examples of companies which have implemented four days a week across the board, partly because they're a creative company and they recognise that productivity isn't just about how many hours you're putting in in front of the screen. And I also think that maybe sometimes success and promotion at work is related to just how well you do. And if you've permanently got bags under your eyes and you're tired and you're spending lots of time on Facebook, or chatting in front of the watercooler – that is less impressive than somebody who comes in on Monday, leaves at Thursday, but gets stuff done.
Jeremy Cline 22:48
Let's turn this around now and look at it from the perspective of the employer. Because clearly, if this is something that you want to take advantage of, then you're going to have to convince an employer that it's a good thing for them, as well. So, can you perhaps talk to some of the objections that an employer might raise if you go to them and say, 'I'd like to work a shorter week', and how you start to go about addressing those objections?
Lianna Etkind 23:13
I guess an objection that I definitely faced was working and campaigning in politics in a field where sometimes things get very busy, fast, and it's not a predictable workflow. There are inevitably times around party conferences, for example, or times around big political moments or bills or actions when there's a lot going on. And it makes it easier at that point to be able to say to an employer, you know what, I can be flexible about this and work with TOIL, with time off in lieu, and have times where I might be working five days a week or even more than that, at certain times of year, even though my contract might say four days a week, on the understanding that when things calm down again, I can go back to four days a week and take some TOIL as well and claim back that extra time that I've been doing. And that's not an option for everybody, I really recognise that. I've been lucky enough to be able to do that. But people with caring responsibilities might not be able to say, 'Oh, there's a big rally coming up and I'm gonna be working until 8, 9, 10pm in the office', knowing that I can make it up later and go down to three days a week for a little while, or just take a week off. But I think, yeah, that openness to flexing has been a big thing.
Jeremy Cline 24:34
The concept of TOIL – time off in lieu – it certainly works in some professions, but certainly in others, I'm thinking of the professions like law, accountancy, finance, where the idea of TOIL, it's not there. The typical employment contract is, 'Your standard working hours are 9am to 5:30pm with an hour for lunch, but as you will appreciate, this is an industry where you may be expected to or may need to work longer hours than that', or something like that. And if you do end up working till 10 o'clock every night...
Lianna Etkind 25:08
That's just the way it is! Gosh, I remember talking to a barrister friend who went to a wedding reception, stayed for the ceremony and then went to her car and typed on her laptop because of a case that was coming up. Grim!
Jeremy Cline 25:21
Well, they're usually self-employed, so it's even worse for them! But if you're in that sort of position, is there any way that you can sensibly get the time back if you do agree to this flexibility?
Lianna Etkind 25:33
I have not worked in any of those professions, so I don't really know!
Jeremy Cline 25:38
Okay, you were going to make a second point before we got sidetracked on that.
Lianna Etkind 25:43
Yeah, I was gonna say that I think as with making any request at work, it's about thinking through – in quite a Machiavellian way, sometimes – what is your employer's interest here? What do they want? And I'm really glad to see that, in pretty much every sector at the moment, there is added emphasis on inclusion and diversity. Especially this summer with Black Lives Matter, more and more employers have been feeling uncomfortable about the fact that their workforce does not represent the population. And I think there's some really strong arguments that you can bring to bear about working a shorter week and the diversity benefits of that, because we know that it is primarily people who have caring responsibilities, which in our current society tends to be women, who are disproportionately affected by a long-hours culture, and disabled people as well. There are so many talented, amazing disabled people that I know who have so much to bring to work, but who can't sign up to doing 40-hour weeks because of energy-limiting conditions. And I think there's some really strong arguments to be made to HR departments for their policies and to bosses about, okay, maybe you'll have to adapt, maybe there are some things which will take a little bit of shifting around on your part, or some parts of my role that could be rethought. But actually, this is going to help make our company better at attracting the best talent there is, whether that is across genders, across disability status, across race. And more and more, there's pressure on bosses to take that seriously.
Jeremy Cline 27:22
Let's talk about legal rights, the legal framework behind all this. Now, I'm not expecting you to know what the rules are in every single country, but I'm sure you have looked at what there is in different places. We're both in the UK, we've got listeners in the US, Australia and all over the place. I know that here in the UK, there is a right for most workers to at least request flexible working, so you can apply for it, and there are limited grounds – fairly wide grounds, but still limited grounds – on which an employer can turn down an application for flexible working. What is the state of play in other areas, as far as you're aware of? I'm guessing the US probably has even more limited rights than the UK, but I don't know, and that may vary from state to state.
Lianna Etkind 28:11
The US is not known for a sensible work-life balance culture! I'm going to turn again to the Netherlands, which I think is a really forward-thinking country when it comes to working hours. And as you mentioned, in the UK, we have a right to request flexible working, which can be turned down by an employer, if there's a good business reason. In the Netherlands, they turn that on the head, and they say that you have a right to flexible working unless there is 'a compelling reason not to'. So, instead of the onus being on you, it puts the onus on the employer to really have a very strong reason why your request for working six-hour days or working four days a week isn't possible. And I totally appreciate that there are lots of jobs where it's not going to be possible – if you're an emergency doctor, and you are strolling out the door at 3pm, that might not work well with rotas. But that seems to me a much more progressive way to frame this. And it's no accident that when you look at the Netherlands from a gender perspective, it is much more equal. There's a mainstream concept of daddy days, and where both parents – men and women – play an equal part in caregiving and bringing up children. And obviously that means that in the workplace, you get less of a gender pay gap because there isn't this unspoken assumption, 'Oh, once a woman hits her 30s she might not be putting in 100% anymore'. And both sexes might be doing some time at work and some time back at home. That's something that I'd really love to see the UK move towards.
Jeremy Cline 29:57
Yes, I absolutely agree. I think that the fact that the UK has a framework is helpful. Also, the fact that there are a list of six grounds that can be used to refuse an application is useful because when you make your application, you can very specifically go through each of those and explain why it's not a reason for you to be turned down in your particular circumstances. So, I think that's quite a useful way to approach it.
Lianna Etkind 30:25
What I'd really love to see is – and maybe this is happening at the moment and I don't know about it – about strategic legal cases, pushing forward the right to flexible working. So, for example, if there's a workplace which has said yes to some mothers who want to cut down their working hours but said no to fathers in a similar situation, it could be really interesting to start challenging that sex discrimination under the Equalities Act, because formally, everybody in the UK has a right to request flexible working. It isn't restricted to parents or to carers. But I think sometimes in reality, that assumption that it's for people with kids to pick up from school still lingers. And I'd really love to see challenges to that.
Jeremy Cline 31:09
Yes. Having said that, very few people would want to be the test case, I would imagine!
Lianna Etkind 31:14
That would be a brave and scary thing!
Jeremy Cline 31:16
So, for those people who are working five-day weeks and they're listening to this, and they're thinking, 'Yeah, I quite like the idea of a three-day weekend, or maybe even a four-day weekend', what's the best place for them to start in terms of their mindset, how they might make this happen, anywhere in the world? Have you got some practical advice for what someone who's thinking about this can start doing that they can use to start making it a reality?
Lianna Etkind 31:42
The first thing I would say is be bold, be brave, life is short. And it's the niggle at the back of your mind, I think. You can have lots of years thinking of all the things that you would love to do before you get older, before you retire. And to hold on to those dreams of the novel that you want to write or the community garden you want to grow, or whatever you would like to do in that extra time. And then practically, I think a lot of it is about the strategies that we use in work, in all areas of trying to progress our careers. Talk to colleagues, figure it out with people who might be allies, or might have a better idea of how the boss might react, or maybe you know people at work who've already taken that step, and can hear from them how that conversation went and what the main concerns were. And I would add that doing the research is really vital. Before I took a deep breath and asked for the first time whether I could accept the job that I'd been offered on a four-day-a-week basis, I did lots and lots of reading, and especially on the Timewise Foundation website, which I found really useful. Timewise has lots of good resources for employers who are thinking about moving towards more flexible workplaces, but they've also got some blogs and some articles about how to request flexible working from an inflexible manager or the arguments you might want to make. So, in that first email where I put in my request, I cited some research, I linked to a paper that had found that 90% of part-time senior employees thought that they were hitting their targets, they were successful in their jobs, as well as being part-time. And I think having that data ready with you to make the arguments would make you feel much more confident about biting the bullet. And it might take time. It might be the kind of thing where, like lots of things in life, you fail the first time, but you've broached that subject and maybe it's something to come back to, or maybe you've started an employer thinking about what they would need to go on that journey. More strength to your elbow if that's a journey you're considering making!
Jeremy Cline 33:56
Okay, so that's the Timewise Foundation. Is that something that's predominantly from a UK perspective? Or is that something that will give you some ammo internationally, wherever you are, and whatever your labour rules are?
Lianna Etkind 34:08
Timewise Foundation is a UK organisation. I'd be interested to know if similar organisations exist in other parts of the world. So, I guess from a legal perspective, Timewise very much is speaking to the situation here. But I think some of the tips that they give apply – working with humans and the psychology of a workplace, that's going to apply everywhere. It's a really interesting organisation. It grew out of a jobs agency called Women Like Us, which was aimed at women who wanted to progress and have serious senior part-time roles that both spoke to the talents that they had and also allowed time for care. But then they broadened and they recognised that more and more, it isn't just women and mothers who want to have serious senior roles and be able to have lives outside work. And they do some great stuff. They have the Power Part- Timers list every year where they platform and raise up people working for really serious blue-chip companies at top levels who work less than five days a week. And I think it's that kind of slow culture change alongside the legal work and maybe some union and some campaigning work, which is hopefully going to move us forward in allowing more people time to have meaningful work and meaningful life outside work.
Jeremy Cline 35:36
This isn't a political podcast, and I rarely go into policy and that sort of thing. But what do you think are the prospects for this sort of thing being more widely recognised, widely adopted over the next five years, say?
Lianna Etkind 35:51
I feel really positive about four-day weeks, and shorter working time generally, being on the up. And partly that's taking a long view of how work has changed over the last 100, 200 years. In the 19th century, there was the movement for the eight-hour day. And there are some really beautiful pictures online with people with these gorgeous embroidered banners saying, 'Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will', and we take it for granted nowadays, that nine-to-five is kind of standard. But no, that was a battle. That's something that people went on strike for, it's something that people lobbied for. And similarly with the weekend, it almost feels like a fact of nature now – that Friday rolls around, and we clock off and we have Saturday and Sunday. But that was something that, initially, a group of New England Jewish women garment workers pushed for, because they had Sunday off as the Christian Sabbath, and they also wanted Saturday off as the Jewish Sabbath. And over some decades that became standard, and most of us now enjoy a five-day working week. So, I think the arc of history is going in the direction of a shorter working week. And there's also some campaigning organisations like the 4 Day Week who are making the argument that not only from a gender and mental health perspective, but automation is just such a growing trend in society. More and more jobs that used to be done by humans are being done by algorithms, are being done by computers. You can go into any supermarket, any library and find things that used to be done by a human being are now being done by robots. And we have a choice now about whether we have a cohort of people who are really stressed, working really long hours and then lots of unemployed people, or whether we redistribute work and have society across the board where people are rested, where people have time to participate in public life, and most people are employed as well.
Jeremy Cline 37:51
I think the current circumstances with coronavirus and everything, it's causing people to reassess so much that this is definitely an aspect that I would definitely encourage people to look into. I think it's an opportunity to make a reasonably substantial change, but not a whole career change, but it just could have such a benefit and make such a difference. So, I'm really grateful for you for coming on and talking about it.
Lianna Etkind 38:15
Thank you. Just in the last month, one of my friends who works for a medium-sized charity, they have seen a big drop in donations, they're worried about potential unemployment. And in their consultation with their staff, they said, what about working shorter hours and people having lower pay as a result? And that is something that they are going with. So, my friend is very happy to be looking at going down to a four-day week and having more time to write, for her, that's what she wants to do.
Jeremy Cline 38:46
If people want to get a hold of you and ask you a bit more about this, as you've clearly got such a wealth of knowledge about it, is there a way that people can do that?
Lianna Etkind 38:54
I'd really welcome people getting in touch and happy to forward over the template emails that I used to ask for a four-day week. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeremy Cline 39:11
Brilliant. I'll put a link to that in the show notes for this episode on the website. Lianna, thank you so much, fascinating subject. And thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Lianna Etkind 39:20
Thank you. It's been a real pleasure.
Jeremy Cline 39:22
Well, I don't know about you, but I'm convinced. Everybody has the same amount of time, and it's a cliche to say, but everyone has the same 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So why shouldn't we choose to do it in a different way to maybe how society has taught us that it's always going to be? If you're lucky enough that your job gives you as much of the fulfilment that you need, then great, but if you do crave that bit of extra time to spend time with family, do an extra project, write that book or whatever it might be, then why not explore reducing your working hours? There are clearly options out there. Lianna gave some great examples of how you might make this work for you and also how you can approach your employer about this. It's definitely becoming more common, and I personally know people who have reduced their hours in this way without ill effect, and in fact, it's been a really positive move for them. The way we work is changing, and if the past 12 months have made you consider, 'Well actually, a bit of extra time to do some of the things I love would be beneficial', then think about this, really consider it. It's a great option if you can make it work for you. You'll find a full transcript of the episode, together with links to the resources Lianna mentioned and where you can get in contact with her there on the show notes page for this episode, which is at changeworklife.com/71. And I know I keep saying this, but it would be amazing if you'd leave a review for this podcast, either on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts from. It really does help people find the show, it boosts us in the rankings – it makes such a difference. So, if you can take 30 seconds out just to leave a review – a five-star review would be absolutely perfect – then that would be amazing. We're finishing off Take Action January next week with an episode all about how you can improve not just your presentation skills, but your communication skills. It's going to be a really great interview, so stick around, and I can't wait to see you then. Cheers. Bye.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Thank you for listening!
If you have any questions or comments, please fill out the form on the Contact page.
I would be so grateful if you’d: