I recall, fondly, an MTV series of concerts, albums and a concept of unplugged.
A range of performances with largely acoustic — i.e. no electrically stimulated — instruments of recorded songs. My favourite will always be Maxwell: MTV Unplugged not least for his amazing rendition of “This Woman’s Work” (originally by Kate Bush).
When we say unplugged we often think of being off the grid; disconnected from the web; recharging.
Such is the current thinking behind a 4-day working week — with an extra day unplugged from the work Matrix. The recent BBC report on the Icelandic experiment with this and its apparent success.
Which isn’t how everyone’s reacting to it.
- Longer days — that’s not right
- What about choice?
- It’ll never work here
I’m familiar with the rejection of things based on one’s own bias, conditioning and belief systems. I’ve challenged several views like this with my alternative experiences (which is almost one year into People and Transformational HR Ltd.’s 4-day operating week and the punctuation of it with a Wellness Wednesday).
We unplug on a Wednesday. Not entirely, all the time. I’ve covered some client needs on Wednesdays so swapped it out for Friday mornings, Tuesday mornings (as I did this week).
Whatever it is, our expectations are no more than 4 operating days per week. Our rationale for what you do on your unplug day?
Whatever’s good for the soul.
And in the face of our biggest ever workload, that may seem like a physics exercise that just does not compute.
But it’s not about whether you’re on every day, it’s how you feel about the days you are. And the energy and drive you have in those days. We know we’re more productive now than ever. As in our hours on-to-impact ratio is higher. So we’re getting better work done in our lesser days on. Proving the traditional model of 5-days all on then 2 days off wasn’t working for us.
Take this week. I wanted to do something on Sunday — not client work but research, reading, a bit of future-scaping. But I wasn’t feeling it so I remained unplugged.
And Monday morning, I was on it. Steaming through things with relative ease because I’d given my mind a break.
That’s what a 4-day working does more of than a 5. An extra day to reclaim as yours and relax and rest that mind. And in the case of physical labour, relax the muscles and joints.
Unplugged means shifting to a recuperative state. Acoustic.
We might then think “but I’m stressed about work now, one less day will surely stress me out more?”
The World Health Organisation report on overwork is sobering. We are supposedly working up to 40 hour weeks in most of the world. The reality is different. An unplugged, additional day brings that into sharp focus about how we craft our expectations and really measure impact and value (and not just the mythical productivity equation).
Until we unplug more though, how can we be really sure that the prevailing orthodoxy of 5 on/2 off is really that optimal?
We take it for granted like the fish does water. Water? What water?
Unplugging — in many therapies — is desired to create thinking space and decompression.
And no, unplugging is not some privileged state. It’s our health, wellness, recharging that goes beyond being “an executive” or “a professional”. We all deserve the right to unplug.
My sense is more unplugging will do us all good not to mention close the gap between (said through gritted teeth) full-time and part-time. 5/2 biases towards roles meaning if you’re 3/4 you’re excluded. It’s an imbalanced, two-tiered working system that denies talented people a chance because you have children or relatives to care for (or an additional volunteering role you’re dedicated to alongside your job).
I said all this on LinkedIn post and got lots of support for it. It’s not fair to label roles or people this way because we're stuck in an early 20th-century orthodoxy we’ve rarely challenged since the dawn of the digital era.
So kudos to the nation of Iceland. To Andrew Barnes, who wrote the book on his company’s shift to 4-days. To the 4-day working week campaign (of which PTHR is a proud Gold-Standard employer) and many more pushing for this.
And this recent Guardian article on carbon footprint benefits.
M-F 9–5 is an overdrawn model.
Work from anywhere (if you can), at variable times, is surely how we manage not only our health, equality of opportunity, help carbon footprint issues and serve 24–7 societies in the digital era.
After all, as a customer, ask yourself when you want a service. Is it M-F 9–5 because you want to, or because that’s what traditionally has been on offer?
Closing word to another musical maestro, Louis Armstrong. (Sorry Dolly, 9–5 is a song about working museums).
We have all, the time, in the world.
And more of it unplugged, is, to me, a wonderful world.