The 4 Day-Workweeks and the Mental Health Crisis at Work

Let me start by saying I’ve built a new destination for members-only content. It’s on Patreon and it is the next level after this. I will, of course, keep writing in these newsletters but I’ll reserve the juicy bit, the controversial parts and most of my boiling indignation for there. Expect “No one gets fired for buying IBM but they should” T-shirts or “Agile from the heart, not consultancy PowerPoint” mugs and all the other things I said that caused a fuss, in between a flurry of straight-shooting content from videos to blogs. No filter, no punches pulled, no wooden language, no lip service and no impression management. The real of the business world with topics from big tech to the cases of HumanDebt that are straight-up abusive and any other ideas we’ve been waltzing around here from business ghosting to bullying cultures and their endless examples to honest discussion about remuneration, how broken performance metrics are and how people may appear lazy when burned out. Could we talk about all this here? We can and have done but not in the same way and the time for pleasantries has passed, if we want to get ahead of this public health emergency in the workplace and to remain competitive we have to call a spade a spade. It’s not free but it’s worth it. Join me on there in an exclusive community where we’re keeping it unprecedentedly real. 

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This week I’ll gleefully admit we have had one big win in the world of work which is the amazing news of the success of the 4 days weeks experiment that went so very well that 100 other companies will moves straight to that model. Not that the employees will suffer no pay drop as a consequence as their hours are reduced. As I understand it, all the participants in the scheme managed to do one simple thing that albeit seemingly obvious has been missed as a step by many a bigger enterprise: explore what outcomes truly mean within their particular business and then communicate clear expectations to their employees. 

By doing this, they have ensured that the exact timing of work becomes less relevant than accomplishing the work itself and in the instances where this is possible, the ability to complete that work in whatever timeframe best suits the worker. 

A focus on performance and outcomes is what would have been an incredible secret weapon in anyone’s arsenal if only most enterprises would have framed an open, blue-sky, tabula rasa discussion about the future of work and the true definition of flexibility from the beginning but here we are, years “after the pandemic” and covered in new work policies of all kinds while most organisation have never undertaken this all-important co-creation mechanism.

We’ve also seen a bit of an awakening to the topic I most deplore: the mental health crisis brewing at all levels of the workplace. This article in the FinancialTimes comes complete with some terrifying stats about the number of adults in the UK who are medicated for anxiety and depression. 

How much of this crisis is workplace created or at least dependant we can only estimate but irrespective of what has caused it, the fact of the matter remains, we can no longer ignore the fact that we are asking unwell people to show up as if they are in perfect shape and we perpetuate a climate of stigma and lack of support that makes their lives unliveable anywhere that doesn’t actively cause this state of the overall mental health of their employees. Is it ethical to continue under the pretence of not being aware that people are suffering? Is management under any kind of illusion that their particular industry or department or team is magically exempt from these terrifying stats? No, it’s more likely that management themselves are unwell and unengaged as a result so there’s really no one left to bemoan the status quo and usher in change. 

Now don’t get me wrong, the awakening is brilliant news. Being clear and being sufficiently alarmed is absolutely mandatory at this juncture but the real question is whether or not anything will be done. Making support lines clearer and more widely available, any time of private counselling and coaching the enterprise can afford but more urgently than ever, empowering your own workers to start getting better, start working on themselves and the team with self-care, respect, trust, emotional investment and higher EQs and generally do the human work that will make them feel better and remain afloat while more help is on its way where needed will be a mark of common sense and morality of the part of any organisation who will rush into these measures. Those who keep their heads in the sand will be hit in ways they can’t even imagine at this point. 

Where are you? Where is your enterprise on these topics? 4-day week in your future? Help and encouragement for the human work in place? Counselling or coaching and recognition towards the crisis of mental health around? If not you don’t have to stay, there’s enough mobility left in the job market that you can save your own mental state by finding a better place. 

Related: Is the Knowledge Workers’ Revolution Brewing?