When I was asked to write an article for design mind about work-life balance‚ I had to chuckle‚ because doing so would only add to the current imbalance I have between home and the office. Then I was struck by both a good idea for an article and a way to recalibrate my own life: The piece would document “a participatory study” in which I‚ the lab rat‚ would explore a new work-life framework‚ testing the benefits or detriments of a regular four-day work week with a three-day weekend (versus the usual five and two).
Of course‚ when I pitched the idea of not working on Fridays‚ it was perceived as lunatic. The powers that be wanted an article about three-day weekends; they just didn’t want me to spend company time doing it. Again‚ I had to chuckle. If this article feels a little cobbled together at the last minute‚ it’s because‚ well‚ it was‚ and for that I apologize. I'm hopeful that you will appreciate it for its honesty.
“Three-day weekend.” Those three words strung together sound so beautiful‚ especially when they don't refer to the rare Monday holiday. If you ask me, more free time is the sort of “unprecedented change” America needs. Unfortunately‚ I haven’t yet experienced enough three-day weekends to offer an extensive subjective analysis of the phenomenon. However‚ I do know that some organizations are considering it. In Utah‚ for example‚ the state government has mandated four-day weeks. Granted‚ it’s mostly to save money on energy costs‚ but officials do recognize that such a move “helps employees manage their work-life balance‚” according to a report from the Society for Human Resource Management. I think Utah is setting a great precedent. Deep down‚ I’m certain that we’d all be healthier‚ happier‚ better human beings if we spent less time at the office and stopped letting work routinely follow us home via our laptops and mobile devices.
The boundaries between work and life in America seem to no longer exist. It’s become common‚ if not expected in many industries‚ for us to be back online after dinner attending to some ludicrously contrived urgency—say‚ a frantic client email—that showed up in our in-box at 5 p.m. Technology design seems to be at the root of the problem: Always-on devices have given rise to the notion that we‚ too‚ should be perpetually on-call. I’ve witnessed this type of pressure reduce co-workers to tears‚ pull them away from their families on the weekends‚ and erode their mental and physical health. So‚ here we are‚ America‚ either out of work or overworked‚ and leadership says that the appropriate response is to work harder‚ achieve machine-like efficiency‚ give everything you can to the cause‚ and‚ when you run out of steam‚ guzzle some coffee and try again.
Let’s‚ for a moment‚ consider another option: Maybe the best kind of workforce is one that works less. Who do we suppose functions better‚ a frazzled‚ overextended employee who’s running on fumes‚ or a focused‚ measured employee who’s got energy to spare? It’s reasonable and plausible to assume that a company of well-rested‚ calm‚ and fully engaged employees could achieve as much in four days that otherwise might require five. I bet the quality of the work done in a four-day week could be higher‚ too. Of course‚ I’m speculating because most companies don’t have the guts to try anything radically contrary to the mainstream‚ including mine.
Now‚ you might read this and dismiss me as being lazy or lacking in commitment. Let me assure you that I’m neither. It’s just that I believe my life’s work comprises a lot more than what happens at the office. In addition to being a professional designer‚ I’m a father‚ a husband‚ the groundskeeper of my humble estate‚ a hunter‚ a fisherman‚ a friend‚ a tattoo artist‚ and a painter. I consider all of these duties and passions to be an integral part of my existence and overall contribution to the planet. After being at the office five days a week‚ I spend the two other days attempting to squeeze in all of the other activities I hold dear. Generally speaking‚ I often show up at work on Monday morning more exhausted than when I left on Friday evening. Sound familiar?
Most of us could easily find a way to fill up an extra weekend day. For the few of you who can’t handle that amount of free time‚ consider volunteering for community service‚ wandering around practicing random acts of kindness‚ blowing dandelions‚ or‚ my personal favorite‚ taking up fly-fishing. Hell‚ I might even use that third weekend day to just work on my tan‚ so I could show up at the office rested and ready to dig into my next project—on Tuesday‚ that is..