Less is More

Wednesday 27 Feb 2013

Should architects adopt a 4 day week?

With Gambia recently announcing that their public sector workers will now work 4-day weeks and various firms speaking out in the international press about their experiences of a compressed working week, is this a model that architectural firms should be adopting? Despite the announcement by Gambia’s president Yahya Jammeh that public sector workers will now have different working hours to allow for more time for praying, socialising and farming in the Muslim country, the concept behind a 4-day week is not a new one.

Back in 2008, the governor of Utah in the USA, Jon Huntsman, announced plans for 18,000 of its public workers to work 40 hours over 4 days and to close 900 public buildings on Fridays. Professor Rex Facer, from Brigham Young University, an adviser on the initiative, investigated the impact of the scheme and found that eight out of ten employees liked the four-day week and wanted it to continue.

As well as this, many of those interviewed said that conflict at home and work was reduced and around 60% said the changes had made them more productive at work. Despite these successes and employers across the state saying absenteeism has gone down and morale has improved amongst the workforce, the scheme finished in 2011.

While the 4-day week may be over for employees in Utah, in Europe, many firms are adopting more flexible working practices. In the Netherlands, many employees work shorter working weeks than their European counterparts. Around 1 in 3 Dutch men work either part-time or compressed hours with 3 in 4 working women in the Netherlands working part-time hours.

This culture means there are part-time surgeons and managers in the country, and many companies, including large multinational corporations, offer flexible hours to their employees with many fathers working 4 days a week so they can have a ‘daddy day’. Cutting working hours or changing around the working week can prove controversial, after Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French prime minister, recently announced that the 35-hour working week may be up for debate, but later went back on this decision.

As well as this, a school board in northern Alberta, Canada looked into having a 4-day school week, but the board rejected the proposal last week. With various examples in the worldwide press of individuals and companies who have opted for a 4-day week, many of the organisations highlighted are architectural and design firms who have adopted this working pattern, or offer flexible working hours to their employees.

These architects include Bauman Lyons, a Leeds-based architectural practice in the UK which is currently blogging about the changes to their working week. Michael Pawlyn, one of the principal architects of the Eden Project in Cornwall, UK and Jane MacCuish of Meadowcroft Griffin have also been quoted as working a 4-day week with Pawlyn allowing his employees to have ‘exploration days’ for thinking and reflection.

Naomi Wilcock

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