The 70 people who work at Treehouse, an online education company that teaches people about technology, only work four days a week at the same full salary as other tech workers. Yet the company’s revenue has grown 120 percent, it generates more than $10 million a year in sales, and it responds to more than 70,000 customers, according to a post in Quartz by CEO Ryan Carson.
Carson has been working four-day weeks since 2006, when he founded his first company with his wife, he told ThinkProgress. He quit his job to start it, only to find that they both put in seven days a week. “I remember distinctly my wife and I were on the couch one evening,” he recalled, “and she said something like, ‘What are we doing? I thought that starting a company means you have more time and more control, but it seems like we have less time and less control and we’re more stressed out.’” They decided to cut back by not working Fridays, and after they hired their first employee, “we decided to officially enact [a four-day week] and we never looked back.”
Carson has since started three other companies at which he’s instituted this rule, Treehouse being the latest. While it’s hard to quantify, he believes his company benefits from better output and morale. “The quality of the work, I believe, is higher,” he said. “Thirty-two hours of higher quality work is better than 40 hours of lower quality work.” The impact on his employees’ outlook is also “massive,” he said. “I find I just can’t wait to get back to work” after the weekend, and he suspects the same is true for others. On Mondays, “everyone’s invigorated and excited.” He recounted a time when a developer told him that his hope was to work at the company for 20 years. In the Quartz article, he noted that a team member gets recruitment emails from Facebook, but that his response is always, “Do you work a four-day week yet?”
And recruiting people in the first place is also easier thanks to the shorter week. “We regularly have new employees choose Treehouse over Facebook, Twitter and other top-tier tech companies,” he writes. And the company is able to still pull in high sales and even $13 million in venture capital thanks to instituting higher efficiency, by, for example, strictly limiting the use of email.
Carson believes plenty of other companies could follow his example. “We have 70,000 customers, and I think if we can do it… couldn’t more people do that?” he said. Some businesses will still need to be open on Fridays, but he suggests “rolling employment,” where some people work Monday through Thursday while others work Tuesday through Friday. “Is it possible for everybody? No,” he concedes. “But I bet some huge percentage of companies can do it that just aren’t.”
There are some drawbacks. Not working on Friday, he said, means no day of slowdown before the weekend. “It’s kind of like 100 miles per hour until Thursday at 6 p.m.” And he acknowledges that less work may get done with one day off.
But there is some social science to back up the practice of limiting how much people put in at work each week. Research has found that putting in long hours, or more than 60 hours a week, produces a small productivity boost at first. But after three or four weeks of working at that level, it will actually decline. Other studies have similarly found that long hours produce a short term bump but have negative ramifications over the long run. This plays out on the global stage: countries where workers put in less time tend to be the most productive. For example, Greek workers put in 2,000 hours a year, on average, while German workers put in about 1,400, yet German productivity is about 70 percent higher.
The dominant work culture in the United States is one of overwork, though. We rank at number 11 out of 33 developed countries in how many hours we work each week. For professionals, nearly everyone is working more than 50 hours a week and nearly half are putting in more than 65.
Carson isn’t the only one experimenting with shorter hours. Municipal workers in Sweden’s second-largest city will soon work six-hour days to see whether it boosts efficiency and reduces costs if they need fewer sick days. Six of the ten most competitive countries, including Germany, have banned working more than 48 hours a week.