By Rhiannon Vivian
Let’s talk about work. Green party leader Caroline Lucas has just announced that she’d promote a four-day working week if she were in power. Some people have already criticized this (the main one being Brexit loving, Thatcherite, Tim Montgomerie) but I can’t understand why. Does having a rigid, toil based work ‘ethic’ automatically make you a brilliant, better and more productive person? I don’t think so.
The reason this resonated is that I believe improv and work are really closely tied. There’s definitely a trend in people who take up improvisation classes shaking up their day job. Whether that’s going for a promotion, quitting and going freelance, going and doing the thing they always wanted to try or even just taking a break – improv seems to infuse people with both positivity and confident risk taking*. And pretty much always for the better.
Introducing a four-day week could be seen as a risk, but it doesn’t mean employers shouldn’t do it. On the contrary. In fact it’s not really even a risk, because it’s not a new phenomenon. Sweden has already trialed reduced hours and there are plenty of companies who work Monday – Thursday (hello Think Productive!), or at the very least operate reduced hours in order to create an uptick in employer wellbeing and – yep – productivity.
Productivity does nothing but thrive when hours are reduced. Equally presenteeism (sticking about for ‘show’ despite having done all your work) and it’s opposite (doggedly putting in The Hours despite tiredness and misery) are both a proven waste of time. Tired You does rubbish work. Bored You, gets resentful. And overall, lives and time are wasted. So to me, this is a no brainer.
If we can do all our work in four days (and let’s face it who actually works all of the 7-8 hours in the traditional working day) why is this bad? And no, that 8 wasn’t a typo. Some offices operate a dizzying, eye watering standard 8-hour day…
We should ditch this culture of guilt and self-flagellating that makes us resist change. We’ve had the technology to work remotely for over 10 years now so the fact barely anything has changed even in regard to that, is a startling testament to a resistance from employers to evolve. Perhaps the problem surrounds trust. In improv we are taught how important trust is. Trust your scene partner, trust your instinct, trust your feet when it comes to editing and so on. It’s brilliant. But if we don’t improvise, it’s often knocked out of us pretty young which is a huge shame. And I think it’s the main blocker when it comes to office life too.
If you don’t want your employees working compressed hours, or utilizing flexi time, or working remotely when they need to – what’s the message? You don’t trust them. So what’s the answer? I think it’s simple. Start trusting them. And if you really, really don’t trust them – don’t employ them in the first place. You see, whenever someone trusts me, I am thrilled. And I put more into what I do for them (not purposefully – I’m just happier, so it happens naturally). I recently worked at a freelance job and asked for two days at home to really blitz my work, as the office was very noisy. They said yes. And despite already liking them, they instantly went up even higher in my estimation. I did a bloody good job too, so I think the feeling was mutual. If you trust someone, they like you, and if they like you, you’ll get much more from them. Simple.
Remember the days of uni, when you were trusted to do your reading in your own time and show up to lectures and pass your degree? They said it would set you up for the world of work. But then as soon as you hit the working world, you’re almost back to the rigidity of primary school.
I’ve been quietly championing reduced hours, staggered start times and remote working for ages. And it’s individual. If you like being in an office, cool! If you prefer to split your time between quieter spaces (including home) – cool! If you prefer to blitz everything Monday –Thursday – cool! If you want to work 8-3pm so you can run around a park when the sun is still up – cool! If you’re super productive at 2am but useless at 10am – cool! It should all be cool. And trust makes it cool.
And you can still build relationships within a work environment without a 9-5. In fact those relationships will probably be stronger thanks to the level of trust and goodwill in the office. Not to mention the wellbeing of staff and the productivity of the company.
Much like improv, I guarantee morale will increase the more you trust your staff. And make the incentives count. I feel like a real 2000’s office hangover is rewarding staff with material goods. Free beer for example. That works if you’re 21. When you’re 31 you’d rather be given the long term gift of managing your own deadlines and being able to accommodate your out of office life – be that hanging with your family or simply doing something that brings you great joy.
So in a nutshell, Caroline I agree. And I have a funny feeling you’d be brilliant at improv…
*Kind risk taking I’d like to add. Improvisers in general are empathetic sorts and don’t seek to trample their fellow humans.