Reading Between the Lines on the 4-Day Work Week
Reading Between the Lines on the 4-Day Work Week 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, Quartz published a piece about a New Zealand company that has implemented a 4-day work week policy.

This company offered the shortened work week without any reduction in pay or other benefits. They tested it and then implemented it broadly when they found that it didn’t cause any decrease in overall performance for the organization.

The owner of the company, Andrew Barnes, is bullish about these results and wants every company to try it. But, he offers some words of caution not to talk about this effort in terms of employee well-being. Instead, he advised that you talk about it in terms of productivity.

Here’s a quote from Barnes about how they rolled this out:

“We sat down with each team and we said, ‘Right, let’s agree what is the base of productivity that you’re delivering now,’” he says. “And then the deal was, provided you delivered on the productivity goals, you would be gifted a day off a week.”

This is a cool story. It highlights what is possible when organizations think differently about work.

Is this really about a 4-day work week?

While I think it’s awesome that this company is proving that some of our assumptions about work (i.e. the 5-day work week) are limiting, I think the article is misleading for anyone who might want to pursue something similar in their own organization.

The 4-day work week is the kind of gimmicky silver-bullet we love to read about and debate. The gimmick is a distraction.

If you read between the lines, here’s what you find echoed in this article.

  • This company found that employees could produce the same amount of output in 4 days that they had been producing in 5.
  • When given this challenge (or opportunity) to work more effectively, employees stepped up. When surveying employees before and after the 4-day week trial, they “found that 78% of staff felt able to manage work and other commitments after the trial, compared to 54% before.”
  • The policy is less about a 4-day week than it is about autonomy and flexibility. The leaders essentially told employees that if they can get their work done in less hours, they could have those extra hours back.
  • And please don’t say this effort is about employee well-being if you want to be taken seriously because nobody (particularly leaders) cares about that. (Forgive my sarcasm, but this seems to be what they chose to lead with.)
  • The key to making this transition happen swiftly is an owner or CEO who gets it or has a eureka moment.

My take on the 4-day work week

Conversations about a shortened work week are colored by how we think about work. It highlights a fundamental conflict in management philosophy. The practice of management was born during the industrial revolution where the objective was primarily to maximize the productivity of employees per hour. A majority of organizations today are still rooted in this belief.

The objective of work processes is to motivate and/or coerce the maximum amount of productivity out of each hour the employee works. 

In this model, the number of hours the employee spends working is viewed as vital to achieving performance expectations. Your role as an employee is less about achieving specific outputs as it is about seeing how much you can contribute. The manager’s role is to get the maximum amount of value out of the employee.

This way of thinking is prevalent among leaders. It’s this way of thinking that makes the “discretionary effort” model of employee engagement so attractive. It’s oriented towards getting more and more out of the same investment in people–to maximize productivity for the benefit of the organization.

An alternative way of thinking about work is that employees are hired to fulfill specific roles with clear expectations for the value they contribute to the organization’s success. This role clarity drives compensation, management evaluation, and other work processes. This way of thinking about work might be summarized this way:

The objective of work processes is to ensure that employees are clear about the expectations of their role and that they have everything they need to succeed.  

In this way of thinking, a manager’s role isn’t to get the maximum amount of productivity out of each employee. Instead, it’s about ensuring that each employee is crystal clear about what is expected of them and then supporting them in achieving those goals successfully.

If an employee can complete their work in less than 40 hours per week, good for her. She’s met her expectations, so what she does with those extra hours is up to her. If she’s able to do her work in 25 hours/week, then that likely means she’s either due for a more challenging role or the role she’s in is poorly designed. Or, maybe she’s just super efficient at her job and everyone’s happy.

These two very different ways of thinking about work are really what the discussion about the 4-day work week is truly about. If your leaders believe that their mandate is to create a workplace that extracts the maximum amount of productivity from employees, then you are dead in the water before you start.

I suspect that’s why the article led with the insight to talk about this effort as “productivity” and not well-being. The implication seems to be that perhaps you can trick your leaders into the 4-day work week. But, if you don’t address the underlying belief that the goal is to maximize employee output, how long do you think it will take before your leaders realize that if employees can be 20% more productive in four days a week, imagine the productivity if they get back that fifth day?

Instead of trying to trick your leaders into this experiment, focus instead on building a better system of performance management that clearly defines expectations and creates systems of measurement and feedback to help managers effectively manage to those expectations. Once your organization and its leaders are more clearly oriented around thinking of roles in terms of defined performance expectations, the conversation about greater autonomy and flexibility will become much easier.

P.S. This has everything to do with employee well-being, even if your leaders aren’t ready to invest in it yet.


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Open Offices Suck, Annual Engagement Surveys are Dead, and other Lies
Open Offices Suck, Annual Engagement Surveys are Dead, and other Lies 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

I love CBS Sunday Morning.

This past Sunday, Faith Salie shared an op-ed monologue about how much she dislikes open offices. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of the post for you to check out. She makes a pretty compelling argument.

Just a few years ago, open offices were THE ANSWER to the future of workplace design promising more communication, more innovation, and more productivity. Not to mention they are less expensive for the organization (more people in smaller spaces).

But, now a backlash has started. Lately, it’s become more en vogue to make the point that open offices are, as Faith argues, THE WORST.

Which is it? Are open offices THE ANSWER or are they THE WORST?

Arguments like these are everywhere when it comes to what’s best in the workplace.

  • Is performance management good or bad?
  • Is the annual engagement survey critical or dead?
  • Are front line supervisors the problem or the victims of a bad system?
  • Are best friends at work vital or ridiculous?

These arguments between binary choices are assinine at best and harmful at worst.

We’ve become so enamored by best practices that promise THE ANSWER to our problems, we’ve lost sight of the complexity of this work. Our fixation on finding the right choice between two polar opposite choices is causing us to ignore a harder reality.

THE ANSWER is an illusion. No, it’s a lie.

There are never just two answers. And, there are almost always several different right answers.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about open office space designs. If you’ve ever worked in this type of environment, you probably do too. I like the energy of being in open space around other people working. I like that accessibility that it creates. But, I strongly dislike the lack of privacy and constant distractions.

The organizations using workplace design to drive employee engagement have embraced that different people and different kinds of work require different types of workspaces. They recognize that private offices and open office space can be both good and bad depending on the context.

Those leaders not trapped in binary and best practice thinking are creating innovative spaces for work designed to provide options and flexibility. An example that I wrote about in my book is Hudl, whose new headquarters includes a mix of different spaces designed for different types of preferences and needs. Most employees at Hudl don’t have an assigned desk. Instead, they choose their workspace based on their needs that day.

Thinking in binary terms (i.e. Is this is good or bad?) is crippling our ability to innovate and move forward. It’s hard to resist this thinking since it’s everywhere. In politics, you are either with me or against me. In pop culture, a movie is great or it sucks. When we encounter someone, they either agree with us or they are an idiot.

We must resist this thinking. We need to break free of the “this or that” trap.

The path to growth and innovation lives in the messy grey area in the middle. Because here’s the reality, open offices are both great and terrible at the same time. Performance management can be both good and bad.

The choices are false. THE ANSWER is a lie.

Our mandate is to embrace the complexity of working with humans. Each one of us is different and unique. That means that any group of us is almost infinitely complex. There are many right answers. There are many effective solutions. Never just one.

Do the work to find what’s best for your organization and your people. Ask more questions. See all angles. Push back on arbitrary options and dig in.

Not only will you end up having a much greater impact, but you will learn a lot more along the way.

Not sure what questions you should ask? We should talk.



8 Future of Work Trends to Prepare for NOW
8 Future of Work Trends to Prepare for NOW 600 300 Jason Lauritsen

It’s gotten pretty popular to write about the future of work recently. It’s fun to think about the future and what might happen.

Usually, much of what’s written is speculation based on hunches and educated guesses. Because the future is yet to be written, writing about it encourages you to be creative in your predictions.

The problem, of course, is that when we are creating strategic plans and making investments in our organizations, our decisions about the future have real consequences. We need something better than a creative writing exercise to guide our thinking

Fortunately, there are better ways to inform our thinking about the future.

As my Futurist mentor, Rebecca Ryan, has taught me, thinking about the future can and should be grounded in the information we already know from the present. Particularly when thinking about the near future that impacts your organization over the next several years, there’s a lot of data available that paints a picture of what’s most likely to happen.

Over the past two months, I’ve been writing a series of posts for PeopleDoc outlining eight trends that are heavily influencing the (near) future of work and how you can be preparing your organization for them.

I’m also doing a webinar with PeopleDoc tomorrow, Tuesday, December 11, to discuss the eight trends. Register here.

Here are the eight trends and links to each post.

  1. Declining Trust
  2. Growth of the “Gig” Economy
  3. The increasing demand for instant gratification
  4. The increase in mobile technology
  5. Career experiences are replacing career paths
  6. Increasing life expectancies
  7. Automation through artificial intelligence
  8. Increasingly Diverse Workforce

Each post is based on real trends that don’t show any signs of changing. If you employ people, these trends are and will continue to affect you in small and, possibly, large ways over the next several years. Ignore them at your own peril.

As you plan for 2019 and beyond, take some time to step back and look at the story that these (and other) trends are telling you. The future of work is revealing itself to you if you know where to look.

If you’d like more content like this to arrive in your email box weekly, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking here.

Vulnerability is a Barrier to Employee Engagement
Vulnerability is a Barrier to Employee Engagement 680 678 Jason Lauritsen

When you start to understand work as a relationship, it starts to raise some interesting questions that you may not have asked before. For example, how does our comfort with being vulnerable impact how willing or able we are to “engage?”

When I reflect on the relationships in my life and all of the stories I’ve heard from friends about their own relationships, a common barrier I notice to a healthy relationship is the fear of getting hurt.

People can be careless in their relationships with others. When someone close hurts you, it leaves an emotional scar. When a lover breaks your heart, or worse, a parent hurts you in any way, the damage can run deep and be lasting.

If your past is full of relationships that ended in hurt and disappointment, it’s natural that you’d start trying to protect yourself. You’d play defense, not letting yourself get too exposed or too invested in any particular relationship.  After all, the less invested you are, the less likely you are to be devastated if that person lets you down or leaves you.

Looking in the mirror, I recognize a weird contradiction. Perhaps because I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve always been able to be open and vulnerable in personal relationships. With romantic relationships or friendships, I seem to have always been comfortable going all in quickly. As a result, today I have an amazing life partner in Angie and so many who I consider to be great friends.

But on the employment side, it’s been quite the opposite. And now that I reflect on it, it’s probably warranted. I’ve written a lot about the progression of bad jobs I had on my journey. In nearly every case, I felt hurt and harmed in some way in the end.

I can only remember one time in my career when I feel I was fully engaged. And then at the peak of my engagement, the company was sold. I spent the next twenty months watching the organization I loved being torn apart. It was, for me, a soul-crushing twenty months.

Along the way, I learned to play defense. Don’t get too attached because sooner or later, something bad is going to happen and I’ll be on my way to the next thing. Every time it happened, I became harder to engage at work. I became the equivalent of a serial dater in the employment world.

We don’t talk about this side of the employee engagement equation enough. How does your employees’ past work relationships affect the degree to which they are even willing to engage with you?

Most employers are still not very good at creating an engaging work experience. And there are A LOT of bad managers out there. That means that most of the people you employ have a history of bad work relationships.

They know if they get too vulnerable and attached, that will only lead to being hurt. So, they play defense. They give only what is required. They stay guarded.

If you have ever been in a relationship with someone like this, who’s been hurt in the past, you know that to break through takes time. You can’t force someone to let their guard down and be more vulnerable. They must make that choice. And they will only make that choice once they know it’s safe.

When they know they can trust you.

This is why trust is so important to employee engagement. A good, healthy relationship of any type is built on trust. There is no substitute.

One of the best and most direct ways to build trust is to first extend it.

If you are a manager, how do you show your employees that you trust them? Do you give your employees autonomy and flexibility to do their work?  Or do you justify following up frequently about progress and micromanaging their time? If you’ve had employees let you down in the past, you are probably playing defense in your current relationships with employees. That’s likely holding your employees back from fully engaging with and for you.

If you are an HR leader, take a look at your policies and processes. Do they convey to employees that you trust them?  In most cases, HR policies are written to protect the company from employee behavior and choices. That’s the organization playing defense in the relationship (“We’ve been hurt by employees in the past, so we are going to make sure you can’t hurt us.”). That’s not a great invitation to a healthy, long-term relationship.

When an employee lets you down, forgive them. Give them a second chance. And don’t hold it against all future employees.

Trust first. Trust often.

Words of Gratitude (#18) for Joe Gerstandt
Words of Gratitude (#18) for Joe Gerstandt 612 612 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I have been writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. Do it now. 

When I started this series, I wrote about how we frequently overlook expressing gratitude to those who are closest to us.  My kids, for example, rarely thank me for everything I do for them as a parent.  And, despite my best efforts, I know I fall short of thanking my wife for everything she does for me and our family.

It’s easy to take the people closest to us for granted. Particularly when they’ve been in your life for a long time. It’s not just our spouse or families who fall into this category, it’s often our closest friends.

One of those people for me is my wingman, Joe Gerstandt.

Unless you and I just met recently, you know Joe’s name. He and I co-wrote Social Gravity together and we’ve been speaking together as the Talent Anarchy team for nearly a decade.

Long before we started doing work together, we were friends. Our friendship dates back to 1999 when the universe brought us together to suffer through working at a terrible little company.

In the past two decades, we’ve been through divorces and marriages. We’ve traveled from single to married to family life. We’ve navigated through starting a couple non-profits and a business together. We’ve each had some major ups and downs.

I refer to Joe as my wingman very intentionally. Yes, in our single days, we played that role for each other (thankfully those days are long past). But more significantly, we’ve done it for each other professionally as well. We both did a tour in corporate America where neither of us really fit. During that time, we’d have breakfast together once a week where we’d remind each other that “you aren’t the crazy one, you are in a crazy system.”

Joe single-handedly kept me sane and kept me going for those many years when I was a cultural misfit trying to do the work that really mattered in the face of significant resistance. Without him, I don’t know that I could have made it through that gauntlet. He’s continued to be a great wingman in my transition to self-employment.

Aside from my wife, Joe knows me better than anyone. He’s seen the good, bad and ugly and there’s room for all of it in our friendship. He’s always showed up for me and he’s always forgiven me quickly when I have made mistakes.

It’s such an amazing gift to have a friend like this in my life. And, it’s an even bigger gift that we also share a common passion that allows us to do work together. That’s what luck looks like.

Joe, I don’t say it nearly often enough, but thank you. Thank you for being my friend, wingman, co-conspirator, and journey partner. My love for you runs deep. I’m thankful that Jeff Miller created that terrible little place to work so that we could find each other. I’m so grateful for you. 


Words of Gratitude (#17) for Steve Boese
Words of Gratitude (#17) for Steve Boese 1080 1080 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 

Sometimes when you reflect on the past, you notice people who come through for you. They offer support. They provide resources. They show up when you need them.

One of those people in my career is Steve Boese.

Steve and I originally met at the HRevolution event I mentioned in my post to Trish McFarlane. Steve was one of the organizers with Trish.  He’s a prolific blogger and a co-host of the biggest podcast in the HR space (with Trish McFarlane), HR Happy Hour.  Steve is also the chair of the HR Technology Conference.

When I left Quantum Workplace a little over two years ago, I didn’t realize how important the HR Tech community would become in my career. A lot of my most interesting work today is being done with my clients in the HR Tech space.

A few years ago, Steve asked me and my partner-in-crime Joe Gerstandt to help create a more interactive hackathon experience at HR Tech. This work led to being more visible and engaged in the event and, by extension, the industry. My work at HR Tech each year has become incredibly important to my business and Steve is one of the people who opened that door for me.

Steve (and Trish) have also been incredibly generous with me through the HR Happy Hour Show and platform. They helped me launch a podcast and recently, allowed me to spread the word about my new book.

The support I’ve been given by Steve is invaluable. And I’m incredibly grateful for it.

And, as a bonus, Steve is a really good guy who I am thankful to call a friend. Any time we have the opportunity to hang out will be filled with great conversation and a lot of laughs.

Steve, I’m grateful for you. Thank you for your friendship and support, it’s made a huge difference for me. I appreciate all that you do.  

Words of Gratitude (#16) for Ryan Picarella and Sara Martin Rauch
Words of Gratitude (#16) for Ryan Picarella and Sara Martin Rauch 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 

Today’s gratitude post is a twofer because the story of these two people for me is hard to separate.

If you’ve been following my work over the past year, you have noticed a number of references to WELCOA, the Wellness Council of America. It’s an organization devoted to the advancement of workplace wellness practice.

WELCOA’s headquarters is about ten miles from my home. Yet, until about two years ago, I couldn’t have told you much about them.

It was two years ago that, through a fortuitous introduction, I had the opportunity to meet Ryan Picarella and Sara Martin Rauch. The sparks started to fly immediately.

What I found in Ryan and Sara were two people as passionately committed to making work better for employees as I am. From our first conversation, we start planning and dreaming about how we might be able to do some work together to accelerate progress. Common purpose is a powerful thing.

Over the past year, they have allowed me into the WELCOA tribe and invited me to help them as they work to evolve the practice of wellness as a driver of employee engagement, performance, and wellbeing. This work has been incredibly fulfilling and important to me. I’m grateful they let me in.

But beyond the work, Ryan and Sara have both become great friends. They are amazing, caring people who practice what they preach. They truly and deeply care about people at work and beyond.

I feel incredibly lucky that WELCOA happens to be in Omaha to bring Ryan and Sara here as well. It was kismet that we meet.

Ryan and Sara, I’m so thankful to know you both. I have gotten so much out of our time together over the past two years and I’m excited to see what we can accomplish together in the future. You are both great friends and I’m so grateful for our relationship. The world of work is and will be a better place because of you.  

Words of Gratitude (#15) for Trish McFarlane
Words of Gratitude (#15) for Trish McFarlane 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 

Nine years ago, I boarded a flight for Chicago to attend an event called HRevolution where I knew no one except for a few through Twitter. It was billed as an “unconference” for HR people who were active in social media (a pretty small group at the time).

Attending this event changed the trajectory of my career, and by extension, my life. When I think back about all of the people I met for the first time at that event and who are now friends and colleagues, it’s mind-boggling.

One of the people I met in Chicago was the individual most responsible for it existing in the first place, Trish McFarlane.

It’s hard to adequately describe how important HRevolution was for me (and I suspect many others) in terms of accelerating the creation of a network of amazing, smart people from around the world who were driven by a similar purpose. Without Trish, that opportunity would not have existed. I hope someday we can find a way to honor and recognize her for this legacy.

As if creating this opportunity wasn’t enough, in the years since, Trish has shown up to support me with encouragement, advice, and generosity more times than I can count.  During the past two years, in particular, her advice and counsel has helped me shape and grow my business in important ways.

But wait, there’s more…

This summer, when we were planning our Griswold-style family road trip, our path was going to take us to St. Louis where Trish lives with her family. When she found out we were coming that way, she graciously opened her home to us. We had a wonderful time staying with her for a couple of days.

Very few people have had a bigger impact on my career than Trish.

Trish, you have made such an impact on my life. I am so grateful for your friendship. It’s a true privilege to know you. Thank you for inviting us into your home and making us feel so welcome. I will likely never be able to adequately thank you for everything you’ve done for me, but I will continue to try. You are amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you.  

Words of Gratitude (#14) for Heather Bussing
Words of Gratitude (#14) for Heather Bussing 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 

We live in interesting times. As someone who identifies as a feminist, I’ve felt compelled over the past year to grow more quickly as an advocate for women and also to play a role in helping other men grow and evolve as well.

One of the things I decided to do earlier this year was to host a webcast conversation with a female colleague to discuss gender issues in the workplace. My hope was that if I could find the right guest for the webcast, we could model how to have a meaningful conversation across the gender divide about the issues that are hard to talk about.

As I considered who I wanted to have with me for that conversation, at the top of my list was my friend, Heather Bussing.

Heather is an attorney, writer, and photographer. I’ve known Heather for several years and I knew she would be a great partner for this discussion.

Heather is one of the most honest and authentic humans I’ve had the privilege to meet. She’s traveled quite a journey both personally and professionally in her life. She shares openly of the stories she’s lived as a way to help others learn through her experience.

She doesn’t hide. And, I knew she wouldn’t let me hide either.

Thankfully, she said yes and we recorded the webcast together. Like any conversation of any substance, it wasn’t perfect, but it helped me learn and grow. And, I hope it did the same for at least a few others.

You can view the webcast recording here. 

I’m grateful to have someone like heather Heather in my life who will dive into any big, tough subject with both a point of view and an open mind. I’ve learned so much from her over the years.

Heather, thank you for being you and for being my friend. Thank you for your authenticity, courage, and vulnerability. Your wisdom and kindness have had an enormous impact on me. I’m so glad you said yes to doing the webcast with me this year and I look forward to all future conversations. You are a gift. 

Words of Gratitude (#13) for Stuart Chittenden
Words of Gratitude (#13) for Stuart Chittenden 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 

About a decade ago, I attended a leadership development workshop where they talked about the concept of having “journey partners” in your life.

I’d used the idea of a “personal board of directors” before, this was something different. The board of directors idea is a good one but is inherently selfish by design. The board is comprised of people who have agreed to help you develop on your career journey. It’s largely a one-way development exercise.

A journey partner is also different than a coach or a mentor because the relationship is reciprocal. The idea of a journey partner is to create a mutual agreement to support and encourage one another throughout the journey of your careers.

As a journey partner, there are times when you offer advice or support to your partner, other times you ask for and receive it. The relationship ebbs and flows adjusting to each person’s individual needs over time.

I loved this idea and immediately started thinking about who might want to be a journey partner with me.  One of those people was Stuart Chittenden.

Stuart has been my journey partner now for close to a decade and a friend for longer than that. When we made this commitment, I was working as a corporate HR leader and Stuart was a partner in a branding agency. Both of our journeys have taken many interesting turns since then. Both of us are self-employed today.

Stuart has been an amazing journey partner. It makes sense because his business is teaching people how to awaken potential through conversation.

We meet to talk every few months. Sometimes just to share updates and others to wrestle with a problem one of us is facing.

Stuart has been relentlessly supportive and encouraging to me. There were many times where he had a much greater confidence in my potential and path than I did. Even in the challenging times, he helped me keep moving in the direction of my goals and dreams.

If you don’t have journey partners in your life, find one (or several). The power and value of these relationships is hard to overstate.

Stuart, thank you for joining with me on this journey. I’m profoundly grateful for your friendship and your partnership. Your words of encouragement and your belief in me have fueled and guided me. I only hope I am able to return something of similar value to you.  You have made a huge difference for me and I look forward to the journey ahead.