When Henry Ford started giving factory workers Saturdays off, people were skeptical. Now, of course, few people in the U.S. work a six-day week at all. But we’ve struggled to take the next step–getting rid of Fridays–even though researchers have calculated that it now takes us just 11 hours to do the amount of work that took 40 hours in 1950.
Treehouse, a learn-to-code tech startup based in Portland, Oregon, has successfully made the switch to a 32-hour work week and argues it’s well worth it–even for a company working in an ultra-competitive space, where others might routinely work 50 or 60 hours. Here’s CEO Ryan Carson’s advice on how to do the same where you work.
“Before you even think about going to your boss, what you should do first is make sure that you’re effective in your day to day role,” says Carson. He recommends clearly measuring goals through a scorecard and checking out books on effectiveness like the classic 7 Habits of Effective People.
“The basic method is to make sure you’re getting your shit in order, first,” he says. “Get really effective and prove your value to your manager. I think that probably a huge percentage of people out there aren’t really being effective personally, and they’re going to have a hard time going to their boss or their manager and saying ‘Hey, I want to work less.'”
Once you’ve figured out how to truly be more effective, Carson suggests taking six months to prove how well you’re doing. “Then you have this huge social capital with your boss,” he says. “You’ve proven your effectiveness, you’re making them look great, you’re delivering huge amounts of value. Then I think you can approach the subject and say “You know what? What would make me even more effective is if I could allocate some of my time once a month to make my marriage better, making my relationships with my kids stronger. And I would like your permission just to try it once next month.”
First, Carson suggests taking a single day off and showing, with hard data, that your work hasn’t suffered for the month. Then you can make a case for trying a pilot with more coworkers, all based on the argument that all of you can still be effective, but now–with a more balanced life–you’ll be more likely to stay in your job. “The big win is that retention increases,” Carson says. “I’m much more likely to stay in this job because I have a well-rounded life that will allow me to stay here for the long haul.”
He suggests calculating exactly how much money the company can save by increasing retention by 10%, and then bringing that to your boss when you suggest a pilot for the team. “You’re really breaking it in very slowly,” he says. “And it’s always data–you’re always proving that you’re actually increasing effectiveness and retention. Because no manager’s going to agree to this, otherwise. They would be stupid to.”
Carson first chose to change the rules at Treehouse when he and his wife realized how much the startup was taking away from the rest of their life. But he says that when he made the change, he should have spent more time training employees first.
“I didn’t do a good job of that in the beginning,” he says. “I think I just kind of naively believed that people understood how to be effective. But the reality is I needed to teach them and help them. So I think now we have a strategy where we’re going to start training people on how to be effective at work. I think that’s kind of key.”
Though it’s still a startup, Treehouse has more than 100 employees, and well north of $10 million a year in revenue. This isn’t a quirky business that has extra time on its hands. The company also has to offer customer support seven days a week, so employees take the week in shifts. “We have a lot of pressure to survive,” Carson says. “We have a lot of competitors who want to to kill us. I don’t want your readers thinking ‘Oh, that’s nice, that’s cute.’ No, we’re here to win.”
Even for those who think a 32-hour work week is impossible, Carson says some of the same approach could be used to move back to a 40-hour week. In the U.S., nearly 90% of men and nearly 70% of women work over 40 hours, something that isn’t helped by the fact that most of us get work emails on our phones in the middle of the night.
“I think a way to do that is just to delete email off your phone,” he says. “Just say hey, I’m not really effective when I’m in the grocery store checking my email anyway. What is the point? You can just literally cut out all of the context switching outside of work hours, and it would make you more effective during work hours.”
Carson says he just did this himself. “Literally last night, I was like fuck this, I’m done,” he says. “Then I deleted email and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram off my phone. Because I’m done context switching.”
Now, he says, his evenings–and his three-day weekends–belong to his personal life, not his job.