The Nonprofit Four-Day Workweek: You Can Take Care of Yourself and Still Change the World

"Instituting a four-day, 32-hour workweek hasn’t just benefited the staff’s work and personal lives, it has also helped Rockwood grow as an organization."

Re-learn the art of resting

One of the six practices we teach social change leaders here at Rockwood Leadership Institute is personal ecology: maintaining balance, pacing and efficiency to sustain your energy over a lifetime of activism. For the past seven years, we’ve found that a wonderful way to support our staff’s personal ecology is by instituting a four-day, 32-hour workweek.

Our four-day workweek experiment began during the 2008 recession when we, like many nonprofits, were finding solutions for some new financial challenges. During that time, we decided to try reducing the salaries of our department directors while also changing their schedules to a four-day, 32-hour workweek (Monday-Thursday). After a very productive year, we extended the four-day, 32-hour workweek to our entire staff (without the salary decrease) to test the idea that a shorter week would strengthen the organization overall. And it did!

Some of the positive effects staff say they have experienced from the four-day, 32-hour workweek are:

  • Feeling fully rested and rejuvenated on Mondays.
  • Being more efficient in four days than they were in five.
  • Becoming better at prioritizing, scheduling and managing their time at work and personally.
  • Better team dynamics.
  • Having time to do everything they want and need to do (e.g. run errands, spend quality time with friends and family, explore outside interests, exercise, go back to school, volunteer).
  • Feeling more present and “alive” at work.
  • Not feeling burned out at the end of the week.
  • Loving their job!

We won’t sugar coat it. Having a four-day week isn’t without its issues. Staff have also reported challenges with answering the email that builds up over the three-day weekend, and with creating efficient systems to get work done in a timely manner. Some staff also expressed guilt about “not doing enough.”

That said, instituting a four-day, 32-hour workweek hasn’t just benefited the staff’s work and personal lives, it has also helped Rockwood grow as an organization. Since implementing a four-day workweek, we have tripled our budget and increased the number of people we serve each year while maintaining the same number of staff (11-13).

Join us in this grand experiment! We hope our story will show that it’s possible. If you’d like to transform your organization’s five-day, 40+ hour workweek into a four-day, 32-hour one, here are a few tips for how to integrate it into your organization’s culture:

  • Plan: Give your staff 6-12 months to reconfigure their workload and schedules in preparation for the change.
  • Communicate: Tell your constituents and key partners about your new work schedule. Ask staff to add their office hours to their email signatures, and mention it in their outgoing voicemail messages.
  • Model: Encourage team leaders to model working a four-day, 32-hour workweek by leaving on time each day, and not sending or answering emails after office hours.

It might take some time for your staff to get the hang of managing its workload with the new schedule, so we’ve also compiled 10 tools the Rockwood staff says they use to get the most out of their workweek:

  1. Keep a clear task list for each day of the week. Two to three times a day, revisit your list and prioritize.
  2. Include personal to-dos on your list (e.g. exercise and spending time with friends) to ensure you aren’t leaving out important personal tasks.
  3. Spend 10 minutes at the end of each day planning for the next day, and 20 minutes at the end of your week planning for the following week.
  4. Keep at least one day meeting-free.
  5. Have a clear idea of the POP (purpose, outcome and process) of each project and meeting before committing to it.
  6. Answer emails in batches, rather than react to them as they arrive in your in-box.
  7. Turn off email and social media alerts.
  8. Eat lunch away from your desk. You’ll come back to your work with greater focus.
  9. Be clear with everyone you work with (inside and outside of the organization) about your time constraints.
  10. Create efficient systems for team planning, accountability and communication.

Have questions about the nonprofit four-day workweek? Email us.

For more ideas and reflections about the four-day workweek, check out these related articles:

Stacy Kono

As the Director of Programs, Stacy oversees Rockwood's Public Trainings, Fellowships, and Organizational Partnerships. She joined Rockwood after having worked as an organizer with Asian Immigrant Women Advocates for ten years. She is also a certified professional coach.

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Comments (5)

Posted by Farhana on Jan 15th, 2015

I just love this!!!! We had a 4 day work-week for directors at the non-profit I ran for 11 years and it was one of the best policies we ever had. Not only did I get way more done in a week than I ever had, it helped to created needed balance and peace of mind in doing the work. Highly recommend organizations to adopt this.

Posted by Beth Kanter on Feb 3rd, 2015

This post has been included in the Jan. 2015 Nonprofit Blog Carnival on personal productivity for nonprofit s- thank you – it is very inspiring
http://www.bethkanter.org/productivity-carnival/

Posted by The Surprising Truth of a 4-day Workweek | Ryan Nonprofits on Mar 17th, 2015

[…] director, told me last year about her organization’s four-day schedule. Here’s a wonderful article that describes their experience. If you’re considering implementing a four-day workweek at […]

Posted by Rockwood Leadership Blog5 Leadership Fears and How to Face Them [Free Infographic] - Rockwood Leadership Blog on Oct 15th, 2015

[…] brings out a lot of negative emotions. Even when we know taking time off can actually make us more effective, creative, and efficient, we still avoid it like the […]

Posted by ELM & the 4-Day Work Week « Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries on Nov 4th, 2015

[…] Jen and I are using techniques from Rockwood (and other places) to get the most out of our workweek. Here are some key points from Rockwood we are using: keep a clear task list, include personal to-dos, plan for each new day and week, keep portions of the work week meeting-free, know the POP (purpose, outcome, process) of each project & meeting, answer email in batches, turn off email/social media alerts, be clear with everyone about our schedule, and create efficient systems for team planning, accountability, and communication. (You can get more details in this article “You can take care of yourself and still change the world“). […]

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