This CEO wants to shorten your work week
Joe O’Connor wants to persuade your boss – and everyone’s boss – to reduce the work week to 32 hours.
As chief executive of the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, O’Connor oversees six-month boot camps that now help 170 companies with 10,000 participating employees around the world adopt work schedules. more flexible.
The New Zealand-based nonprofit has recruited employers in the United States, Ireland, Australia and Canada, as well as in its home country. This month, 70 companies in the UK with more than 3,300 employees will embark on a pilot program which includes training, mentoring, data collection and networking, O’Connor said.
It capitalizes on a defining moment in the workplace, where the future of when and how work is done is up for grabs. Workers and managers know from the past two years of working from home that many jobs don’t really require 40 hours a week.
But the relationship between workers and employers remains in play, with some high-profile CEOs, like Elon Musk, demanding workers get back to the office, and others, like Thomas Gottstein, CEO of Credit Suisse Group AG, acknowledging that his business will never come back. full-time staffing.
O’Connor seizes this moment of ambiguity to provide organizations with an acceptable path forward.
But not for himself. While O’Connor extols the virtues of working short hours, his own schedule is hardly cut short. A recent day at work started with a media interview at 6:15 a.m.
The other days end with online briefings at 9 p.m. with leaders considering a pilot program in Australia and New Zealand, which 4 Day Week Global plans to launch in August.
“We laugh to be short-time sidekicks lecturing in weird time zones in the middle of the night,” he said.
Change the standards
O’Connor’s sudden rise is unlikely. He is not an experienced consultant who rubs shoulders with CEOs, or a billionaire who has had an epiphany.
The 33-year-old Irishman can most often be found at his desk in the sitting area of a one-bedroom apartment in Astoria, Queens, which he shares with his partner, Grace, and their two cocker spaniels, Ned and Lady.
A former campaign manager for Ireland’s largest public sector union, O’Connor arrived in the US nine months ago, securing his visa through the Worker Institute at Cornell University, where he is also a researcher invited in the field of the reduction of working time. But he had much broader intentions in the United States.
“It wasn’t until long after he was here that I realized he had come here to organize an American pilot project and that he expected me to lead the research,” said the economist and Boston College sociologist Juliet Schor, who indeed directs 4 Day’s. global research efforts and held a TED conference in the spring on the most important case during a four-day working week.
Aside from the challenge of overturning an ingrained societal norm, O’Connor faces a branding problem: “the four-day week” is a misnomer. He and others define it as a metaphor for suitably reduced hours – typically 32 a week – and flexibility.
For example, some parents who participate in the 4-day programs opt for five six-hour days per week, while some coders prefer three eleven-hour days. Many companies do not immediately remove a full day from the schedule.
“We are working with many companies that are phasing out,” O’Connor said. “Some people shave an hour a year.”
According to Schor, most organizations that adopt shorter hours benefit from lower employee turnover, cheaper health care, fewer errors and higher quality applicants. Stress tends to decrease, while job satisfaction increases, she says, and productivity remains steady.
O’Connor became an evangelist for inadvertently shorter work weeks. While working with the union in Ireland, the government instituted a policy to avoid pay cuts by increasing the weekly hours of many workers from 35 to 37.
This did not sit well with O’Connor. He sent a survey to union members, and the responses changed the course of his life: Hundreds of workers, mostly mothers, filled in a comment box, explaining what had happened when they followed the common route of Irish parents of voluntarily reducing their hours. and wages for family reasons, such as working 70% of the time for 70% salary.
“We’ve had hundreds of people say, ‘Our expectations are the same, our responsibilities are the same, our performance is the same, but our salaries are lower.'”
The survey enlightened him on two facts that became his guiding truths: workers typically deliver results in a timely manner, and working hours shield a large-scale gender inequality problem. A man with a mission emerged.
In 2018, O’Connor led a conference in Ireland called “The Future of Working Time”. “There’s been a lot of pushback, externally and internally,” O’Connor said, fearing “it will be seen as lazy civil servants looking for more time off.”
The following year he launched 4-Day Week Ireland (his slogan: better 4 everyone), bringing together academics, businesses and the National Council of Women of Ireland as members.
He positioned shorter weeks as a centrist proposal that would meet the needs of workers, businesses and society, and a standard 35-hour working week was finally reinstated in April.
He also partnered with the fledgling 4 Day Week Global, which was founded by a semi-retired couple named Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart. They self-funded the group after Barnes’ trust company, New Zealand-based Perpetual Guardian, thrived on an abbreviated schedule.
Soon, the Covid-19 pandemic uprooted a century of workplace norms. Barnes and Lockhart hired O’Connor as CEO, and in September 2021 he moved to America to lead the sleepy nonprofit. Arrived in the United States, the former union official realized that he should speak directly to companies to create momentum.
“It is inevitable that for this to succeed it would have to be driven by the corporate world and private business and private industry,” he said.
speak the conversation
O’Connor quickly adapted to the language of CEOs, speaking softly about recruitment, retention and competitive advantage.
“It just tells you how it is,” said Adam Husney, CEO of Healthwise, a consumer health information company with 250 employees that moved to a four-day week this year. “He’s not trying to convince you; it just shares the data.
Healthwise saw lower burnout and increased satisfaction without a drop in productivity, Husney said, and a crippling attrition problem disappeared completely. “We have a lot of work to do and we are afraid of going back, but so far it is working very well.”
4 Day Week Global now offers a dizzying array of pilot programs around the world. Seventeen companies in Ireland with 600 participating employees will complete the first 4 Day Week Global pilot in July, O’Connor said.
A 40-company US pilot with 3,200 employees just passed halfway; a pilot in Australia and New Zealand begins in August, and a new US and Canadian pilot launches in October, followed by a European pilot in February. Starting next year, new cohorts will be launched quarterly, each with a 2-3 month lead-in phase for planning, pilot design and basic research evaluation.
Companies do not pay to participate in the programs but are asked to donate between $2,000 and $20,000, depending on their size.
O’Connor, meanwhile, is learning the art of fraternizing with a more disparate crowd, thanks to his old alliance-building skills. He also hopes to work less before too long. For now, however, he would prefer not to discuss his hours.
Does he work five days a week?
“You know, we’re trying to change the world here,” he said.
“We’re a small, growing organization with exponential increases in demand,” O’Connor said. “Like many CEOs…”
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