Thoughts on working a four day week after six months
It’s a great time to be a software engineer, demand is high, as is compensation. This presents a great opportunity for anyone who values free time over disposable income. People like me. For the last six months I’ve been working a four day work week, taking a 20% pay-cut and essentially becoming part-time.
The point of this post is to discuss how I came to be a part timer, and more importantly discuss the pros and the cons of doing so.
How it started
I’ve seen this question pop up a few times on sites like Hacker News, how can an you work a 4 day week as an employee?
Of course it’s easy if you’re a founder or freelancer, but how do you get management buy-in when you’re an employee?
For me the change coincided with changing jobs around a year ago. I was very upfront with every company I interviewed with that I would like to work a four day week. To my surprise none of them seemed to have any issue with this. I ultimately joined Krystal, and while they were happy with my desire to work a four day week, they did require me to work a full five days for the first six month probationary period, which I was happy to do. And true to their word as soon as my probation was over, I dropped down to a four day week.
This actually fell under their flexible working policy, which only kicks in after probation, hence the delay. Had I stayed with my previous employer, I would have also been able to drop down to four days there as well, as they had a very similar flexible working policy. So if you are looking to make that change I’d recommend looking into your employers flexible working policy if there is one.
Failing that, the main thing to do is just ask. Software engineers are in high demand at the moment, so take advantage of that. Most managers will recognise that it’s better long term to keep you for 80% of the time, than to lose you completely to a more forward thinking company. If you do get a hard no, and the four day week is something you really want, then it’s time to dust off your CV, there are plenty of companies that will oblige you. Just be upfront about your requirements from the start.
Of course, all of this is coming from the perspective of a senior Ruby engineer in the UK. Your mileage may vary depending on skill set/seniority/location/etc.
How it’s going
Awesome. I’ll cover this in more detail in the pros section, but I can’t recommend it enough. There are some cons that I didn’t see coming, however the pros outweigh the cons by an order of magnitude.
If you are in the fortunate position of being able to live comfortably on 80% of your current salary then go for it.
You gain more than you lose
Changing to a four day week cost me 20% of my salary, but in return I get an extra 50% in time off (my two day weekend became a three day weekend). It almost feels like I’ve cheated the system somehow.
Another aspect to this perk is taking time off work. When I worked a five day week, if I were to take four days off work, I’d have at most 6 days off in a row. Eg: If I took Monday to Thursday off, I’d then not be working from Saturday to Thursday - six days.
Now if I take four days off I get ten days off in a row. Ten days! That’s a 66.6% increase, at the cost of just 20% salary. It’s a no brainer.
Of course a flip side is it didn’t just cost me 20% of my salary, it also cost me 20% of my holiday allowance, however I still come out on top. As a full time employee I had 31 days of paid holiday a year. Now I have 24.8 days paid holiday, except I don’t work any mondays. There are roughly 52 Mondays in a year, so really I now get 76.8 days holiday a year.
As the numbers show, you really do gain more than you lose.
More time for family and projects
This was my primary motivation for wanting a four day week. I have two young children, an awesome wife, a house to improve, and too many hobbies and projects. Now I get an extra 52 days a year for all these things.
Bad news buffer
Another advantage of a flexible working policy is I can change my working arrangement more than once - in my case at most once every six months.
This means if something unexpected and expensive happens - like maybe an corrupt cuntservative government causes runaway inflation while tanking the value of the pound with their fiscal incompetence (hypothetically, of course) - I can return to working five days a week, giving myself a 25% pay rise in the process.
It great to know I have this option, although I hope to never need it. In the event of a one-off unexpected large expense that clears out our savings, I could work five days a week until we’re back in a good financial position, and then drop back down to four again.
The weekend comes round fast
This is another case where the 20% difference punches above its weight. My work week is only one day shorter, however it seems the weekends rush up on me at lightning speed. Since changing to a four day week I’ve never found myself willing the weekend to hurry up and arrive. My wife has made a similar observation.
There is also a down-side to this, which I’ll cover in the next section.
Tuesday morning brain fog
You know that feeling when you take some time off work, and when you return you can’t remember what the hell you were doing and it takes some time to ramp up again? I feel that at the start of every week.
I assume this is more of a “me” problem, and it’s likely different for other people, however I’ve learned that three days is the threshold for this brain fog to set in. Maybe I was previously fine with a two day weekend because I was used to it, however I’m six months in and the brain fog persists, so I suspect it’s not something I’ll ever get over.
It doesn’t take long for the fog to clear, so it’s not a great loss, but it’s not a great way to start every week. I could also solve this by taking a single extra day off mid-week, and sticking to a two day weekend, but I’ve no interest in doing that.
This was something I never thought about - I find it a little awkward telling my co-workers I no longer work Mondays. I worry if they’ll think I’m lazy and/or overpaid. Admittedly that’s some projecting on my part - I am both lazy and overpaid. It’s not just me though, I’m 100% convinced all software engineers salaries are obscene (that’s a subject for another post). Of course I’m not going to turn down an obscene salary when it’s offered to me, especially for doing something I enjoy and have no moral issues with.
It’s particularly awkward when a meeting or something is proposed for a Monday and I have to interject and remind everyone that I won’t be available. On the plus side this happens less frequently now most of my co-workers know and remember that I’m only in Tuesday to Friday.
The weekend comes round fast
Occasionally when I’m getting stuck into a nice juicy project, I’ll suddenly find it’s Friday afternoon but I’m still in the zone and not ready for a three day break. Of course that used to happen when I worked five days as well, but now not only is it more frequent, but I have to wait even longer before I can get stuck in again.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed I have no intention of going back to a five day week unless I absolutely have to. If finances allowed it I’d take it a step further and drop down to three days. No matter how much I like my job and the people with whom I work, I can’t imagine ever working more than I need to. There’s just too many other things I want to do during my brief stint on this earth. I’ve always felt this way, however becoming a father has definitely intensified this feeling - I’ve got two awesome children now, I want to minimise my chances of missing time with them because I have to work.
I’m acutely aware of how privileged I am to be in this position, and I constantly remind myself that however unlikely, the computing industry could implode and my run of luck could end. So I’m damn sure going to make the most of this while I can. For some that may mean working long hours to save lots of money for the future, and there’s nothing wrong with that - I can certainly see the appeal of FIRE.
For me it’s all about time - I’d rather have the time now while I’m young(ish), able bodied, and have small children to watch grow up. If this whole industry goes to shit in ten years time and I have have to start working six days a week doing what ever work I can get to keep a roof over our heads, I’ll have no regrets.