The four-day week's a nice idea, but every job needs its downtime

The bottom line is that workers who have families will always feel conflicted


Forgive me if this sounds a little rushed… I’ve been running around like a mad thing with a breakfast meeting, a management briefing, lunch with an important contact and – after I’ve finished this – a meeting with a fellow editor, a leaving do, then dinner with two writers who need some TLC.

And all of that is without the actual, y’know, “day job” of putting together a newspaper. However, compared with what the newly appointed European head of Facebook, Nicola Mendelsohn, will have on her schedule each day, it’s probably small beer.

Ms Mendelsohn, mother of four and esteemed advertising executive with many years’ experience, has requested a four-day week at Facebook, so that she can spend time with her family. Given the notoriously unsociable and young-dude-friendly long hours involved in most tech companies (particularly those that operate across several time zones), it seems sensible.

But is the four-day week really the solution? It depends what you do with it. I’ve just gone up from four days to five and have had to figure out how to do all that stuff that comes under the “boring-but-important” umbrella connected with having a husband, two children and a house. The stuff I used to do on a Monday, when everyone else was at school/work.

After a necessarily long, hard look at how I organise myself, I realise I was not applying the necessary rigour to organise a work day OR to achieve domestic stuff. And, in fact, if I took a lunch break each working day – something I rarely do and instead eat some sad sandwich al desko while scrolling through Twitter – and made a brisk walk to the Post Office, the sock shop (what DO teenagers do with socks?) or just ate lunch quickly, quit the tweets and spent 45 minutes on domestic correspondence, life would be just dandy. I wouldn’t need a day off in the week to do all that stuff.

Of course, that requires toughing it out when someone comes over and sees you filling in a school-trip permission slip, or doing an online flight search. But it IS legitimate. It is a work break and no one should feel guilty about it.

Unless someone installs a washing machine under the desk, or creates a 3D printer for groceries, there will still be some stuff to do at the weekend (not that Ms Mendelsohn, on what a high-flyer like her gets paid, need worry about that). But by not carting home work to do “on the day off”, time with family will be mostly quality, if 20 per cent less in quantity. The bottom line is that workers who have families – and that’s not just women, hello, it’s 2013! – will always feel conflicted. But an extra day at home in which to feel conflicted with a different vista is not necessarily the answer.

Twitter: @lisamarkwell

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