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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

A 4 day work week?

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“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” - John Augustus Shedd.

Last week, a research colleague and professor at the Oxford University Saïd Business School announced on the BBC that the 4-day work week was a scientifically supported proposal.

Recent research that Prof Jan-Emmanuel de Neve refers to suggests that a 4-day work week improves team work, increases engagement and enhances happiness leading to better talent attraction and retention. A New Zealand study found that it didn’t affect productivity and could potentially increase it.

The same day, I met an ex-Director at Amazon. From what he was describing, the work culture there lives up to expectation and the pace can be rather taxing even though there’s a motivation to be “part of something bigger”.

It got me to thinking about the collective myths we buy into around work productivity and performance - a topic of focus in recent Wise Wednesdays including last week’s on what makes a toxic work culture.

Now that science is catching up with wisdom, old industrial attitudes to work are starting to look like damaging dogma blocking human progress.

[Read on or watch the video]


The rescuer myth

A particularly pervasive work myth in the service professions, including among the clients I tend to work with (doctors, lawyers, scientists, coaches and purpose-driven entrepreneurs and organisational leaders), is the rescuer or fixing myth where taking on this role brings a sense of identity.

It goes something like: I must fix everything (personal myth) and places disproportionate value on analytic problem-solving over listening and creativity (collective myth).

In fact this showed up quite strongly at a group coaching event I led with friend and colleague, Cathy Presland, for one of the Royal organisations last week.

As the participants practised their coaching skills, their desire to fix problems intensified – a kind of dopamine driven helper’s high – that made it difficult to stay in the moment. Their attachment to coming up with brilliant coaching questions and deep insights grew as the event progressed.

The problem is that the coach’s quality of attention and depth of listening decrease as the problem-solving, analytical mind speeds up. The coaching space becomes clogged up. This makes it less likely that a real solution will be reached and lengthens the amount of time a person being coached takes to hit a genius solution of their own.


The cost of fixing

The myths we believe about work productivity and performance are imagined but their consequences are real. For one, they help perpetuate imposter syndrome by fuelling the superwoman/superman/Great Leader identity.

But how much time and energy would you buy back if you let go of the need to fix?

Self-awareness brings choice, so let’s see:

  • The fixing myth shows up in all the conversations where you give advice that adds more information but not wisdom (do you really have to reel out all the facts, again, or is it more about listening?)

  • The fixing myth shows up in all the actions you take that add more busyness but not productivity to your schedule (do you really have to create the perfect slide deck for this meeting or is it more about connection with your audience?)

  • The fixing myth shows up in all the thinking you do that adds more mental noise leaving you no space for insight (is it really going to help to think it through again or are you better off going for a walk and fresh air?)


Your schedule - redundant fixing/rescuing = shorter work week!

Letting go of engrained cultural and personal conditioning to reform myths around work productivity and performance can be a challenging endeavour. It will bring up a lot of fear of change and uncertainty.

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” - John Augustus Shedd.

While some of the discomfort can’t be avoided, support from specialist coaches and change facilitators will make a huge difference.

In any case, if embracing change gave you and your organisation time back in your week and another lease of life, wouldn’t it be worth it?

Have a great week,


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