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Giving the four-day working week a go

By Jillian Stewart
Published in Blog
October 27, 2021
3 min read
Giving the four-day working week a go

There’s been a lot of buzz about four-day working weeks. The five-day working week may not be broken but there are good reasons for giving the four-day option a go. Here’s the skinny.

New Zealand financial services company Perpetual Guardian made a worldwide splash when it decided to test productivity, motivation and output by trialling a four-day workweek over two months for its 240 employees. All other employment conditions, including remuneration, remained unchanged. Staff worked 30 hours but were paid for 37.5 hours on the basis that they produced the same amount of output as in a standard five-day working week. In other words, staff were being paid for productivity not for time worked.

The hypothesis was that giving staff a paid day off each week would deliver enhanced productivity by encouraging work-life balance. The four-day-week trial was based on the premise that employees who enjoy work-life balance not only have greater focus and motivation while they’re at work but they deliver better quality time to their families and leisure activities.

Some people called the trial gutsy, others called it bone stupid wondering how staff would ever do their work in four days rather than five. But the company maintained the proof is in the pudding. The results of the two-month trial were:

  • Job performance maintained in four days
  • Staff stress levels lowered
  • Work-life balance improved significantly.

But the really surprising thing they found was this…

Not only could staff do their work in four days, but they could do it better in four days.

Sounds almost too good to be true? There are of course detractors who say that the trial had no measurable evidence of productivity being directly impacted by the four-day workweek, only supposition, hypothesis and indirect evidence. In other words, no metrics. But the company claims productivity increased by 20 percent while its staff were only required to put in 80 percent of a normal workload’s hours, and they were more engaged and enthusiastic.

Fans of the four-day working week say it’s relevant to all companies and that finding a way to have more flexible working in the 21st century is essential. However, the shape of the solution may be different for each company.

Getting enhanced productivity from something that encourages work-life balance seems too good an idea not to give it a try…

But before you change your model and launch into a four-day working week, it pays to have a trial first. One size doesn’t fit all. Actively involve employees in the set-up and design of the trial. Ask them to think about the idea and how to make it work. This builds trust, which is fundamental to the implementation of a four-day week. Specifically they can consider the following things:

  1. How they can work differently.
  2. Do they consider themselves to be productive throughout the entire working day? i.e. How much time do they spend on distractions like social media and reading news websites, making personal calls and texts, talking to co-workers about non-work-related matters, and preparing food and drinks?
  3. What is their measure of productivity, both as individuals and as teams? How will they increase their own individual productivity and their team’s? The idea is that people constantly challenge themselves not only to do their work in four days but to do better work in four days.

Employees should also be actively involved in the review of the trial, getting them to assess the effect on productivity, customer service and other employees. Key to successfully implementing a four-day working week is empowering staff to come up with solutions. Be clear that the aim of the initiative is to improve things not just in the wider social context but also for the company.

“It’s not just having a day off a week – it’s about delivering productivity, and meeting customer service standards, meeting personal and team business goals and objectives.” —Andrew Barnes, CEO Perpetual Guardian

The Perpetual Guardian experiment was followed in August 2019 by Microsoft Japan giving its entire 2,300-person workforce five Fridays off in a row without decreasing pay. Microsoft found as a result employees were not only happier, but significantly more productive. The shortened weeks led to more efficient meetings, happier workers and, according to the company, boosted productivity by 40%.

“Work a short time, rest well and learn a lot,” Microsoft Japan CEO Takuya Hirano said in a statement on the company website. “I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20% less working time.”

In a nutshell, the four-day working week is about empowering employees to be the best that they can be while they’re at work, and when they’re at home. Implementing a company model that gives staff a better quality of life increases staff engagement. If staff engage better with their work and their employer, they are more productive. Employers and employees reap the benefits together. It’s a win for everyone.

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Jillian Stewart

Jillian Stewart


Table Of Contents

Not only could staff do their work in four days, but they could do it better in four days.
Getting enhanced productivity from something that encourages work-life balance seems too good an idea not to give it a try...

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