The surprising benefits of a 4-Day Work Week
4-Day Week: As we head into a long weekend here in the U.S. (President’s Day), chances are that you and your coworkers are scrambling to get things done. Maybe a little faster and more productively than usual. Maybe you’re working both smarter and harder, so there’s less catching up to do when you’re back at work next week, all rested and refreshed.
You might even be wishing this were the norm.
For many companies, it’s not, and probably won’t be anytime soon. But for a growing percentage it is, with a four day workweek now a reality.
The reasons, according to advocates like Autonomy, a UK-based think tank that focuses on work issues, include the fact that those who work fewer hours have been shown to be more motivated and productive.
“Worker productivity relies not just on the sheer amount of hours put in, but on the wellbeing, fatigue levels and overall health of the worker,” it notes in a recent report. “Studies show that shorter working weeks (and/or greater worker control over working time) can mean fewer sick absences, fewer in-work accidents and mistakes, and higher worker motivation on the job, amongst other outcomes.”
Also, says Autonomy, countries in which employees work fewer hours not only have higher levels of productivity, but more wealth per person.
The now-famous New Zealand experiment
Among those who agree that shorter workweeks can boost output is Andrew Barnes. His New Zealand-based firm, Perpetual Guardian, has just made a 4-day week a permanent option for employees, following a remarkably successful trial run. During this time, employees were paid for five eight-hour days, but only worked for four. And during this time, they actually did more.
“… Our productivity must have gone up 20 per cent,” he told Stuff, a New Zealand news site. “”I have an empowered, energised, motivated and more loyal workforce; I’m struggling to see a downside.”
Barnes launched the initiative, which quickly generated worldwide publicity, after seeing the results of a UK worker productivity study. This found that employees, on average, work less than three hours per day. The rest of the time, the study noted, they did things like read the news, check social media, chat with coworkers, smoke, and even look for new jobs.
Getting employees to slack off less and work more aren’t the only reasons for implementing a 4-day week say supporters. As most employees consider this a highly desirable perk, it’s also helps to recruit and retain needed talent. Employees working fewer hours also tend to use time much more efficiently (with fewer long, drawn out meetings for instance) and be more innovative. But even more important, some contend, is the fact that it helps fight climate change.
Beyond the obvious – 20 percent fewer commuters on the road – a shorter workweek can cut energy consumption in other ways. Work site utility usage decreases and, according to Autonomy, there is less of a need for energy intensive products at home (e.g., ready-made packaged meals). Also, states its report, people with more time are more likely to engage in low-carbon “soft” activities like walking and spending time with family and friends.
How it works
Companies with four day workweeks have structured these in several ways. Some just cut hours and pay employees the same, or a bit less. Others don’t actually cut hours or pay, but just require workers to compress their time. Instead of five eight hour days, for instance, there would be four 10-hour days. Yet others use a rotational plan, alternating shorter and longer weeks.
Graham Alcott, whose company, Think Productive, switched to this last approach two years ago (three 4-day week (s) and a fourth five day week), notes in his blog that there are few downsides. “Very occasionally, there’s the temptation that a client on a Friday doesn’t get what they need until Monday,” he said. Also, employees working Friday may have to wait if they need to connect with other employees.
“But,” he adds, “I think these niggles are far outweighed by what the company gains in terms of more motivated staff, better balance, increased productivity and increased staff retention.”
All of this being said, a 4-day week isn’t for everyone. Or every organization. As Alchemy points out, it can become too costly if employees don’t really become more productive, and not all industries can participate, especially those that need a 24 hour presence. Also, some jobs just take a certain amount of time, no matter what.