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The Case for a Four-Day Work Week Just Got Stronger

July 27, 2018 by Josh Hrala

We all love to have three-day weekends. We come back to work feeling more rested and better prepared to get work done. But what if a four-day work week was the norm and we had a three-day weekend every weekend? Would we still get a boost of productivity? Or would the reduced work hours hinder business?

Four-day work weeks have been a hot-button topic for business researchers for the last couple of years. With different researchers all claiming that the move to a shorter week would help boost productivity even if employees didn’t work the fifth day (but were paid as if they did).

Well, now we have our first bit of actual proof that these ideas are valid thanks to a New Zealand company called Perpetual Guardian, which implemented a four-day work week for eight weeks straight.

“This spring, a New Zealand company tried a new experiment: Employees could work four standard days instead of five, but would be paid their usual salary,” reports Adele Peters from Fast Company.

“Newly released numbers from a study of the project, which lasted eight weeks, show that it worked. Workers’ sense of work-life balance went from 54% to 78%. Stress went down. And the missed hours didn’t affect job performance, which actually slightly improved.”

Basically, the general thinking around the four-day work week is that the extra day off allows people a better work-life balance, giving them the time they need to do the things that can take away – or at least distract from – a workday.

Andrew Barnes, CEO of Perpetual Guardian, was prompted to test drive the shorter work week after he read a study about how British employees are only productive for about 2.5 hours per day, reports Peters.

“I thought, well, that’s interesting,” Barnes said.

“If I gave people a day off a week to do all the other stuff that got in the way–all the little problems that you might have outside of work–would you then get better productivity in the office in the four days when people worked?”

Besides simply reducing the amount of work hours (but not pay), Barnes had his team come up with ways to boost their productivity. The thought being that employees could be more productive in general, especially now that they are working a day less per week.

This brought about a bunch of unique ideas that we all can use in our workplaces. For example, according to Charlotte Graham-McLay from The New York Times, Barnes’ team cut their normal meetings – which lasted about two hours – down to 30 minutes.

They also came up with signals to show their coworkers that they were busy and shouldn’t be bothered.

“They worked out where they were wasting time and worked smarter, not harder,” Jarrod Haar, a HR professor from Aukland University, told The New York Times.

He also reported that “supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks.”

In the end, Perpetual Guardian found that the shortened work week helped employees stay on task, actually become energized for the work week, and get tasks done on time and with more creativity than before.

The trial’s results back up numerous studies that suggest work-life balance can impact a company’s bottom line. Gone, it would seem, is the idea of longer shifts equating to more productivity.

Barnes also had a unique takeaway when it comes to hiring staff members, too. He said that, instead of hiring for an hourly time frame, meaning that a person has to work from 9-5 monday-friday, it’s better to hire for tasks.

What’s that mean? Well, in other words, it makes sense to hire for productivity instead of paying for time. You set an expectation that people will get their work done, and you set what that work is. If someone gets done with it faster than expected, they should be rewarded with extra time instead of sent straight into the next thing ahead of schedule.

“Otherwise you’re saying, ‘I’m too lazy to figure out what I want from you, so I’m just going to pay you for showing up,’” Barnes told The New York Times.

“A contract should be about an agreed level of productivity. If you deliver that in less time, why should I cut your pay?”

This task-based form of hiring is interesting because it allows work-life balance to take effect regardless of how many days someone works. If a person can complete all of their tasks and continue to grow without working a full eight hours, why does it matter?

While that is a deeper question that will take more experimentation to unpack, it’s clear – at least in this case – that allowing staff members more time off and the ability to make their own productivity solutions will positively impact businesses.

Only time will tell if more companies will adopt similar changes.

Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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