Some consider it a progressive move, others fear that it will lead to overwork or a decrease in output, but four-day work week trials across the globe have proven that employees work more efficiently and are happier when offered the reward of fewer hours without a pay cut.
The truth is that there isn’t a fixed set of rules when it comes to allocating work days. Kath Blackham, CEO of digital marketing company VERSA, trialled Wednesdays off in 2018 to grant employees time off mid-week to focus on their mental health, something which might not happen when given a three-day break.
Surprisingly, condensing 37.5 hours into four days was realistically possible and, in fact, resulted in a significant profit increase, coupled with more satisfied employees who are less likely to take time off due to illness or burnout.
“What we see, and what companies around the world all see, is that people eliminate unproductive time and unproductive activities.” – Andrew Barnes
With ‘calling in sick’ being the third biggest fear for employees, accounting for almost 6,000 Google searches a month, could additional time off each week enable workers to take better care of their physical and emotional needs before they reach a critical point further down the path?
“I’m hoping other companies will look at this and stop and think about different ways they can implement something similar that allows staff to be happier and more efficient,” Blackham says.
Nicole Miller, Team Engagement Manager at Buffer, explains that we work within the time we set ourselves, suggesting that a reduction in hours gives employees the opportunity to work more efficiently within a tighter time frame. Results from a six-month pilot project conducted at Buffer, based on employee feedback, found that 60 per cent of staff felt just as productive as working a five-day week.
“For the large majority of firms, reducing working hours is an entirely realistic goal,” confirms Will Stronge, Director of Research at UK think tank Autonomy.
The essential ingredient to this enticing concept is clearly organisation, or rather reorganisation, whether that be granting employees more autonomy or altering the way meetings are conducted, greater work–life balance can be achieved when companies find ways to work smarter.
For Andrew Barnes, an author on the subject and Founder of New Zealand-based financial services firm Perpetual Guardian, setting realistic goals for the organisation and employees is designed to enable workers to manage their time to meet certain expectations in a way that makes sense to them – the key word being autonomy.
Perpetual Guardian staff shifted to a four-day week in 2018, which witnessed a soar in productivity despite a 20 per cent reduction in work hours, as workers spent 35 per cent less of their time surfing irrelevant websites.
“What we see, and what companies around the world all see, is that people eliminate unproductive time and unproductive activities,” Barnes explains.
The main idea fuelling this worldwide trend is that when people are granted more time to deal with non-work-related matters, they are more efficient in their jobs and can come up with creative solutions to minimise distractions.
The question remains are people any happier as a result?
As anticipated, employees working the same number of hours compressed within four days are unlikely to experience benefits compared to working four, approximately seven-hour days.
Results from an Icelandic trial, undertaken from 2015–19, published in June this year, has led to 86 per cent of the employed population now on contracts that enable them to work shorter hours. The data also indicates that employee wellbeing and work–life balance do improve with a reduction in hours and ‘new work strategies’ being implemented.
“This was difficult at first, but with changes to our ways of working, the cut in hours succeeded,” highlights one manager in the report.
While some workplaces saw an improvement in wellbeing, others did not. However, there was also no reported decrease either. Instead, employees felt the reduced hours signalled respect for them as individuals with families and lives outside of work.
The less is more mindset has caught the attention of a growing number of other countries including Spain and Canada, in addition to global firms such as Unilever.