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What I discovered offering my team four-day work weeks

It’s the dream of countless employees, but could the four-day work week be a productivity nightmare in disguise? Dr Amantha Imber green-lit it in her company to find out.

Four Day Work Weeks

What would you do if your boss suggested that you cut your working hours down to just four normal length days, but said to you, ‘I’ll still pay you for five’? Would you pinch yourself to check you weren’t dreaming? This is what happened two years ago at Inventium.

The CEO, Michelle Le Poidevin, suggested to the team that we should try out the Four Day Week. The Four Day Week (FDW) was originally pioneered by Andrew Barnes from Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand. Barnes defined the FDW as 100 per cent pay for 80 per cent time at work on the condition that 100 per cent of agreed productivity is achieved. In other words, you work four normal length days of around seven or eight hours, yet you get paid a full-time salary.

After a six-month trial, Inventium made the FDW permanent at the end of 2020. As Inventium’s Founder, here are three realisations I have learned from embracing the FDW.

It forces you to actually value output over hours

I don’t think there are too many business leaders left that say they are more focused on hours rather than output. But in reality, hours often trump output when it comes to leaders’ perceptions of their teams. People who are super responsive to email at all hours of the day are typically seen as harder workers. People who are online early and log off late at night are seen as more committed. The fact that people who work longer hours may actually be less productive is not a thought that crosses many leaders’ minds.

I always thought of Inventium as a business that truly values output over hours, but I don’t think it fully was until the implementation of the FDW. When I asked my team how the FDW changed their approach to work, a common response was that it changed their mindset. It meant that the business truly prioritised output over hours.

The flow on effect of the mindset shift is that my team plan their week based on what they can do that will have the biggest impact on the business and on their individual goals. Everything else is deprioritised. Instead of being reactive, my team plan out the big things they need to achieve and timebox those things in their diary (ie, book a meeting with themselves) so they actually get done.

It’s hard to go back to a five-day week

It has been nearly two years since Inventium moved to the FDW and, out of curiosity, I recently asked my team how challenging it would be to go back to a standard five-day week. The almost unanimous feedback was that it would be incredibly difficult. Reflecting on my own experience, I wholeheartedly concur.

I frequently meet business leaders who are looking to create a unique employee value proposition (EVP). They play around with exciting sounding words that describe an aspirational culture they are trying to build, like authentic, fun, innovative and collaborative. Yet this rarely shifts the dial on increasing staff tenure and boosting engagement.

Creating a compelling EVP often requires taking a risk and finding a way to truly stand out from your competitors. Right now, the FDW is an uncommon business practice in Australia. If you want to set your organisation apart from the pack, making the switch to the FDW will undoubtedly make your company stand out as an employer of choice.

It encourages your team to have a life outside work

When Inventium launched the FDW, we called the initiative Gift of the Fifth. If people worked productively and used their time wisely from Monday to Thursday, they were given the gift of time on Friday. And as a business leader, I have learned that time is the most meaningful gift you can give a team.

Every person on my team has used the gift of time in transformative ways. Many have explored new hobbies that they previously didn’t have time to explore, some have started side hustles and are stretching their brain outside of the workplace, and others are spending an additional precious day every week with their family.

Life is not just about work, but when you work long hours, it’s hard for it not to be. Constraining the time that you work forces you to become deliberate about how you can best use your non-work time. As a business leader, I have been able to contribute to transforming my teams’ lives through a policy change decision. When was the last time you did that?

Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium, Australia’s leading behavioural science consultancy, and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful innovators.

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