The four day week works
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The four-day work week is the unicorn of the workforce. Something that we leave to those progressive Scandinavians while we slug away at our 40+ hour week, holding out for the weekend.
One New Zealand-based company is attempting to overhaul traditional office hours and we can only hope that Australia will soon follow in their footsteps.
In February, Andrew Barnes, founder and CEO of statutory trust business Perpetual Guardian, announced to his 240 staff that they would trial a four-day working week. This was without changes to their salaries, for a period of six weeks.
Now that the results are in it looks like it could be here to stay.
Why ditch the five-day week?
It’s thought that the five-day week was first introduced in 1908 at an American cotton mill. It was designed to cater for the mill’s Jewish workers who wanted to take time off during Sabbath (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown).
A few other large U.S companies soon followed but it wasn’t until 1940, when a provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) mandated a 40-hour work week, that it become more widespread. Eight years later, the five-day working week arrived in Australia.
It makes sense, 70 years on, that Barnes should attempt to revolutionise the average workweek in order to cater to a shifting modern workforce.
Plenty of companies have trialed, or at least floated the idea, of cutting work hours from eight to six. Perpetual Guardian seems to be one of the first to consider slashing a whole day entirely to a four-day week.
Inspired by several global productivity reports, Barnes says this new-age way of working is just “the right thing to do”.
Would a four day week be less productive?
While the policy excited his staff, they were expected to maintain, if not exceed, current productivity levels by working smarter.
He believes this is the natural solution to the lack of work/life balance affecting employees worldwide.
The positive results of a four-day week
“Our analysis of the results shows the objectives of the trial were successfully met.
The key areas we sought to measure, including work-life balance, engagement, organisational commitment, and work stimulation. All showed positive increases – that is a powerful combination that leads to job satisfaction,” says Barnes.
For the sake of transparency, external researchers were brought in to measure the results.
Before the trial, 45 percent of staff reported feeling stressed and following the trial this lowered to 38 percent.
There was a significant increase to employees’ work/life balance, which previously sat at 54 percent (according to surveys conducted in 2017) and now shows that 78 percent of employees experience a positive balance.
Team engagement went through the roof post study, with leadership, commitment, stimulation and empowerment sitting in the mid-to-high 80th percentile, having previously sat in the mid-to-high 60s region.
Another benefit, Barnes notes, is that it encouraged the company’s leaders to look at innovative ways to manage their teams. It empowered staff-led discussions about engagement and productivity.
In correlation, Dr Helen Delaney, senior lecturer at the University of Auckland Business School, found many employees expressed a greater sense of empowerment in their work. This was because of the planning discussions that preceded the trial.
When looking at job satisfaction, engagement and retention, professor of Human Resource Management at Auckland University of Technology Jarrod Haar says that the scores are “easily the highest [he] has seen in New Zealand data”.
Some teams were more successful than others when it comes to the four-day week, says Perpetual Guardian’s head of people, Christine Brotherton.
Should we adopt a four-day week in Australia?
Longer working hours equal lower productivity and engagement, says Rhonda Brighton-Hall, CEO and founder of mwah (Make Work Absolutely Human).
She says the four-day week is something she could see working in Australia.
We’re already moving towards this type of working week, as shown in recent research”.
So, considering a four-day week for Australia wouldn’t be too much of a stretch from where we are already heading,” says Brighton-Hall.
She also notes that a four-day week may not be sustainable for some smaller businesses or roles that require a high level of client facing work.
The results of the trial are currently sitting with the Perpetual Guardian board for review.
Barnes expects to announce a decision around potential permanency of the four-day week within the next month.
He also encouraged leaders to trial this structure themselves, “your worst case scenario is that you will get a more engaged, committed and energized workforce,” he says.
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