Andrew Barnes: A four-day working week concept is a benefit for employer and employee

From a simple idea we implemented at my company, Perpetual Guardian, in New Zealand in 2018, the 4 Day Week has evolved to be a global phenomenon. The concept has now been discussed in more than 87 countries, with active campaigns in the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States, and government-led initiatives in Spain, Russia and Japan. On top of this, all over the world thousands of organisations are introducing their own 4 Day Week policies; from giants such as Unilever and Microsoft to small, individually owned SMEs.

It has always been clear to me the five-day work week, introduced by Henry Ford in 1926, was a construct of a previous industrial age, and that our ‘always on’ culture, enabled by mobile technology, was no longer fit for purpose for the 21st century. This view has been given further impetus by the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, with more and more organisations having to develop new business models and then measure outputs: CEOs and other senior leaders can no longer simply rely on time spent in the workplace as a surrogate for or indicator of true productivity of employees.

The 4 Day, or reduced-hour week on full pay creates a win/win for employees, businesses, society and the environment. Our 100:80:100 model is: 100% pay, 80% time, provided 100% productivity is received.

Employees become more engaged, empowered and enthusiastic. In our case, The University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology (AUT) researchers in November 2018 saw a 40% improvement in engagement scores. The research also suggests employees are healthier and happier – indeed, sick days in our business reduced by 50% – and stress levels actually drop, in our case by 15%. This helps address the other global pandemic, mental health, which affects between 1:4 and 1:5 of our workforce.

Organisations implementing the 4 Day Week see improved productivity – Microsoft Japan reported a 39.9% improvement from its trial – as well as better staff retention and recruitment. This is a key benefit, as over 80% of millennials say they would accept lower wages and salaries in exchange for more work flexibility. Society gets a healthier population, with more time to spend with family or volunteering: Perpetual Guardian staff give a day each quarter to charity or good causes in return for the 4 Day Week. The planet benefits, with lower carbon emissions from commuting and congestion.

What’s not to like? The challenge is many leaders remain wedded to old ways of thinking and dismiss the 4 Day Week without researching or understanding why it works for business. The evidence is there, they need only look at it.

Andrew Barnes is founder of Perpetual Guardian and architect of 4 Day Week