With the four-day work week, Perpetual Guardian founder and chief executive Andrew Barnes says we can have the best of all worlds: optimal productivity, work-life balance, and benefits for both employees and employers.
One of the best perks discovered about adopting a four day work week is definitely the fact that it is possible to enhance productivity rates while also allowing employees to have more time for themselves and for their families.
New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian seized the full potential of this innovative professional setting and tried it out, along with local academics, to oversee the results.
A brief history of the 4-days work week concept
The idea of shortening the traditional length of the working week has been around for quite a while. In fact, the concept has been discussed by HR experts and industry insiders for several decades. In the late 80s, this concept was considered extremely forward-thinking and almost fringe. In fact, it didn’t quite take off for many businesses around the world.
The idea started to finally gain some momentum in the latter part of the 2000s, and eventually, companies in countries such as Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and other European nations experimented successfully with implementing the four day week. These were some of the earliest notable examples of this unique professional set up.
Some models for the 4-days work week actually involve having workers make up for the missing time by adding two more hours at the end of every shift, turning an eight-hour workday into a 10-hour workday.
Others, on the other hand, prefer a more sustainable approach in terms of daily work hours, paying their employees the same salary that they would expect from a five days work week come up while enjoying the benefits of the 4-days work week, putting in only 8 hours a day.
This is definitely the case for Perpetual Guardian, as the Kiwi company adopted the latter strategy, as opposed to putting two more daily hours on the shoulders of their employees.
Perpetual Guardian’s employees, and how they responded to the 4-day work week switch
Perpetual Guardian is one of the many companies that turned to the 4-days-a-week working model.
The company’s founder, Andrew Barnes, had been looking for ways to improve the life-work balance of his employees. He came up with this concept as a way to allow his employees to free up some extra time to dedicate to their families and lives while also improving the productivity of the business, which deals with trusts management, as well as wills and estate planning.
Perpetual Guardian embarked on a very significant trial, ushering in a four-day working week, without the catch of having their employee working the extra hours to make up for the working with being one day shorter.
In fact, Perpetual Guardian paid their employees a 5-days week salary, although the worked 4-days a week, 8 hours a day. The results were astonishing, with employees showcasing great satisfaction over their ability to balance their work and lives better.
“At Perpetual Guardian we set out to test our assumptions about productivity through a company-wide trial” – Barnes stated. He went on to add that “With the work we are doing in our company and now this white paper, we seek to generate useful data and insights to share with organisations that wish to develop their own productivity and flexibility policies”
This is a strong testament to the fact that the company didn’t just try something for themselves, but also to share insightful information with other businesses around the world, hoping that more and more people will notice the benefits of the 4-days work week.
When asked whether he could envision other companies experiencing similar results, Barnes stated that it’s really a matter of leadership standards:
“Do people work better if they are empowered, engaged, stimulated, treated as individuals and with respect? Do you get better outputs as a consequence of having a more engaged, less stressed, loyal workforce? A bit of that is leadership, but it’s also a reflection of the fact that life isn’t the way it used to be. We don’t have the 20th century model of the wife staying at home and looking after the house. Instead, quite often you’ve got two hardworking parents who are juggling all sorts of things. We allow people to work five days with compressed hours, so if you’ve got kids that could save 400 bucks a week in childcare! People are saying to you: ‘this has changed my life’.”
Social impact of the four-day week
Barnes is excited about the future of the 4-day work week. He stated that this particular model has a lot of potentials and that it could have a very positive impact on society in the long run, as it gets more widespread and common.
He strongly believes that it is always a good thing to see more parents being able to spend time with their children, and looks forward to seeing, more people being able to take some time for themselves and prevent burning out, or been a victim of mental health distress from being overworked.
Thankfully, it seems that more and more people are starting to share the same view, leading to a generation-defining paradigm shift in the human resources industry. The future of work could be a lot more productive, even though the working hours will be dramatically reduced.
After all, even if you look back at the industrial revolution era, you can definitely trace back the progressive reduction of the daily hours expected from workers. Social changes and technological advancements are also a strong factor to consider: because we can process many tasks so quickly and seamlessly, we really need to put less and fewer hours into actual personnel work.
This way, the staff can focus on handling more important tasks and work better on things that require their focus and attention.
“The results of the Perpetual Guardian trial showed employees were ready to embrace change” according to the whitepaper based on this trial. In particular, it appears that this set up has been increasingly beneficial to team work, with the paper noting that “The team structure suits the Four-Day Week especially well, providing innate cover for when employees are having their day off. ”
The bottom line was indeed very positive, with the paper coming to the conclusion that “one of the most pleasing parts of the trial was that it did indeed kick off a conversation about productivity and almost immediately had teams thinking consciously about what they were doing and how they were doing it.”
Academic responses to the four-day week
As we mentioned earlier on, Perpetual Guardian’s trial was actually under the scope of significant academic observation.
Jarrod Haar, who is a professor of human resource management at AUT (Auckland University of Technology), actually reported that employees undergoing this trial experienced higher rates of satisfaction across all areas – from their commitment to their work tasks, down to the private sphere, and everything in between.
Work-life balance with a 4-day work week
Work-life balance is actually very important, yet it can also be quite underrated, as many HR professionals failed to consider this particular aspect in the previous decades. The focus on productivity has historically been linked in trying to minimize distractions and external factors, trying to get people to be more focus on what they’re doing.
The traditional “cubicle” offices come to mind as an example of the classic old-school feelings towards maximizing productivity. We are quickly learning that this is not the best approach, because it is not conducive to better company culture, it creates isolation between people, and it doesn’t really make employees feel like they belong to something worth staying motivated for.
Conversely, perks such as a shorter working week paid in full will make workers value their position, and approach their jobs with an entirely different attitude. As the astonishing results from the Perpetual Guardian trials are showing, this is a very favorable trend towards redefining business productivity and HR management across the board.
Why working only four days a week?
Working 4 days a week has many perks. This model increases productivity according to many case studies and trials, such as the one experienced by Perpetual Guardian. It could also have incredible benefits on other factors, such as mental health and even physical health, just to mention but a few.
You might argue that one extra day at work means one extra day of being more productive. On the contrary, a 4-days work week has been shown to produce much better results. Why does the 4-days working week feel so much better? First and foremost, it is much better for the morale of the employees.
Having some time off to unwind and relax from the stress of the usual commitments can actually be quite an amazing thing. By working for only four days a week, people can have the chance to refuel their focus and recharge the proverbial batteries.
In addition to that, having four days to work with means that efficiency and organization are at higher standards since you need to be able to accomplish more in a shorter timeframe!
What are the drawbacks of working four days a week?
We sang the praises of the four days week, and rightfully so. Having said that, this setting can also have some drawbacks, if it is not implemented the right way.
A controversial way to switch to a 4-days work week has been to have people work 10 hours shift as a way to make up for a missing day of work. This could be quite daunting because, in addition to commute times, it can make the workday very stressful.
There are many awesome things to be excited about when it comes to this innovative professional setting. However, there are also a few inconveniences. The first thing that comes to mind is that most of the world is not really set up for a 4-days working week. Interfacing with other businesses or customers might present a few extra challenges because of this.
As most of you may know, the average standard working times in the United States and in most western countries in the world are 8 hours a week, five days a week.
Switching to a four-day working week means that you still need to retain the same 40 hours a week count, although each day is now 10 hours of work, rather than just 8. Some people are ok with this trade-off because they can get an extra free day.
However, other people might actually benefit from having shorter hours each day, and they’d rather work an extra day than being busy for such a long time.
Keep in mind that a 10 hours workday is often not just 10 hours. Most workers need to community from home to work and back. This often means that they are going to stay busy for at least 11-12 hours each day. This can be quite a lot, leaving little to no free time during working days.
At the end of the day, it might come down to the personal preference of employees. Some businesses even distribute work hours based on how many hours their employees are willing to work. There are some people who prefer five days a week with shorter hours, and others who actually would rather work longer, but only do it for four days a week.
Because of the long working hours, some people might simply be unable to spend too much time at work, even if it’s only for four days a week.
For example, parents in need of taking care of their kids, would probably rather work the extra day and spend more hours at home daily, so they can be there for their children, rather than delegating their care to third parties (nannies, carers, etc.) or institutions (after school programs, kindergartens, daycare, etc.).
Finding the middle ground
The typical 4-days a week with 10 hours a day (per working day) can be challenging to some people. Having said that, there are other solutions to this issue with hours. As mentioned earlier, companies such as Perpetual Guardians opted to shed those two extra hours, and still pay their employees the same salary.
This enables workers to spend more time with their family, without being stuck on extra-long commutes, or without giving up on that extra income coming from an extra workday, which could actually make a giant difference, especially when it comes to the economies of family life.
The forward-thinking and extremely humane model adopted by Perpetual Guardians combines the shorter work hours typical of the 5-days week, with the extra free time of a 4-days working week, bringing the best of both worlds together in one package.
Does it work? The numbers speak for a four-day work week
According to recent data coming from Perpetual Guardian surveys, over 78% of the company’s employees responded very enthusiastically to this set-up. They claimed that they managed to balance their work and their life more successfully, and as a result, gaining a much better focus on their career.
Many employees also feel more valued and rewarded by a business who is hiring them for four days a week, letting them work only 8 hours a day, but paying them for five days of work instead.
Many consider this a privilege and thus feel a stronger sense of loyalty and kinship towards the brand. This is a further drive to be extra productive and motivated to bring excellent results to the table. Implementing this model was a tightly observed process for the company, who also had academics studying the trial before, during, and after switching to a 4-days a week / 8-hours a day working system.