LIFESTYLE

Four-day week pays dividends

It has been suggested that since the onset of modern technology, the average working day has grown from 7.5 hours to 9.5 a day, and raising stress levels into the bargain. Indeed, Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Dying for a Paycheck, says the mental health problems being generated by modern work practices are costing US$200 billion in healthcare costs annually in the US alone. Not only that, work is directly responsible for the deaths of 120,000 workers in the US each year. And surely it can be no coincidence that heart attacks typically spike on Monday mornings as stress levels erupt at the very thought of the working week ahead. In short, Pfeffer argues our work lives are destroying our health, listing work as “the fifth leading cause of death” in the US. 

The solution? Forget sleep pods, ping-pong tables and dog-friendly workspaces, for Tim Denning, downsizing to a four-day week was the answer. “The schedule allowed me to earn multiple income streams, maintain a good work-life balance, and feel more present and energised while at the office,” he told Medium

Adopting a four-day week doesn’t just benefit stressed-out employees. One company in New Zealand, Perpetual Guardian, which moved to a four-day week in November 2018, reported happier, more loyal workers, lower staff turnover and increased efficiency. “The world is going through a pretty horrific epidemic around stress, mental health, the collapse almost of free time,” company owner Andrew Barnes told Quartz. A four-day week “starts to adjust the balance”, he said. “That balance, once restored, flows through into a lot of other things.” A study, which found a four-day workweek made employees in New Zealand 20 percent more productive, backs this up. 

A company in Ireland — ICE Group — recorded similar results: processes became more efficient, and key performance indicators (such as sales, the percentage of calls returned within a certain amount of time) were not only being met but, in some cases, exceeded, compared to when its employees worked five days. Since the change, company director Margaret Cox has also noticed “people’s habits have been changing”. They’re more focused, and not “checking Facebook every 15 minutes”. 

Meanwhile, in Japan, Microsoft said sales had been boosted by nearly 40 percent during an experiment earlier this year in which staff worked a four-day week on full pay. Surveying its employees after the trial, the company found the scheme was popular with 92 percent of its 2,300 staff. Not only that, during the month-long experiment electricity consumption had been reduced by 23 percent, and paper printing was down by 59 percent. 

A June 2019 report from the Society for Human Resource Management said 15 percent of more than 2,700 American companies and organisations surveyed now offer a four-day workweek option to employees, up from 12 percent in 2017. “While four-day workweeks are still relatively uncommon, organisations that have implemented them report no decreases in productivity or revenue as a result,” the report concluded.

Speaking to this year’s World Economic Forum, Adam Grant, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told delegates, “I think we have some good experiments showing that if you reduce work hours, people are able to focus their attention more effectively, they end up producing just as much, often with higher quality and creativity, and they are also more loyal to the organisations that are willing to give them the flexibility to care about their lives outside of work.”

So is it time for businesses to scrap the traditional five-day workweek? Barnes thinks so. “Business leaders are conditioned to believe working long hours equates to working hard. It's very difficult to get a whole generation of business leaders to believe that, actually, the way we've been doing it pretty much our entire careers is wrong.”

November 5, 2019