The founder of one of the first big companies to switch to a four-day working week has called on others to follow, claiming it has resulted in a 20% rise in productivity, appeared to have helped increase profits and improved staff wellbeing.
Analysis of one of the biggest trials yet of the four-day working week has revealed no fall in output, reduced stress and increased staff engagement, fuelling hopes that a better work-life balance for millions could be in sight.
Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand financial services company, switched its 240 staff from a five-day to a four-day week last November and maintained their pay. Productivity increased in the four days they worked so there was no drop in the total amount of work done, a study of the trial released on Tuesday has revealed.
The trial was monitored by academics at the University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology. Among the Perpetual Guardian staff they found scores given by workers about leadership, stimulation, empowerment and commitment all increased compared with a 2017 survey.
Details of an earlier trial showed the biggest increases were in commitment and empowerment. Staff stress levels were down from 45% to 38%. Work-life balance scores increased from 54% to 78%.
“This is an idea whose time has come,” said Andrew Barnes, Perpetual Guardian’s founder and chief executive. “We need to get more companies to give it a go. They will be surprised at the improvement in their company, their staff and in their wider community.”
He has this week released a how-to-guide for other organisations, including findings from the trial and implementation.
“We’ve been treated like adults and I think as a result everyone is behaving like adults,” said Tammy Barker, a branch manager who was part of the trial that cut the working week from from 37.5 hours to 30.
The eight-week experiment was closely watched by employers and policymakers around the world.
‘Groundbreaking’: Andrew Barnes, the managing director of Perpetual Guardian. Photograph: Perpetual Guardian
In the UK, the Wellcome Trust science funding body is considering switching its 800 head office staff to a four-day week, and Perpetual Guardian has been inundated with more than 350 requests for information about the trial from 28 countries. Most have come from organisations in the UK, followed by Australia, the US and Germany.
The Labour party has commissioned a study of the possibilities of a four-day week. However, early research points to the complexity of achieving productivity gains in major industries such as retail, where being present is a key part of the job.
In the UK, average working hours have been increasing since the financial crisis, and questions have been raised about how far people working in frontline occupations such as nursing or the police could cut their hours without reducing the public service they provide.
Smaller companies experimenting with the four-day week have found performance has been better in the first few weeks as excitement about the project took hold, before falling slightly.
“The biggest concern from an employer point of view is ensuring that the full-time introduction of the policy doesn’t lead to complacency, with the risk that people’s productivity will slip back,” Barker said.
“To guard against this happening we’ve spent a lot of time making sure every person in every team has their own plan as to how they’re going to maintain and even improve their productivity.”
People used the additional day off for some of the same leisure activity they would have done at the weekend. Photograph: Alamy
She said she had personally found that working less increased her focus on tasks, and she was no longer jumping from one thing to the next.
“I was actually finishing projects before moving on to the next one, and by the end of the day found I was accomplishing more than trying to multitask everything,” she said.
“I did find that my productivity increased purely by being more aware of my work processes and thinking about how I was doing things and why I was doing them. At the same time, I didn’t feel any more stressed at work probably because I was really focusing on the tasks at hand and because I had the extra day off to compensate for the increased work rate.”
People used the additional day off for some of the same leisure activity they would have done at the weekend, such as golf or watching Netflix, but new activities emerged too, according to Jarrod Haar, a professor of human resource management at Auckland University of Technology.
These included “spending time with parents”, “spending much-needed time studying”, and “cleaning the house on a Wednesday and then having the weekend free”.
“Managers reported their teams were more creative after the trial,” he said. “It involved them finding solutions to doing their work in four days, so this reflected well. Importantly, they rated their teams as giving better customer service – they were more engaging and focused when clients and customers called.”
He said significantly lower job stress and burnout was reported, with work-life balance levels achieving record highs.
“Beyond wellbeing, employees reported their teams were stronger and functioned better together, more satisfied with their jobs, more engaged and they felt their work had greater meaning,” he said. “They also reported being more committed to the organisation and less likely to look elsewhere for a job.”
Barnes said: “Having implemented the four-day week on an opt-in basis we are continuing to identify ways to raise productivity and improve engagement, wellbeing and job satisfaction within this groundbreaking model of flexibility.”