Whether it means ditching the TGIF “Thank God It’s Friday” catchphrase, removing all disdain for Monday’s, or choosing hump-day Wednesday as the day to get a massage, the reduced hour concept is often cited as being beneficial in terms of productivity, work-life balance, and well-being.
From introducing a new policy that lets employees work anywhere in the world or giving more autonomy to workers to control their own schedule, the question of whether increased flexibility works always arises.
As many companies and employers look at new ways to go about working a common topic of discussion is the four-day work week.
A few companies across the world have already implemented a reduced hour work week, including online coding class company Treehouse, Microsoft Japan and New Zealand’s very own Perpetual Guardian.
“We’re all interested in how we can do our best work in the most effective way and how do I switch off so that I can enjoy my life,” says Gaynor Parkin, Registered Clinical Psychologist and CEO of Umbrella.
“It comes from a place of looking at productivity and wellbeing as one of the key things we want to improve rather than time worked.”
New Zealand’s very own trust company, Perpetual Guardian, initially introduced the four-day work week in 2018 as a year-long trial to their over 200 staff members.
Andrew Barnes, founder of Perpetual Guardian dismisses that it is not about having another day off saying it’s about “delivering productivity and meeting customer service standards, meeting personal and team business goals and objectives”.
During the trial, Barnes was able to communicate with employees about how it was best to implement the new work week to the best of the entire company.
He says that the top recommendation for running a company at reduced hours is giving employees sufficient time to think about how they can work more productively.
Read more: Lessons from Kathmandu in employee satisfaction.
Parkin says research across the world about four-day work weeks has an “overarching consensus” of being positive and highlights benefits for employees across the spectrum.
“They found that people have better work performance, better work life balance, they were more positive about their job, improved wellbeing, improved team cohesion, felt like the company cared [for the] better of their wellbeing,” she adds.
However, working a shorter week has brought forward concerns about the potential added stress with a shorter week, due to having less time to get work done.
Ceara Nicolls, a Research Associate at Umbrella says that though there might be some additional stresses from “squishing it all together”, over time it will be balanced out with the better work-life balance.
“You might come into those days feeling more energised, having had more chance to relax and go into the work week with a bit more reserve to get your work done.”
Nicolls adds that for a four-day week to work, guidelines need to be in place between the employer and employee to discuss what “outputs” can be met in the new reduced work week.
She says that before implementing a four-day work week, the employer and employee need to discuss what can be achieved in a reduced hour setting.
“It is a transition. You don’t want to jump in and institute a four-day work week straight away and not go through that process of flexing and changing, trialling it and working on any issues that come up,” she adds.
“You want it to be a transition to really give its best chances.”
This is exactly what Perpetual Guardian did. The four-day work week is now permanent for Barnes’ company after seeing the success and positive influence it had on his employees.
New Zealand founded and owned retail business Kathmandu has a number of benefits that drove employee wellbeing, including the introduction to ‘flexi time’ and recently won the prestigious AFR Best Places to Work award in 2022 for employees.
The ‘flexi-time’ policy allows workers to decide how they can work during the week, and that includes having four-day weeks.
Parkin says that giving an employee autonomy over how they work benefits the company especially in during this time of The Great Resignation. Attractive policies such as the four-day week will keep employees at the company.
So how can a four-day work week be implemented in your workplace?
Nicolls says that it first starts with the leaders. “Leaders need to work to shift their own mindset and their way of viewing workers. Valuing the productivity over the hours worked.”
She adds that leaders need to look at the outputs of the work employees are doing and then define “goals and metrics” with workers.
Secondly, Nicolls says that having a communication plan is key. Having a plan will allow an organisation to understand what days are off to help maintain productivity, what goals need to be met and essentially, if everybody is on board.
“Having a really good robust conversation about how we manage productivity is really important and making sure it is aligned,” says Parkin.
Then run a pilot. “Testing first,” says Nicolls, who adds that the trial period is the time to make adjustments which can then be transitioned into a “permanent schedule”.
Parkin says the four-day work week is not a “one size fits all” plan and having a communication plan and a trial period is essential when trying to implement this new policy. According to Barnes and Parkin, it is worth discussing the reduced hour work week in order for it to be effective. But there is one thing they say it will do for sure, and that is enhance productivity for the organisation as a whole, all the while making employees happy.