The ‘four-day workweek’ could be a new way to help the economy

Are you a regular employee working five days a week, while having only two days off? Have you dreamed of having a day between Saturday and Sunday, so you could actually have enough time to rest? Well, your prayers may soon be answered.

In recent years, some companies have been working on implementing a four-day workweek into their policies.

By doing so, they attract more employees seeking a better work-life balance. Moreover, they help the economy by getting the same amount of work for less time. As they say, work smarter, not harder. In this case, not longer.

On Monday, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern raised the idea of increased flexibility in the workplace, including compressed workweek and home office practices.

In a Facebook Live video, Ardern also shares the suggestion of a four-day week as one that may support the local economy and tourism in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. New Zealand’s Prime Minister said:

“I’ve had lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day week. Ultimately, that really sits between employers and employees…
There’s lots of things we’ve learnt about Covid and just that flexibility of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of that” 

Speaking about ways of improving local tourism, Ardern mentions that flexibility in terms of employees’ leave. She also notes that 60% of the tourism industry in the country comes from locals. According to the prime minister, in case employers consider implementing more flexible policies such as working from home or putting in longer hours on fewer days, ‘it certainly would help tourism all around the country’.

Just finishing up a visit in Rotorua – thought I’d share some of the things coming through from our tourism industry…

Posted by Jacinda Ardern on Monday, May 18, 2020

Recently, the idea of a four-day workweek has been gaining popularity amongst employers considering whether a tighter schedule can boost productivity.

The possibility of imposing an alternative working schedule has been acknowledged by New Zealand’s government way before the COVID-19 pandemic forced many employees to work from their homes. In 2018, several government agencies have signed up to pilot a program called ‘flexible work by default’ CNN Business reveals. The program encourages employers to give their workers more freedom in various ways.

Julie Anne Genter, the Minister for Women, Associate Minister for Health and Associate Minister for Transport, explains:

“More flexible working arrangements will enable a more diverse and inclusive state services. We know organisations that encourage flexible work have a stronger ability to attract and retain staff and it leads to a greater diversity of staff. Instead of asking why a role should be made flexible, employers should be asking why not.”

Although it is entirely up to employers to decide whether to adopt four-day workweeks or not, some companies have already made it work.

For instance, in 2018, the New Zealand estate planning company Perpetual Guardian held a two month trial of the compressed workweek concept. They claim their employees reported greater productivity, better work-life balance, and lower stress levels from working one less day a week. CEO Andrew Barnes told CNN:

“It was just a theory, something I thought I wanted to try because I wanted to create a better environment for my team. I’m humbled that my team has responded, and they went beyond my wildest dreams.”

The same year, the UK company Radioactive PR also trialed the four-day workweek. Staff is paid the same full-time salary despite no longer working on a Friday, but lunch breaks have been slightly reduced and holiday days decreased from 25 to 20. After receiving positive employee and client feedback, they made the arrangement permanent.

Many other companies find the four-day workweek highly beneficial for their businesses and for the economy.

In 2019, the American fast-food Shake Shack announced it would test out the idea of a four-day workweek at some of its restaurants on the West Coast. In an interview, the company’s chief executive Randy Garutti said:

“You’ve got to create a place where people believe in, an ethos that team members want to work for. It’s gotta be comfortable. It’s gotta be flexible. You’ve got to do things like the four-day workweek.”

In the meantime, employees at the software company Wildbit have been working 32-hour, four-day workweeks since 2017. They first experimented with this alternative schedule over one summer. However, the test period proved to be quite successful for everyone involved. Natalie Nagele, the company’s CEO, shares:

“We continued to extend it each quarter and a year later when we reflected, we realized we had gotten more done that year than we had in a long time.”

Wildbit’s director claims she’s not asking her employees to do less. She adds: ‘We are getting the same amount of work done, we are just being smarter about it.’ 

Other huge businesses are also experimenting with imposing flexible workweek schedules. In 2019, Microsoft Japan tried a four-day workweek and their productivity went up by almost 40% compared to the same period the previous year. By closing doors earlier each week, the company was also able to save on other resources, such as electricity.

The promising results encouraged Microsoft to continue experimenting with compressing the working days. They have also set a positive example for other companies to join the initiative.

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