The pandemic has forever changed how we think about what it means to go to work. And though the hybrid approach is rapidly becoming the predominant model in many white-collar workplaces, perhaps we should consider a more radical change to the 40-hour, five-day workweek. Is it now time for the four-day workweek?
Instead of simply providing more flexibility on when employees get in their 40+ hours of work, why not give them the opportunity to trim the fat by cutting out wasted time, push back on non-essential meetings, and find ways to do the work more quickly and efficiently to achieve the same results so they can spend more time away from work?
This is ultimately about giving workers more autonomy and agency for getting work completed.
In 2018 the New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian introduced a four-day, 32-hour workweek as a pilot program and told employees that if productivity didn’t suffer, they would make it permanent. After eight weeks, they discovered not only did job performance not suffer, but there was an increase in employee engagement and work-life balance.
As a result of the pilot program, Perpetual Guardian found that:
- Levels of engagement, teamwork, and stimulation went up between 30% to 40%
- Time spent on social media fell by 35%
- Stress levels were down by 15%
- People stated they slept more, rested more, read more, and relaxed more
- After the two-month trial, the four-day workweek became permanent
“It’s not just having a day off a week,” says Perpetual Guardian founder and author Andrew Barnes. “It’s about delivering productivity, meeting customer service standards, meeting personal and team business goals and objectives.”
4 Day Week Global is a not-for-profit established by Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart that provides a platform for like-minded people interested in supporting the idea of the four-day workweek.
Research suggests that alternative work arrangements such as the four-day workweek are particularly beneficial for working mothers and low-income employees because these they tend to be marginalized from high-paying jobs or promotions and are often labelled as “failed” employees because household and caretaking responsibilities prevent them from working long hours or unexpected business travel. The four-day workweek could help level the playing field for marginalized workers.
Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), which I wrote about back in 2010, seems especially relevant today. ROWE gives workers the freedom to do their jobs how and when they see fit, so long as they produce the stated results on specified deadlines.
While ROWE may not be suitable in every work environment, it can work well with workers who are experienced, conscientious, and professional. That’s why workplaces such as IBM, JL Buchanan, WATT Global Media, GitHub, Trello, Toggl, DataStax and many others see the benefits to both their employees and the bottom line.
While ROWE can result in happier, more engaged, and productive employees, communication can be compromised if regular meetings or check-ins are not established and held firm. Not all employees are capable of being successful with such autonomy, and, of course, many workplaces simply don’t provide that much flexibility where established hours are required.
Nevertheless, where ROWE can be implemented, it can result in attracting and retaining top talent, lower real estate costs, and a company culture that values work-life balance.
I’ve learned that while employees love the hybrid work model, managers are not so enamored with the idea. Many claim it is too hard to successfully monitor and manage others. But perhaps this points to the problem. We need a new way to measure productivity that doesn’t involve watching over someone’s shoulder. This means providing greater autonomy for how the work gets done.
Whether the four-day workweek becomes a reality anytime soon, perhaps implementing the ROWE model is a step in that direction. Trust employees and give them the agency and autonomy to get the work done. Don’t simply fill five days with tasks, but provide the goals and objectives then get out of the way as employees deliver results. And be open to this being accomplished in just four days.