Thinking this is just a ruse to get out of working Fridays without a cut in pay? Hear us out. There is actually a considerable argument concerning both businesses and the environment supporting the four day week.
While working five days currently seems the most productive way to operate, we have to ask ourselves, do we have the energy to work at our best for such a prolonged period?
Then there’s the issue of our burning planet. If we really want to make an impact on climate change we need to take drastic steps. Plastic straws are great but nothing like the impact of reduced travel pollution and less workspace energy.
Perhaps the biggest argument for the four day week is its promise of increased productivity. And, there are a few theories as to why this occurs. Firstly, there’s the idea that grateful employees work harder to keep the extra free time. Or, could it simply be that rested minds work more efficiently? Well, whatever the reason, studies have shown employees can achieve as much (if not more) in four days as in five.
According to a recent article in the Guardian, management at Pursuit Marketing took a chance and switched to the four day week, without cutting pay. The idea came about after noticing workers on reduced hours, to fit in school runs or look after family dependents, were making around 17% more sales than full-timers.
During the first month of the study, sales spiked by 37%. And this wasn’t just initial excitement either. After two years, figures were still up 29.5% on previous years.
Pursuit Marketing’s Director Lorraine Gray commented on the increased productivity saying, “The time off was valued, so they wanted to make sure they could keep it and they would attack their day. They were clear in their focus and there was less small talk by the water cooler.”
Although reduced chat during company hours ensured tasks were complete in less time, Pursuit Marketing didn’t want to kill the team’s energy or deprive people of social interactions. Instead they introduced breakfast meet ups. This meant the team could arrive early to work, enjoy a healthy meal and chat with colleagues before settling in to work – because catching up on the latest Netflix series is important too.
Another aspect to consider is how long people can actually work without simply burning out. According to a 2014 study for the Institute for Labour Economics this is about 35 hours a week.
The Guardian reported further, writing, ‘A study of call centres found that calls were handled less efficiently the longer people worked. When they work shorter hours, people tend to be more relaxed – and more productive.’ This is an unsurprising result considering people’s capacity for work, particularly repetitive work, understandably has its limits.
Once employees reach this capacity, things only get worse. Not only is overwork a productivity killer but it is also has negative effects on wellbeing. Employees that become unhappy in the workplace, who feel stressed, worn out and isolated due to poor work-life balance begin to negatively impact business.
Happier workers translate into lower employee turnover and fewer sick days. And, taking this theory deeper, lower turnover results in better business relationships. In the case of Officio for example, we build lifelong relationships with clients. Being able to pick up after a year or two with the same advisor is a blessing for busy customers – working with somebody who already knows your brand is a huge time saver.
Going back to wellbeing, employees working a four day week generally have more time to improve their overall health and happiness. Giving people more opportunity to spend time with their loved ones, to take part in physical activity or to look after their home surroundings improves day to day happiness. What’s more, taking part in physical activity also helps to keep the brain alert and active for longer periods of time.
Champions of the Four Day Week
Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand financial services company are one of the biggest businesses to switch to the four day week and they have no regrets. In fact, they are urging more companies to follow suit.
Reporting to the Guardian, the firm discovered a 20% rise in productivity, improved staff wellbeing and an overall increase in profits. Revealing no drop in output, reduced stress and increased engagement, the four day week was a huge success for the business.
Auckland University of Technology analysed data from the initiative’s trial period. Jarrod Haar, a professor of human resource management discovered, “Beyond wellbeing, employees reported their teams were stronger and functioned better together, were more satisfied with their jobs, more engaged and they felt their work had greater meaning.”
The test was a great success for Perpetual Guardian who believes businesses across the world could also benefit from the four day working week.
Reversing Climate Change
While we can see the effects the four day week has on businesses, what about the huge effect it could have on the health of our planet. With an increasing amount of protests, demonstrations and campaigners hitting the streets with growing fears, is it about time we stop? Stop to listen, stop to think and generally slow down our pace of life, before people and the planet combust.
Research by the University of Massachusetts found that if people spent just 10% less time at work, their carbon footprint would reduce by an impressive 14.6%. Using this theory, if employees were to work just 1.5 less days per week, their carbon footprint could reduce by a whopping 36.6%. Image the impact this could have if the four day week became standard across the world.
Working less creates a chain of reduced energy, less production and hence a more relaxed pace to life. Reducing business hours means we create less pollution on the journey into work. We consume less energy in the process of getting work done. And, we produce less goods, therefore using less precious resources to make them.
In basic terms, we leave our cars at home, turn off power thirsty computers and rows of LEDs, we don’t buy convenience food in plastic packaging and we don’t summon motorbikes from across the city delivering food to office buildings. These are things that thousands of us do daily. Just think of the changes we could make with that extra day off.
However, whilst businesses can choose to cut down to a four day week, employees must use their free time wisely – on activities with a low environmental impact – for it to positively affect the planet. Enjoying time in parks, libraries, allotments and sports courts/tracks within walking or cycling distance from home are ideal ways to slow down, unwind and improve climate change.
It finally seems as though there may be a realistic, achievable solution to the issue of burnout, both from employees and the planet. Could the four day week be the answer the world has been searching for? We expect it to become commonplace throughout businesses in the very near future.