Following a successful trial at a New Zealand company, UK firms could boost productivity and reduce energy consumption with a four-day working week.
Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand company that provides trusts, wills and estate planning services started the trial in March, allowing all 240 staff to work a four-day week but paying them for five.
At the end of a trial period the experiment was hailed as an ‘unmitigated success,’ with positive outcomes for productivity and employees’ happiness and work-life balance.
The company may now make the shorter working week permanent across its offices.
“If you can have parents spending more time with their children, how is that a bad thing?” said company founder Andrew Barnes, who spearheaded the project.
“Are you likely to get fewer mental health issues when you have more time to take care of yourself and your personal interests? Probably ... if you have fewer people in the office at any one time, can we make smaller offices?”
Barnes thought up the experiment after reading that workplace productivity could be as low as 90 minutes per day
Academics assessed offices before, during and after the trail. They surveyed employees and found that staff reporting that they could successfully manage work and non-work commitments increased by 24 percentage points.
Helen Delaney was one of those academics from the University of Auckland Business School.
She said that the experiment was successful because employees helped design how the four-day week would be managed so as not to impact on productivity.
“Employees designed a number of innovations and initiatives to work in a more productive and efficient manner, from automating manual processes to reducing or eliminating non-work-related internet usage,” said Delaney.
A similar trial in Sweden, which saw 70 elderly care nurses work six hours in a day instead of the traditional eight, yielded more positive results.
During the first 18 months of the two-year trial
, nurses working shorter hours logged less sick leave, reported better health and boosted productivity – organising 85% more activities for patients.
The success of these pilots and other schemes across Europe have prompted some to question
whether a four-day work week could become the new norm in Britain.
Efficiency-boosting reforms are badly needed in the UK. Productivity, measured by national income per hour worked, is around a quarter behind competitors like France and Germany – meaning it takes British workers five days to produce what others do in four
Increasing productivity was one of the reasons why the Green Party called for a maximum 35-hour work week in Britain at the last election, which party leader Caroline Lucas described as a ‘four-day week’. The average Brit worked around 39.2 hours per week in 2016.
France introduced a 35-hour week in 2000 and their productivity has remained ahead of Britain’s in that time. But the International Monetary Fund argues that the 35-hour limit has increased unemployment in France and not made workers any happier.
Save energy with a four-day week
A shorter working week also has an impact on energy. Economists David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot compared the US model of long working hours to the ‘old European’ model of shorter working hours. They concluded that, by adopting European working hours America could see a 20% reduction in energy use.
When the US state of Utah implemented longer hours for state employees from Monday to Thursday and cut Fridays out entirely, it saved $1.8m in energy costs in the first ten months.
As well as less energy output on office lighting, air conditioning and other workplace equipment
, a four-day work week would also cut out millions of miles of commuting to and from work – making an economy more environmentally friendly.