January is a time when productivity for the year ahead is thrown into the spotlight.
So it couldn’t be more fitting that a pilot for a four-day working week has just launched in the UK.
The idea behind the trial is to see whether employees are more productive with longer weekends.
And with burnout, longer hours and work stress damaging both our physical and mental health, it’s safe to say that many would welcome a shorter work week.
In fact, research commissioned by Airtasker last year found 58% UK workers feel a four-day work week would increase their productivity, and 61% say it would motivate them more.
Despite losing a day, many experts have also stressed that the change could actually make us more productive in the workplace – in a variety of ways.
They’ve outlined why we could actually achieve more with a four-day week than we currently do below…
Time isn’t a measure of productivity
‘Anyone that has faced a pressing deadline will know that with greater focus and greater intensity we can achieve the same results in less time,’ says workplace psychologist Jeremy Snape.
This is something backed up by Alok Alstrom, founder of the Future of Work Institute, who believes there’s a big misunderstanding around work and productivity.
He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Just because you feel like you’ve worked hard doesn’t actually mean that you’ve done anything productive.
‘You can commute to an office with dry air conditioning and sit under bright lights for eight hours, going from one meeting with unclear objectives to another, and feel like you’ve done a full day of work.
‘In reality, you might not have achieved anything.
‘If you reframe the idea of what “work” is then it’s easier to think outside of the Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 routine.’
Simply put, work should be based on results – not the amount of time we spend at our desks.
This is where the four-day week can thrive.
‘I think control, pressure and constraints are bad motivators, and if you free employees to have a greater work-life balance then their time spent “working” will be more focused as a result,’ adds Alok.
We’ve already shown we can adapt
The pandemic has shown us that working in a more flexible way is not only possible, but is actually more preferable for many businesses.
What’s more, people have shown they can do it – and do it well.
Charlotte Davies, career expert at LinkedIn, says: ‘The pandemic has proven that we’re adaptable as workers. Many of us became accustomed to flexible working, new roles have been created as a result and managing our work-life balance is now a top priority, but this doesn’t mean productivity has to suffer.
‘In a bid to juggle our time during the pandemic, we have proven we’re able to be more productive during the typical workday and it’s now becoming less about measuring how long we’re “at” work and instead, how productive we are in that time.
‘Attempting to squeeze as much, or more work, into fewer hours could prove stressful for some, but it’s all about finding some equilibrium.
‘After all, employees that are given more time to rest and recharge outside of work hours are far more likely to be happier and more productive when they are back in.’
Higher energy levels will enable productivity
Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, explains that our ‘always-on’ culture has promoted over-working as an ideal.
‘Really, in order to be our most productive, we need the capacity to be able to be present and to give our full focus to what we’re doing,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘This simply isn’t possible when we’re over-worked and over-stretched. When we give people the time and space to nourish themselves, their energy levels and mental capacity will naturally increase.
‘This is also when we start to see higher levels of productivity.
‘Dropping down to a four-day work week is one way of doing this.’
This also means that a four-day week may help tackle burnout.
Dr Miriam Marra, from Henley Business School, says: ‘A big advantage of the four-day working week business model is the possibility to take care of mental health issues by reducing the work burnout, with workers feeling more relaxed and hence more productive.’
How a four-day week could make us more productive long-term:
Dr Elena has outlined more ways a four-day week could make us more productive in the long-term:
- Employees are likely to take less sick days when they are feeling fully rested and rejuvenated.
- Employees will feel valued and cared for and are more likely to be committed as a result.
- It can help retain staff and attract new talent.
- When people are allowed the space to give their best, everyone benefits.
It will create more focus
The four-day week would call for new focus and planning to ensure that every hour is productive – so the same amount of work gets done in less time.
‘Parkinson’s Law suggests that a task will expand into the time available, so meetings that are scheduled for an hour will always last that long,’ adds workplace psychologist Jeremy Snape.
‘One of my clients said their plan for 2022 was to schedule only 20 and 45-minute meetings this year to bring more focus and purpose to the time in online meetings. Just because Outlook calendar gives us 30 or 60 minute blocks, we shouldn’t just default to that.
‘Having a day less time available to schedule meetings would also call for a clearer prioritisation of which people need to be in which meeting during each week.’
What other countries are doing it?
- ‘Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand estate management firm, adopted the policy in November 2018. The company ran a pre and post-trial survey across employees and found that productivity was unharmed, while staff work-life balance had improved by 24%, sense of empowerment by 20%, leadership and commitment levels respectively by 22% and 20%, and stimulation by 22%.
- ‘Microsoft Japan started a trial in August 2019: 2,300 employees were given a paid Friday off each week. The company reported an impressive 40% increase in the productivity of employees in the month (measured against August 2018).
- ‘More recently, in Japan lawmakers started discussing a proposal to grant employees a day off every week to protect their well-being.
- ‘Unilever Plc has started a year-long trial in December 2020 for its New Zealand staff.
- ‘Spain’s government is considering a proposal to subsidise companies that offer a four-day working week. Spain is not the only country whose politicians lobby in favour of the four-day working week: the UK Labour Party even included it in its 2019 electoral manifesto.’