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A Four-Day Work Week? One New Zealand Company Has Done It Without Productivity Loss

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Feb 15, 2019

While the idea of scaling the standard work week from five to four days may seem like a distant fantasy to some, one New Zealand company tried it as an experiment and liked the results so much, it decided to implement it as a fully realized policy, according to Quartz. The company, a financial estate consulting firm called Perpetual Guardian, spent last March and April conducting a trial that would give workers an extra day off with no consequent reduction in benefits or pay. The Trusted Professional reported on this trial last October; at the time, the company's CEO was still deciding whether to make the policy permanent.

During the trial, the owner thought that the firm did not lose productivity because it didn't apply the policy with no questions asked; each team needed to offer a concrete, measurable plan for how it would maintain current productivity levels with only four days in a week, and if this plan was followed, the team was rewarded with an extra day off. The result, according to a study of the firm, was that 78 percent of staff felt able to manage work and other commitments, versus 54 percent before, and productivity increased by about 20 percent. Revenue remained steady.

The owner attributed these results, at least in part, to self-policing on the part of teams; workers were less likely to slack off because other members of the team would notice, and no one wanted to lose their extra day off. Quartz noted, though, that this sort of pressure might eventually introduce another type of work stress. While employee well being and satisfaction also went up, the owner was hesitant to use that as a justification for introducing the scaled-back work week, saying business owners really just care about the bottom line. By providing examples of productivity increases, he thinks that more CEOs can get on board with the idea because it would allay some of their fears about losing productivity and help them get over notions that working longer is automatically better. 

The concept of a four-day week has been gaining currency over the last few years. The movement does have its skeptics, however. Entrepreneur Grant Cardone, for example, is generally against any reduction to working hours, saying that if you let people get too comfortable, they will stop aspiring to improve themselves. This was the same criticism that online education firm Treehouse's CEO made when he switched to a 32-hour schedule before deciding to switch back, saying that it killed the productivity and work ethic of its employees. Others, though, say that this misses the point, which isn't (or shouldn't be) about being more productive but, rather, just doing less work. 

The criticisms leveled against reducing the work week to four days, or even 32-hours, are similar to those raised other times there has been a reduction in the standard work day. A text from 1919 noted that British textile manufacturers greatly protested even reducing the work day from 12 hours to 10, saying it would kneecap productivity to the point where investments in the industry would no longer be worth it. In The Quest for Time, which outlines international movements for an eight-hour workday in the 19th and early 20th century, says that there was vicious resistance in France to a bill mandating one half-day off of work per week for women, with 10 of 28 local chambers of commerce formally opposing the measure; opponents thought it was an unwelcome intrusion into how they ran their businesses and said it would increase costs in the long run from having to hire more workers. 

Despite these critics, however, the idea of a four-day work week, even one that retains 40 hours per week, is quite popular. A Rasmussen poll from last year found, for example, that 53 percent of Americans would rather have a four-day work week with 10-hour days than five days of eight-hour shifts.