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Assessing the Feasibility and Benefits of the 4-Day Work Week

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There's nothing better than taking a Friday off, right? Whether it's Good Friday, a cheeky annual vacation or a (hopefully justified!) sick day, the weekend that comes with it is a joy that no one wants to miss out on.

On the rare occasions that we experience a short week and a long weekend, we tend to be more rested, happier, and more excited about work when we return. We have more opportunities to do administrative tasks, spend time with friends and family, go outdoors, or just sit around doing nothing.

But we can't do that all the time? There's so much work that needs to be done, isn't there?

Well, some pioneering companies are experimenting with shorter work weeks to improve their employees' lives - and therefore their productivity. We want to find out whether this is a good idea or not.

The four-day work week

The most important thing about these projects is that employees are paid no differently than if they worked 5 days. These programs are about getting essential work done in less time by working smarter and more efficiently.

In recent years there has been talk of 4-day weeks, which still consist of the same hours, From Monday to Thursday, 2 additional hours will be worked to compensate for the Friday off. This article in The Conversation shows that the extra day of rest (and a shorter commute to and from work) can sometimes improve workers' health. But “not all hours are created equal,” and not many people can work 10 hours straight for 4 days in a row. The stress associated with work may outweigh the benefits of additional free time.

(By the way, we're not talking about the 4-hour week here - that's something completely different).

The most interesting model is the model with reduced working hours and full pay - and it seems to be working.

Perpetual Guardian, an estate planning firm in New Zealand, trialled a fully paid four-day week in March and April last year. 78% of employees said they were able to successfully balance their work and personal lives throughout the trial (a 24% increase compared to before). It worked so well that the program has since been made permanent.

When the program was introduced, the focus was on efficiency. Management talked to each employee about how they should complete their essential tasks in the shorter time frame, and soon employees discovered their own preferred ways of doing things. Some deployed new software to save time, and others used monitoring tools to see where they spent their time and eliminated unproductive things like Internet surfing or frivolous meetings.

Employees were also allowed to choose an additional day off (it didn't necessarily have to be Friday) and experiment with working hours other than the usual 9-5. This meant that the office space was used more evenly, so it was quieter overall and employees were able to work better throughout the day.

To make it work

The Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office job isn't going away, at least not anytime soon. It is deeply rooted in work culture, although it is not ideal for every type of work. We have been conditioned to believe that working longer hours equals working harder and therefore being more productive. But fortunately, attitudes are slowly starting to change.

A few years ago, when I was working in a management position in an office, I went down to a 4-day week. When I spoke to HR about this arrangement, which involved a 20% pay cut and a 20% reduction in working hours, I was asked, "Do you think you can get all of your work done in the shorter week?" Since I didn't want to make a big deal about the matter (it was originally my idea), I of course said yes. But actually I should have said no - I'll do 80% of my work because that's what you're going to pay me for.

It can be a little superficial to promote such disruptive ways of working, as if stuffy non-believers were stuck in the past. The Wellcome Trust tried to introduce this system for its hundreds of staff, but found it was simply too complex to make it fair for everyone.

UK workers have the longest working week in Europe, but don't boast the strongest economy, so something needs to change. Maybe we should work smarter, not harder.

Embracing innovative work structures like the four-day week fosters employee satisfaction and efficiency, supported by tools like IceHrm.

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