Since Unilever – one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies – launched a 12 month trial of a four-day work week in New Zealand it begged the question: is this the future of business?
In 2020, all employees of Unilever in New Zealand had the opportunity to work reduced hours across four days a week, while maintaining their current full-time salary. This ‘experiment’ was inspired by another New Zealand business, estate planning firm Perpetual Guardian. Forget 40 hours a week and a 9 hour day! Companies like Unilever sought to improve their teams’ work life balance.
After testing a four-day workweek in 2018, the company reported excellent results. Improvements included a 20% jump in productivity, lower stress levels, and higher job satisfaction among its staff with their new work schedules.
Labour activists, environmentalists and academics have also advocated for the four-day work week since the mid-1900s. Historically, improved psychological welfare of workers and a reduced carbon footprint were cited as potential benefits. In 1956, Richard Nixon claimed that a four-day work week would arrive in the U.S in the “not too distant future”.
In May, Jacinta Abern also publicly encouraged companies to consider implementing the four-day work week. She believed it would boost productivity, provide workers with a better work/life balance, and encourage domestic tourism.
This trend is not specific to New Zealand, though. In 2019, Microsoft Japan trialed a four-day working week and achieved what they described were excellent results. They reported a 40% increase in productivity, a 23% decrease in electricity costs, and other improvements to efficiency across the business. We’ve previously reported on Microsoft’s move to allow its staff to work remotely, permanently, indicating that the company is willing to experiment with how its workforce operates.
These potential benefits may have a huge effect on how the workforce and businesses operate in the future.
Advantages and Disadvantages of A Four-Day Work week
- Increased employee satisfaction and wellbeing
- Increased productivity levels
- Fewer distractions at work. Andrew Barnes, law firm owner of Perpetual Guardian runs a four-day work week and has seen employees spend 35% less time on non-work websites. Employees can manage non-work responsibilities outside work hours.
- Retain staff
- Prevents burnout
- Employees may feel heightened anxiety and have to work longer hours to finish their work.
- Businesses will have shorter hours and be less accessible to customers if they are closed three days a week.
- The cost. Employers may not be able to hire more team members to work fewer days a week.
- Not every business model can do a four-day work week.
- How businesses tackle these disadvantages is yet to be seen. Nick Bangs, the managing director of Unilever New Zealand is committed to ensuring that longer working hours do not become a problem. He told the Reuters news agency that extended days would “miss the point” of the experiment.
Unilever allowed employees to decide which four days they work each week. Contrastingly, Microsoft Japan opted for a set Monday to Thursday working week.
Market insights and data show that a 4 day week has already saved UK businesses an estimated £92 billion annually.
Although encouraging, the recent trials are still merely a drop in the ocean and are unlikely to onset any mass changes in Australian organisations.
What is more likely is a continued emphasis on support and flexible work for employees. Given the recent uptake in employees working from home, businesses are increasingly striving for greater employee wellbeing and productivity. Moreover, since the declaration of “The Great Resignation”, flexible work arrangements continue to be offered in the hope to attract and retain talent. Whether the four-day workweek will play a role is yet to be seen.
How You Could Implement A Four-Day Work Week
Here are some examples:
- 4 days a week and 10 hours a day- alternate teams to have Friday and Monday covered.
- 4 days a week and 8 hours a day- alternate teams to have Friday and Monday covered.
- The flexible approach- Your team can be flexible about what days they take off but plan to have check-in times to see if there are any major client issues or requests.
A shift in mindset is definitely needed to implement a four-day workweek. However, this four-day week model may not be suited to every business model. It is still doable for many organisations. If you’re thinking about implementing a four-day workweek perhaps it’s a good idea to conduct a survey in your organisation and run a trial before implementing it straight away.
If you are interested in boosting productivity for your employees, check out our ‘9 Brain Hacks To Boost Your Productivity’ piece right here.