The four-day work week and the future of payroll

Can you get as much done at work in four days as in five? And if so, would it make sense to pay employees their current full-time salary while only expecting them to turn up for four days?

These are big questions for a business to ask. But that hasn’t stopped some from asking them.

Co-founder of youth advice website Year 13, Saxon Phipps, told ReadyTech CEO Marc Washbourne on the latest episode of the WorkED Podcast his business had taken the four-day-a-week leap.

While it’s optional and staff are only paid for four days, Phipps says the driver was giving employees – particularly millennials and Gen Z – time to pursue the things outside of work they care most about.

“The majority of our staff work four days. On Friday, we encourage them to follow a creative passion or creative purpose because we want them to scratch that itch or ignite that fire within themselves.”

Do strategies like these works? Is the four-day work week a way to supercharge productivity?

Testing the productivity payoff 

New Zealand estate planning firm Perpetual Guardian recently took a punt on the productivity value of a four-day working week [ link ]. Giving its 240 office workers the chance to turn five days into four – with the same amount of take-home pay – it ran an outcomes-based trial of the four-day work week.

The results reverberated through the HR and business world. Why? Founder Andrew Barnes had documented higher productivity, engagement, job satisfaction, work-life balance and wellbeing. All the things business have been pursuingmore, had been found because employees are there less.

Barnes first got the idea on a plane while reading an article inThe Economist. As detailed in his TEDx talk on the four-day work week trial, Barnes had come across shocking research that showed workers in the UK were only productive for 2.5 hours a day. Canadians? Just 1.5 hours a day.

The question was this: If employees worked less would they be more productive?

The answer turned out to be yes.

There was more to the trial than just telling people they could work one day less. For example, individuals and teams were asked to think about how they spent their time, and how they could deliver five days of work in just four. There was also consideration of how they could structure their teams to deliver this output, including through periods of seasonal workflow change.

For Perpetual Guardian as a whole, it also meant being very scientific: the trial engaged skilled outside consultants and academics who evaluated both qualitative and quantitative measures of success.

The results spoke for themselves. While the volume of work being done wasmaintained over the four day work week, there were also a range of resultant benefits including employee work-life balance increasing, stress decreasing and a huge employee engagement jump of almost 20 per cent.

As Barnes told his TEDx audience in Auckland, staff saw the extra day off as a gift and were willing to do what it took over the other four days to make sure it remained on the table. “This scheme means our staff can be the best they can be in the office, but also the best they can be outside,” he said.

Examples from around the world

Perpetual Guardian isn’t alone in challenging the world of work with new structures that boost productivity and wellbeing. In fact, there are a range of similar experiments going on around the world on both small and large scales that could one day end up changing workplace culture.

 One of those is in Sweden. There, some employers are moving towards a six-hour work day [Link]rather than a four-day work week, but with similar motivations and benefits. The idea is if employees can get as much done in a more intense six hours, they’ll also have more energy left for actually living life.

Employers opting for the six-hour work day include carmaker Toyota’s centres in Gothenburg and Stockholm-based tech company Filimundus. The company’s CEO has said those working an eight hour day have to inject ‘pauses’ into their day to make it managable and suffer too many distractions.

The Netherlands [Link –]is another poster child for the four-day work week. While they are part-time roles, rather than four days of work for a full week’s pay, the widespread uptake of shorter weeks allow parents to integrate child caring responsibilities. It also makes the work culture more efficient.

The benefits for workplace culture

Saxon Phipps’ four-day work week at Year 13 has been based on the changes seen in employee expectations around work – particularly as new generations flow through into the workforce.

“The world of work is changing, with people wanting things like more flexibility in hours, being able to work from home or work from being away, which can be difficult for employers to understand.”

However, Phipps says the four-day week pays off for the business at Year 13 not just because of its primarily younger workforce, but because employees have more to provide when they are there.

 “When they come back they are actually the best version of themselves. We have referees, poets, writers, songwriters, singers, and they come back full of life and energy. We are not draining the life out of them by saying no, no, no, we are being flexible. It breeds a good culture,” he says.

What do millennials really think about education and work and are we supportingtheir success?Listen to WorkED Episode 002 – The Millennial Mind with Saxon Phipps []for more of Saxon’s thoughts on millennial and Gen Z workers and what they want from today’s employers.

About ReadyTech’s WorkED podcast

The future of work and education is here! WorkED is a new podcast from VETtrak’s parent company ReadyTech, investigating what the future of education and work will really look like and asking whether we’re ready for it. In conversation with ReadyTech CEO Marc Washbourne, leading thinkers come together to share their personal work stories and challenge the outmoded thinking, business models, community assumptions and policies being reshaped or upended by technology.

 Listen now on the ReadyTech website, Spotify or iTunes