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Andrew Barnes of the 4-Day Week global campaign talks about how the four-day week has taken off and why it works.
Andrew Barnes invented the global four-day week campaign broadly by accident. In the space of just a few years he has gone from reading an article about productivity rates to trialling a four-day week at his company to launching a series of trials in countries around the world, backed by in-depth academic research.
In his own company, Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand, the trial saw engagement scores rise by 40%, stress levels drop by 15% and productivity up by around 25%. Most people were able to do their job in four days rather than five [and receive full pay for doing so]. Andrew wrote a book about it which is full of case studies and research. That brought interviews and interest from around the world. He says he has spoken in 99 countries since he wrote the book to share his company’s experiences.
At a recent European Smart Work Network meeting, Barnes told Andy Lake, editor of Flexibility.co.uk, that Perpetual Guardian had also looked at small incremental changes that could increase the proportion of the day that workers are productive. He cited how Microsoft Japan had cut the number of people in meetings, restricted meetings to half an hour on Teams and achieved a productivity boost of around 40%. He said research showed many people are only productive around two to three hours a day so getting rid of interruptions, such as time spent on social media and in meetings, could increase productivity. Barnes’ company cut down on interruptions like eating at the desk or scrolling on your phone.
From there the campaign has brought together experts who have implemented four-day weeks to mentor companies going through pilots in countries around the world, including the UK. The idea is to create “a safer, more collegiate environment”. Interest has risen significantly since Covid with up to 700 companies applying to take part in the UK pilot scheme, which will be backed by research by universities including the University of Cambridge. The campaign team has had to cap the number on the trial at 60 for now, but already the pilots have raised the profile of the four-day week and some governments, including Belgium’s, have come on board. Some have also tabled legislation to reduce the working week. “It has gone from a fringe idea in New Zealand to a mainstream one in less than four years,” says Barnes.
He is not so sure about legislation for a four-day week as he says different companies do the concept of the four-day week in different ways depending on the sector they are in and other factors. Legislation would make that too fixed and there is a risk, he said, that it could destroy the incentives to boost productivity. In his company, workers commit every year to the model. Barnes worries that legislation would lead to a big spike in productivity and then a drop as reduced hours became the norm.
Asked about how the model might work in frontline services like health, Barnes said it was important to look at the bigger picture. If the working week was shorter retention would be better and stress levels and sickness lower. He says sickness levels half with a four-day week. “It’s a virtuous circle,” he said.
The interview came just before the findings of a NatWest Rapid Cash four-day week survey showed 78% of employers think the four-day working week will become the norm before 2030, with 68% expecting a four-day work week to positively impact productivity. 88% of employees and 86% of recruiters think that the four-day working week is a good thing, but employers are slightly less keen at 76%. 88% of recruiters and 88% of workers think offering a four-day working week automatically makes a business more appealing and 79% of employers agree. Nevertheless, a third of employers don’t intend to offer a four-day week unless they have to.
*If you are interested in taking part in a pilot, being matched with a company in your sector who has completed a successful pilot or learning more, got to www.4dayweek.com.