It might sound too good to be true, but there may be a way to work less and increase productivity at the same time. While most people around the world are working longer hours and getting stressed out as a result, a number of forward-thinking companies and countries have decided to go the other way. Switching to a four-day working week may provide the ultimate work life balance, with studies looking into this innovative new approach showing a more productive and happier workforce.
Some countries are more pro-active than others when it comes to ensuring a strong work life balance. The Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Ireland and Denmark are the most advanced in this regard, with all of these nations making efforts to reduce long working hours while ensuring benefits for full and part-time workers. The Netherlands has a standard four-day working week, with the national workforce averaging around 29 hours a week. This is the lowest of any industrialized nation according to OECD statistics.
Other European nations are also leading the way, with the workforce in Denmark and Norway averaging 33 hours a week, and Ireland workers averaging just 34 hours a week. In contrast, New Zealander workers average 43.3 hours a week, with United Kingdom workers putting in 42.7 hours a week, and those in Australia working 42.6 hours a week. Rather than seeing extended working hours as some kind of ethical and desirable standard, people are discovering that less is often more.
In an effort to counteract the negative effects of too much work, New Zealand financial services company Perpetual Guardian recently began a four-day working week trial with full pay and benefits for employees. During the eight week trial period, staff had a choice to reduce their working hours from 37.5 to 30 a week. Results over this period were monitored by the University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology, with productivity measured and surveys carried out before and after the trial.
The results of the study were very impressive, with stress levels down from 45 percent to 38 percent, leadership up from 64 percent to 82 percent, commitment up from 68 percent to 88 percent, and work life balance up from 54 percent to 78 percent. According to University of Auckland's Dr Helen Delaney, "Many employees also spoke of increased levels of intellectual stimulation and creativity during the trial." and "Some felt more confident about making decisions and being proactive - a sentiment echoed by management." Overall, Perpetual Guardian reported a 20 percent increase in productivity over the trial period.
The New Zealand firm is not the only business to make the bold switch to a four-day working week, with Pursuit Marketing in Scotland moving 120 staff to a four-day week in 2016. The telephone and digital marketing company based in Glasgow has seen an astonishing 29.5 percent improvement in productivity since the change, with staff achieving more while working fewer hours with no reduction in pay or benefits. While most people would expect a four-day working week to benefit families and reduce stress levels, real quantifiable productivity increases highlight a win-win scenario that may become impossible for some industries to ignore.