Working for the Weekend: Increasing Productivity, Efficiency, and Profitability with a Four-Day Workweek
The dream of an extra day off each week is more plausible than you think.
More companies are investigating the idea of a four-day workweek after a New Zealand trusts firm found its employees were happier, more efficient, and more productive after its two-month trial of a 20-percent shorter week.
Andrew Barnes, CEO of Perpetual Guardian, implemented the trial after discovering research that showed the average British employee is productive only 2.5 hours per day while other studies showed this number ranged from 2 to 6 productive hours daily. Wondering what would happen if he gave his employees an extra day off each week to take care of all the problems that got in the way of their productivity, Barnes took a chance and announced a plan offering his employees Wednesdays and Fridays off so they could work a 32-hour week in exchange for the same productivity of a 40-hour week.
His risk paid off.
“Often there are lots of small inefficiencies which never get addressed in a company because they are just really too small for someone to focus their time on,” Barnes told the New York Times. “Now, because there was a prize—namely to have a day off—all of those things got addressed or got identified.”
Eliminating Inefficiencies Increases Productivity
According to American Online and Salary.com, surveyors found the average employee wastes two hours each eight-hour workday, checking emails, texting friends and family, making personal calls, or surfing the web. Knowing they would receive the reward of an extra day off for eliminating these behaviors, the majority of these employees reported they would gladly give 100 percent of their focus to their jobs.
However, employees are not the only ones to blame for inefficiencies in the workplace; interoffice meetings, work-related interruptions, and other distractions also play a significant role in reducing productivity and efficiency.
Weekly stand-up meetings, a pillar of many startups and small businesses, are often too long, unnecessary, or both. By having a concrete agenda and by holding meetings to a maximum length of 30 minutes (no matter the amount of attendees), managers can ensure everyone stays on task and quickly gets to their day. Companies can also enforce a policy that meetings can only scheduled on a particular day of the week and that they can be booked for only 15 minutes to efficiently discuss the topic at hand.
In every office, employees will always have work-related questions. Rather than having a subject matter expert who is constantly interrupted, companies can create a pull-based communications strategy that provides wikis and other documentation, which is updated at regular intervals.
Eliminating these distractions might seem like eliminating interoffice friendships as well; however, at this point management and team members can work together to establish office hours or “interruptible time.” All employees can have a set of signals next to each desk to indicate that a person shouldn’t be interrupted. Also, by setting aside blocks of time on their schedules when employees will be checking email, returning phone calls, and other maintenance activities, businesses can create a company culture that lets everyone know it is okay to stop by someone’s desk and make lunch or happy hour plans, but to save the rest of the out-of-office chatter for those out-of-office times.
Fewer, yet More Productive, Hours Increase Profitability
“A contract should be about an agreed level of productivity,” Barnes said, when discussing payroll and hiring practices. He explained that, when hiring staff, supervisors should negotiate tasks to be performed, rather than basing contracts on hours spent in the office.
CEO Jason Fried supports this philosophy as his company, Basecamp, operates on a 32-hour, 4-day workweek from May to October. “Better work gets done in four days than in five,” he wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
Closing the office every Friday or having fewer staff members in the office two days a week can also save on utilities and other infrastructure expenses. Barnes noted significantly lower electricity bills during Perpetual Guardian’s two-month trial.
Because they have more time off to psychologically disconnect from work, employees experience less work-related fatigue and burnout, resulting in lower employee turnover and a significant decrease in expensive hiring costs. Employees are also less stressed, which reduces health care costs as well.
By having a 32-hour, 4-day workweek at their 40-hour salary, employees are found to be happier with their jobs, more productive and efficient, and give better customer service, resulting in lowered overhead costs, such as utilities and other expenses, and increased client and customer satisfaction, which garners greater profits.