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What would you do with an extra day off every week?

A company in New Zealand recently trialed a four-day working week, finding productivity skyrocketed. But what would you do with an extra day every week?

Having an extra day off every week might seem like a pipe dream, but it may be closer than you think… if a study in New Zealand is anything to go on, at least.

Two-hundred-and-forty staff at a firm in the country trialed a four-day working week between March and April this year. They worked four, eight-hour days but got paid for five – and the results may seem surprising.

The study found that stimulation, commitment and a sense of empowerment at work all improved.

Perhaps less surprisingly, staff stress levels also dropped by 7 percentage points – and 78% of employees said they felt they were able to successfully manage their work-life balance, an increase of 24 percentage points compared to working five days a week.

Helen Delaney, a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland Business School, said:

“Employees designed a number of innovations and initiatives to work in a more productive and efficient manner, from automating manual processes to reducing or eliminating non-work-related internet usage.”

Three day weekend

The company who ran the trial said they were now considering rolling it out all the time.

So does that mean a four-day-working-week, or even less, could soon be making an appearance in workplaces in the UK? It may not be as far fetched as it sounds.

The idea’s been brought up in the UK before. The Green Party proposed a 35-hour working week in 2017.

And the economics think tank, the New Economics Foundation, argue that a 21-hour working week is the answer, in their words, to “a range of urgent, interlinked problems”.

They say that a much shorter working week would distribute work more evenly across the population, reducing both unemployment and overwork, as well as reducing the amount of unpaid work done by employees.

Leisure time

According to a manager at the New Zealand company who did the study, participants used the third day off to “train for marathons, go to the dentist, get their car serviced [and] do the shopping for their elderly parents.”

“All the stuff that has been put on the back burner, but either helps themselves or their family. Life administration,” they continued.

That extra day a week off would be a good for consumers. Who wouldn’t want more time to shop, go out, get on with some life admin, do some gardening or DIY and just enjoy themselves generally?

It’d also be good for shops and services themselves and could help revitalise our high streets – people often choosing to shop online to save time.

And if productivity remained the same (as the study suggested), that extra consumer spending on goods and services could even boost the economy. Or is that going a bit far?

What would you do with the extra time off? Would you benefit from more free time for ‘life admin’? Do you think it would make you more productive in the other four days a week?

Comments
Member

It would certainly help commuting problems as John Ward pointed out in another Convo.

I see no reason why, in many organisations, hours need to be reduced. Just fit them into 4 days 25% longer. Have a rota to ensure all the weekdays are staffed where that is necessary (as in many organisations).

Member

Exactly. Shops and many public services have to manage attendance rosters over seven days.

The working week in the New Zealand example cited seemed to be 32 hours which is short by UK standards where a 40-hour week is the norm in commerce and industry [35 hours in public services]. A ten hour working day could be difficult for people who have a ninety minute journey at each of the day.

Member

The average week is 37h, so the change would be to a 9h 15m day. They would offset the 3h lost in commuting on the 5th day against this and maybe take a shorter lunch. I think the benefit of a whole day off would be better than the loss for longer 4 days. However, for many people who do not commute an hour and a half each way – lots of those – I think this would be a really attractive option, and it would reduce commuting time for all.

Member

If I was an employer I would experiment and see what works best. Some people work best under pressure whereas others prefer to spend longer and avoid stress. It is what is achieved that matters and within reason, not how long it takes. You can do worse than treat people as individuals and if there are slackers that can be dealt with.

Member

Employers need to stop measuring employees’ input and instead measure their output. Input is how much time you spend in the office, whereas output is how productive you are.

The same principle applies to working from home, which some employers or individual managers oppose for no good reason. When I work from home, I might start at 7am (interacting with the Far East) and finish at 7pm (interacting with New York), but I also carry out lots of personal tasks during those 12 hours. Whereas when I’m in the office, I work roughly 9am to 5pm and am less productive.

Member
DerekP says:
20 August 2018

I’ve just retired from the “defence and energy” sector where 37 hours per week was the usual expected weekly hours for hourly paid staff (i.e. those entitled to overtime, as opposed to those on personal or management contracts)

Some organisations had reduced contracted hours to 35 per weeks and some had flexitime and flexi-leave options. From those, regular four day working weeks were possible, but not very common.

That said, at a certain defence industry site in the south, it had become become practice for visiting white collar contractors to attend that site for only 4 days per week. However, if travelling were taken into account, the majority of those involved would have still be working for over 40 hours every week.

The leader article here says: “Employees… worked in a more productive and efficient manner, …
by automating manual processes and by reducing or eliminating non-work-related internet usage.”

That might be put another way: the place tested was inefficient and its staff spent too much work time on social media.

So if you’ve already got a workplace with optimised and efficient work processes, with little or no residual scope for productivity improvements and where staff have no private internet access at work, cutting working weeks to 32 hours instead of 40 would be likely reduce production.

Member

I believe that you have to have to trust staff and hope that this will be rewarded. Years ago a friend who works for DWP told me that staff would be allowed to use internet access at work, something I had always taken for granted. I suggest giving people freedom and taking it away only if it is abused. Some jobs lend themselves well to giving employees a certain amount of work and provided that this is achieved or exceeded then the less interference the better.

Member
DerekP says:
20 August 2018

wavechange, you said “if there are slackers that can be dealt with”

Did you have any where you worked, and, if so, how were they dealt with?

My industrial experience is that, given UK employment law, this can be a really difficult issue in the workplace.

Member

I can only speak for what happened in my own department. In the early 80s, soon after I arrived, all academic staff were interviewed to discuss their future role in the department. One full-time and one part-time lecturer were very good with students but no longer bringing in research funding. One left and the other moved into an admin role. It was done very amicably. At the time I had a post doc who had absolutely no drive and he allowed the technician on the project to become a real slacker. Both were employed on a grant from a brewery. I discussed the matter with our Head of Department and both staff left soon after. I think they were aware they had let the side down. I do understand you point that slackers are a real problem for employers because of legal protection, but I did not have problems and if there were problems in other departments I did not get to know of them. I assume that the best initial approach is to try to find another role in which unproductive staff might do better in.

Member

I found, as do others I know, that you take on new employees with good CVs, they come across well at the interview, but until they have worked with you for quite a time you will not uncover their real strengths and weaknesses. By then, if someone proves less than good – not just in productivity but in the mistakes they make and do not correct – they are a burden on the company and its profitability and hard to get rid of amicably. This is a particular problem in small businesses, or small specialised departments in larger ones, where each individual need to pull their weight.

Member

Where I worked all dismissals had been for disciplinary matters or excessive absence and therefore defensible. No case was lost at the Employment Tribunal. Underperforming staff were usually either reassigned or arrangements were made for them to leave with some compensation paid. In most cases we were therefore continuing to employ unsatisfactory staff which was not good for the organisation. With one person I was able to make a case for dismissal on the grounds of capability with no compensation, and this was the first time in the organisation and is still a rarity today. It took a considerable amount of work using our performance management process but it held up and there was no appeal. Luckily the personnel department were supportive which I had not expected initially. They made sure it was all done fairly and by the book. I could, of course, have engineered the usual smooth exit with a pay-off but I had seen the consequences of such arrangements and thought we should exercise a greater degree of responsibility both honourably and with justification. It was quite a worrying period but it was good for performance and morale.

Member
DerekP says:
20 August 2018

Back on topic, I tend to agree that working shorter hours will reduce workplace stress and improve home/work life balance.

Some of the industrial facilities that I used to visit operated in shifts, with four shift teams. Each team member worked 4 days on, doing 12 hour shifts each day, and then had 4 days off.

Much earlier in my career, I worked where the night shift worked 4 nights each week, but the day and back shifts worked 5 day weeks. Basic wages were low, so overtime was welcomed and was worked by many. Weekends provided additional opportunities for overtime, including planned facility cleaning and maintenance.

At least for all of the above examples, I don’t see how working 32 hours instead of 40 would not reduce production.

Member
DerekP says:
20 August 2018

NFH said: “Employers need to stop measuring employees’ input and instead measure their output.”

When I worked in manufacturing, that principle was generally know as piecework. Some workers were paid entirely by output and others had low basic wages topped up by productivity metrics. (As an aside, my guess is that sales assistants in Currys PC World are paid this way. If so, it explains why they would always want to upsell every sale.)

Many small businesses and self-employed will still be familiar with the concept of “payments for results”.

Member

As an employee I would prefer flexibility in working hours more than an extra day off a week. Last night I had a call from a friend to say the car would not start – at 10pm. I popped round and concluded that the starter had failed. The RAC chap did what I should have done and hit it with a stick, so the car made it to the garage early in next morning. After lunch the car had been fixed and my friend arrived at work. The time off should normally have been booked off beforehand but since no-one else was significantly affected by the absence it made sense to send a text to the supervisor, get the car fixed and turn up at work as soon as possible. No further action was needed because the employee has a several days’ credit in flexitime.

Obviously in some jobs the unexpected absence of an employee would have more serious consequences.

Member

The purpose behind an extra day off – a 4 day rather than a 5 day week – is the substantial effect it would have in reducing the overcrowding and delays to commuters. Arranged flexible working hours in a 5 day week, with starting and finishing times formally spread out, would also help reduce the trauma of the commute.

Member

As we have discussed before there is a lot to be said for doing some work at home, if that suits the job. Unless I had an early meeting or was teaching I did most of the computer work at home – free from interruptions. Solutions like these are a good temporary solution to help with train problems and road congestion.