The 4-Day Week Sounds Great, But Can Be Depletive. Here’s How to Make It Regenerative.
A skim of the headlines these days show there’s quite the variety in how people are going about the hybrid work world. Some organizations are back to the office full time, while others are remaining fully remote. Others are trying a combination of in-person and at home. And an increasing number of companies are experimenting beyond workplace locales, experimenting with the number of days we work each week.
These changes demonstrate the global reckoning that the way we currently work – both in location and in capacity (hello, burnout) – isn’t working well. “It’s not fit for purpose for business, but critically it’s not fit for the purpose for society, for the environment, and for issues around gender inequality,” noted Andrew Barnes, founder of 4-Day Work Week, at NLI’s 2022 Summit.
In Barnes’ opinion, one of the ways to make work better is by moving to a four-day work week. When he tried this in 2018 at his New Zealand-based financial company, Perpetual Guardian, he didn’t try to cram 40 hours into four days, or try to cut pay. He also didn’t change required outputs. Instead, he simply gave employees one less day to do the same amount of work, and challenged them to stop wasting the time they had.
The data his organization captured was analyzed by researchers at the University of Auckland, and the results weren’t just significant – they were astounding. In just three months, overall levels of productivity increased 25% and empowerment, enrichment, and engagement scores among employees climbed 40% – the highest levels the researchers had seen in New Zealand.
Of course, four-day work week experiments aren’t completely new. Since we last wrote about it, many organizations, including Panasonic and Microsoft, have made the four-day week an option, and the United Kingdom is piloting it en masse.
The problem, though, is that working this way can be depletive if leaders are only thinking short-term and not prioritizing employee wellbeing and development. Regenerative practice requires more than just a mindset; it requires habits that proactively counter exploitative practices. If you commit to actions that are business-centric versus human-centric, you may find your organization in a depleted state.
So how can an organization be regenerative while implementing a four-day work week? One of the ways is by offering flexible work arrangements that allow employees to choose what works best for them. But positive outcomes associated with the four-day week go beyond offering autonomy. A compressed schedule of four, 10-hour work days, for example, is potentially depletive and could lead to an increase in stress. So could a salary reduction, if it meant some employees try to recoup lost earnings through a side hustle. Those side hustles can be depletive on top of an already-demanding full-time job, and from a workplace culture perspective, sends a powerful message to employees that an organization favors profit over people.
But other, potentially regenerative options, include:
- One 10-hour day, one 9-hour day, one 8-hour day and one 7-hour day
- Four work days on, followed by two or three days off
An even more regenerative option is to maintain eight-hour days for a 32-hour work week. Before you consider the lost productivity in missing eight hours, consider that people are only productive for about three hours each day. In fact, Barnes’ experiment showed the less time employees had, the more productive they became.
When approached with a regenerative mindset, a four-day week shifts how we work from a paradigm of work-life balance to one of work-life integration. Organizational leaders who are in a prime position to make this move will create waves of positive impact on the employee ecosystem, leaving workers in a better state to engage with their own health, family, and community. If regenerative farming has taught us anything, treat your people like dirt – by leaving them better than you found them.