One of the awesome things about college is that instead of sitting in class all day for six and a half hours straight for five days in a row, your schedule likely allows for more flexibility. Though you will certainly spend a bunch of time writing papers, collaborating on projects, and studying for exams outside of your normal classroom hours, you retain a certain amount of control over the hours that you are in class and can tailor your schedule to how you will work most efficiently. I have several friends at school who will overload their schedule with courses early in the week to give themselves Fridays off. These people aren’t slacking; they’re all full-time students and some are even in six classes per semester. They plan their lives this way because they feel that three consecutive days off allows them to get a lot more homework done and subsequently unwind more effectively than just two.
But what about in the real world? Unless you are completely freelance, you can’t just take all Fridays off, right? Actually, a company in New Zealand is doing just that.
A trust business called Perpetual Guardian decided to experiment with a four-day per week schedule for two months in order to gauge how it would impact their productivity and the results were astounding. Employees were still awarded their typical five-day-a-week salaries but only had to come in on Monday through Thursday. There was some initial speculation as to whether employees working fewer hours could match the productivity of those who were at work for five days in a row, but contrary to what you might think, taking off that fifth day of the work week actually made people accomplish more than when they were stuck in the office on Friday.
Andrew Barnes, the CEO of Perpetual Guardian, discussed the positive changes experienced by the workplace environment as a result of the schedule change. “What happens [when you establish a four-day work week] is you get a motivated, energized, stimulated, loyal workforce,” he explained to CNN. “I have ended up with statistics that indicate my staff are fiercely proud of the company they work for because it gives a damn.”
People working four days per week were genuinely getting things done during their scheduled hours because there were not as many of them; fewer hours meant that they had no time for distractions, such as answering personal text messages and emails. The concrete statistics support the idea that employees were both more productive and more satisfied when compressing their work week into four days: staff stress levels decreased by about 7%, team engagement rose by about 20%, and 24% more employees felt that they had a healthy work-life balance than before the study was conducted.
With a four-day work week, the workers still met all of their goals and rather than burning out by the end of the week and watching the hours tick by all day on Friday, they got to spend that extra day recharging for the upcoming week. That sounds pretty reasonable, especially because the human brain isn’t really designed to withstand a 40-hour work week in the first place, according to a doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker. Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC says that people work most effectively when they “are physically, mentally, and emotionally in shape” and that “we are not meant to be on-task for the amount of time that we are expected in our present day jobs.” No wonder everyone is so ready to leave by Friday afternoon.
Looking into the history of the 40-hour work week further, it seems to be more a function of tradition than practicality. In 1817, Welsh mill owner and labor rights activist Robert Owen argued that “eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest” was the optimal work-life balance and people were typically working six-day weeks–terrifying, I know. This changed in 1926 when Henry Ford gave his employees a second day off and the increase in productivity prompted other companies to follow suit in order to create our standard 40-hour work week. This amount of time does not take into account modern advances in technology, though.
Back in the early twentieth century, work could only be done at work, but with our ability to check up on notifications 24/7 through our phones and computers, it’s easy for our work time to bleed into our personal lives. It’s also worth noting that 40 hours of pay may have been crucial at a time when double-income households were not as common, but are not as necessary by today’s standards since so many couples combine their finances.
Though it is still what comes to mind when we think of the typical job, the results of the Perpetual Guardian allude to the idea that a five-day work week may be outdated and hopefully, more companies will cut out that final day of work. With employees that are happier, more collaborative, and more productive, it doesn’t seem that they stand to lose anything by doing so.