How the Flexible Work Revolution Can Increase Productivity, Profitability and Well-Being, and Create a Sustainable Future
It sounds too good to be true. Is it?
This book has been the subject of much discussion in our household. The five day working week has been part of our psyche since the beginning of the twentieth century. Five days, forty hours. In fact, recent trends have seen us encouraged to spend more time at work, as the likes of Tesla CEO Elon Musk make overwork fashionable. For some, work stress has become a badge of pride.
Cue the idea of the four day week. A week consisting of thirty two working hours, with one hundred percent of the productivity of a forty hour week.
The idea started with an article that author Andrew Barnes read on the plane. The article addressed the low levels of productivity that occur in a standard workplace, between checking emails, talking to colleagues, and general inefficiency. As a CEO of a financial company, Barnes wanted to see what would happen if he could increase daily productivity and get the same amount of work out of company employees. He hypothesised that more time off would incentivise them to manage their workloads more efficiently. Such a proposition balances what is better for employees with what could also be better for the company. What is more, Barnes argues that the five day week is out of sync with a modern age which demands more flexibility of its workers, and which sees differences in people’s personal lives from the way we lived a century ago.
The day off is a gift, Barnes stresses – this is not a three day weekend – it’s 100 per cent of the productivity and pay in 80 per cent of the time. Barnes’ idea is to allow flexibility. In his Auckland office-based company, the thirty two hours are arranged to fit each worker’s schedule. The result has been a streamline in procedures. However, Barnes argues that even in a retail shop (or indeed, a cow shed) the idea has merit. Employees who work less with the same benefits will deliver better, be more switched on, and sell more – as long as they are encouraged to see their time off as a gift. This is why, Barnes says, the four day week must be part of a move towards more flexible working schedule.
The benefits Barnes foresees – as evidenced in his own company’s experience – are varied and far reaching, for both employer and employee. These include mental health and family benefits, appreciation for working parents, a gender pay gap decrease, staff who are more considerate of others’ time and the stripping out of inefficient company processes. One of the first changes implemented at Barnes’ company, Perpetual Guardian, was cutting 60 minute staff meetings to 30 minutes – this is a practical change that many are likely to see benefits of.
This book is really aimed towards those in management and the importance of good leadership is paramount. But Barnes emphasises that for the four day week to work, employees must be committed and have their say. With helpful summaries at the end of every chapter, a detailed bibliography and comprehensive notes referring to relevant websites, The 4 Day Week is well researched and up to date. It offers a springboard for further investigation. Barnes is thorough in addressing obstacles. I don’t come from a business background. But Barnes’ observations have allowed me to reflect on my own work practices from a personal perspective.
This book certainly opens the opportunity for conversation in higher levels of management and between each of us about how and why we work.
Reviewer: Susannah Whaley
Piatkus, RRP $30