A 4-day work week is proven to make employees happier

It remains to be seen what would change if the shorter work week was enacted long-term. However, the data overall suggests it can become a doable reality.

Photo by Bruce Mars

Are we happier when we work a little less? New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian worked to find out, giving us a blueprint on how we can apply their workflow to our own companies. 

Back in March, the company let about 250 of its employees work a four-day week with eight-hour days for eight weeks. Pay did not get docked. The employees still got full-time pay while they worked shorter work weeks.

After the landmark experiment, the company declared it a success and recently announced that they are going to adopt the work schedule full time. “This is about our company getting improved productivity from greater workplace efficiencies,” Perpetual Guardian founder Andrew Barnes told the Guardian. “There’s no downside for us.”

How employees really feel about working four days

To get more insight into what shorter work weeks can do for employees, two New Zealand academics collected data on the experiment. They found that employees were indeed happier after the change. Before the trial, only half of employees said they were satisfied with their work-life balance. By the end of the trial, that number jumped up to 78%. Commitment to the company also rose by 20 percentage points. Employee stress levels decreased by seven percentage points.

But the system was not perfect. Some employees said they felt stressed about completing work in a shorter timeframe. One manager expressed disappointment that the new work week did not spark radical change. “Nothing slipped,” this manager said, according to the data. “But I didn’t see a drive, I didn’t see busy-ness, I didn’t see, ‘ooh, how are we going to do this better and more innovative?’ ”

But overall, there were few reported concerns about what the extra time would do for employees’ personal time. Employees said they felt more motivated and productive overall when they got an extra day to organize the chaos of their personal life. Helen Delaney, one of the researchers, wrote that, “employees were ‘freed up’ to spend ‘quality time’ with friends, family, or themselves on a weekend. Many reported feeling ‘less psychologically rushed.'”

When you have more freedom to yourself, it can help you understand what you really want out of life. That’s a valuable lesson employees can take beyond any one job. As one person in the trial said: “Someone said to me now you’ve got at least 48 extra days in your life every year, imagine if it went forward, what are you going to do with that? And that was just like a passing comment from someone, but it keeps ringing in my ear and I keep thinking to myself, ‘you know, what am I going to do? What could I do for me?'”

Eight weeks is not a ton of time to get used to a radical change in production. It remains to be seen what would change if the shorter work week was enacted long-term. However, the data overall suggests that with tweaks in clarifying expectations around workflow, the four-day work week can become a doable reality for more companies.

Monica Torres|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at mtorres@theladders.com.