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What we can learn from offices switching to a four-day week

By Ana Isabel Alonsagay

In 2018, New Zealand-based company Perpetual Guardian decided to trial the effects of implementing a four-day work week. The experiment was supervised over two months, yielding some surprisingly positive results – including a productivity increase of up to 20 percent. 

Just this year, Melbourne digital agency Versa followed a similar path. However, instead of adding Friday to the weekend, founder Kathryn Blackham decided to pluck “hump day” out of the picture; creating a weekly work schedule of Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. 

While both an unconventional approach to business, these decisions have shown to reap more benefits than pitfalls, leading to happier workers, less stress, and increased staff retention. Companies all over the globe are now testing out the four-day week for themselves, with 28 countries (including Australia) inquiring Perpetual Guardian on successfully implementing such a strategy. 

As we embrace the new working demographic and tend to changing market needs, inventive management solutions such as this are necessary to thrive in business. Here at SkillsTalk, we discuss the importance of such initiatives, and what this shift to a four-day work week teaches us about innovative leadership.

What can we learn from offices switching to a four-day work schedule?

  1. Creative solutions keep your business alive.
  2. Catering to the new generation is a must.
  3. Abandoning “rigidity” is a good thing.

1. Creative solutions keep your business alive.

creative ideas concept

The business landscape and its people continually evolve – and so should a leader’s approach in managing their workers. 

The negative effects of a traditional five-day working schedule are moving to the forefront; with studies showing that the actual productivity time for an office worker can be as low as two hours and 53 minutes out of the entire work day. Perpetual Guardian’s founder, Andrew Barnes, reported an even lower productivity time of one and a half hours per day on a typical five-day work week.

This is where new management practices, such as shorter working weeks, come into play – and in the case of Perpetual Guardian’s new schedule, demonstrate their positive impact on employees and the company.

The four-day work week has primarily contributed to greater efficiency among its workers (along with that of other businesses who have made the leap), with employees making better use of their time, given the loss of one working day. Barnes also mentioned lower energy costs, greater employee wellbeing, and improved company reputation as other notable benefits.  

This principle of creative management can be found among other emerging trends in leadership – such as the encouragement of innovation and imagination among employees themselves, rather than leaving new ideas solely up to new managers. 

In his interview with Harvard Business Review, Intuit co-founder Scott Cook states that “traditional management prioritises projects and assigns people to them. But increasingly, managers are not the source of the idea.” 

Cook then mentions how some of the most successful innovations from Google are birthed by their workers’ own initiatives, compared to ideas delegated by the higher ranks. The same can be said for the internet company, Linden Lab – who prioritise such autonomy among its employees. 

It’s these new twists on existing leadership (and business) conventions that help companies prosper in an ever-changing workforce; through them, businesses can uncover new ideas and develop new ways of improving employee efficiency. 

2. Catering to the new generation is a must.

As the Australian workforce ushers in the millennials (and Generation Z), new demands and ideologies come into play. Revamping old leadership styles are thus essential to maintaining satisfaction among this new working demographic. 

The switch to a four-day work week successfully caters to the millennial priority of having a “work-life balance”. In a 2017 Haworth survey on Australian millennial workers, the generation doesn’t necessarily mind working hard – they’d just prefer to work smarter, with an easier transition between work and their personal lives. 

A survey participant affirms that they’re “more productive at work when [they’re] able to spend quality time with family or attend appointments when required.”

Additionally, both Gen Z and millennials place high value on their psychological wellbeing and happiness – with all these included in the statistical benefits of a four-day week, a schedule that is perfectly suited. 

The movement for innovation among workers also leans favourably towards millennials, as 90% of such workers value the need to experiment and contribute creative ideas. 

Businesses are also now learning to maintain purpose and engagement among their employees, with many citing a “connection” to their work as a contributing factor to their overall happiness and satisfaction. 

3. Abandoning “rigidity” is a good thing.

work life balance concept

Finally, never dismiss the importance of flexibility. 

Among the “millennial worker” needs discussed above, the ability to work flexibly is also included in their top employment priorities. This can include having freedom over how they structure their work, having flexible start and finish times, and the ability to tend to personal commitments when needed.

Implementing a four-day work week is a step in the right direction towards employee flexibility, with business founders like Anna Ross (owner of the Melbourne nail polish company, Kester Black) stating how an extra free day gives her workers the opportunity to take on freelance gigs, spend time with family, or work another job – leading to greater personal fulfillment while working at her company. 

The extra freedom of a four-day week also leads to higher employee loyalty. Ryan Carson, founder of education company Treehouse Island Inc., praises this business strategy in his article for Quartz. He mentions his ability to successfully retain employees, as many are unwilling to give up such a flexible schedule.

However, there are other ways managers can offer employee flexibility, such as providing them the opportunity to work from home. Australian employers have noted an increase in productivity with remote work, along with improved morale and reduced absenteeism. The ability to take “career breaks” or sabbaticals, request caregiving leave, and extended paid time off are also additional ways of providing flexibility for workers. 

Implementing leadership strategies that value employee wellbeing, culture, and individual purpose – rather than sticking to rigid conventions that prioritise profits over ethics and social welfare – are sure to keep workers motivated and satisfied. 

In a competitive, constantly evolving workforce, such innovative management is needed for companies to maintain growth and success. Taking new leaps can be scary, but they may just be what your business needs – and you may just reap the benefits from it.

Looking to refine your leadership skills?

Every productive company has a strong leader at its helm. At Upskilled, we provide over 80 qualifications across a broad range of industries – including business management and administration. Enquire today to find the perfect course for you, and learn to lead a team of innovation and success. 
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