How Shorter Work Weeks Could Benefit Everyone

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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It’s no joke that working people are stressed the eff out. They are working long hours, and many are struggling just to get by — living from paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes working more than one job to make ends meet. And forget about work-life balance. How are you supposed to tend to any other aspect of your life when you are at work sometimes as many as 60 hours a week?

One company is calling bullshit on the whole “work until you drop dead” aspect of modern life. Back in March 2018, a New Zealand company called Perpetual Guardian – which handles stuff like wills, estate plans, and trusts – took part in an experiment where they switched to a 4-day work week for a little over a month. Their workers were still paid the same wages, but they only had to show up for work 4 out of 5 days.

Totally sweet, right?

Well, not only was it a rad experience for the workers involved, but a group of academics actually studied what happened when this little trial-run was carried out. And the results, published here, were nothing short of amazing.

The study – overseen by Dr. Helen Delaney of University of Auckland Business School, and Professor Jarrod Haar of Auckland University of Technology – found that switching to a 4-day work week saw immediate results in terms of the workers’ life satisfaction and mental health.

For example, before the trial, only 54% of the company’s staff expressed an ability to balance work and home-life, whereas 78% of them felt able to after the trial. The staff’s stress levels decreased by 7%, and their overall engagement, commitment, stimulation, and feeling of empowering saw significant increases as well.

“An enduring theme across all groups is that the individuals had more time to accomplish tasks in their personal lives that are often ‘crammed in’, ‘put off’ or ‘rushed between’ in the busyness of a 5-day work schedule,” Dr. Delaney tells Fortune. “Many reported a satisfaction with accomplishing these personal tasks, and this feeling spilled over to the workplace as an overarching feeling of motivation and productivity.”

BRAVO. I can totally relate to that. If the other aspects of my non-work life are in disarray, there is no way I can fully put myself into my work. I mean, who can?

But the best part of this study? All of this was able to happen without seeing any decrease in productivity, which is huge.

Part of the reason for this, Dr. Delaney explains to The Guardian, is that the staff were able to design their own work schedules within the new 4-day timeframe – and they felt extra motivated to work hard and efficiently.

“Employees designed a number of innovations and initiatives to work in a more productive and efficient manner, from automating manual processes to reducing or eliminating non-work-related internet usage,” Dr. Delaney tells The Guardian.

But besides that, workers were just generally less distracted. We all know how much procrastination happens at work – especially when you are feeling overwhelmed by the rest of your life. It’s so easy to just fall into the trap of checking Facebook, email, etc. We all do it. But in this experiment, a lot of that kind of mindless distraction decreased.

“Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks,” Dr. Haar tells The New York Times. “Their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five.”

And get this: even the dreaded endless meetings that so many of us just cannot bear were reduced significantly – from 2 hours to just 30 minutes, reports The Times.

Halle-freaking-luiah. SIGN US UP, PRONTO.

Of course, this whole thing was an experiment, and who knows if the excitement and motivation the staff at Perpetual Guardian felt for that month would continue if they implemented a 4-day work week for good. But the study is definitely something we all should all take note of.

The point, really, is that we all could use a whole lot more work-life balance, and time to focus on our mental health, too – and doing so would not only make us happier, but actually better, more productive workers. It’s win-win for everyone involved.

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