When Andrew Barnes announced plans to test out a four-day workweek at his New Zealand company, his employees were shocked. He explained that for six weeks, they’d work four days instead of five—32 hours instead of 40—but continue to get paid their full salaries.
“We are going to give you the responsibility to figure out how this works for each team, how productivity stays up, and how we can continue to deliver to our customers despite the changing work hours,” Barnes told more than 230 employees at Perpetual Guardian.
He gave them a month’s head start to plan and challenged them to design new ways to work and to find better balance in their lives. And, as it turns out, the trial was a success on both fronts. Not only did employees report less stress and significant improvements to their work-life balance, but they were also able to get their work done.
“Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks,” Jarrod Haar, a professor at Auckland University of Technology who was one of two researchers to study Perpetual Guardian’s trial, told The New York Times. “Their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five,” he added. “They worked out where they were wasting time and worked smarter, not harder.”
Both Haar and Helen Delaney, a lecturer at the University of Auckland Business School, found the results to be promising despite some challenges.
Delaney conducted a series of focus groups following the trial and found that it helped employees be more focused and motivated, to feel intellectually engaged and empowered to have a say in new initiatives, to improve their collaboration and teamwork, and to develop goodwill toward the company. However, some said it was stressful to try do the same amount of work in less time, and others felt they couldn’t fully participate. Managers observed that not all employees made as much effort as they’d have liked to improve or innovate to accommodate the new schedule.
And outside of work, people said they had more time to run errands and accomplish other tasks, to spend with their families, to rest and rediscover hobbies, to study or volunteer, and to explore through travel and other leisure activities.
“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?” one employee told Delaney. “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?”
Lucky for that employee and the majority of others who had a positive experience, Barnes has recommended a permanent four-day work week schedule and the company’s board will consider making the change.
Now, if you’re rolling your eyes as you read this and thinking something along the lines of, “That’s super great for them but my company would never go for this,” you’re probably not alone. Companies are hardly rushing to give their employees an extra day off every week, especially without an expectation that they’ll make up the hours. (It’s not unheard of; some American companies have tried to offer four-day work weeks for some employees in some situations, but it seems that most still expect them to fit in the same number of hours.)
Let’s just say a company-sanctioned four-day work week isn’t in your immediate future—and let’s be honest, here, it’s probably not—there are still plenty of other ways you can try to make your work-life and life-life better.
Here’s where to start if…
You Want More Balance
- 3 Realistic Ways to Stop Stressing About Work When You’re Not at the Office
- 5 Smarter Ways to Spend Your Weekend Time, According to Super Successful People
- The Secret to Getting More Done in Less Time
You Want to Stop Feeling So Overworked
- 3 Realistic Strategies You Should Turn to When There’s Too Much on Your Plate
- A Solution if You Just Realized There’s No Way You’ll Get Everything Done
- 10 Ways to Work Less Without Losing Your Boss’ Respect
You Want to Work From Home More
- How to Convince Your Boss to Start Letting You Work From Home (Email Template Included!
- All the Scientific Proof You Need to Convince Your Boss to Let You Work From Home
- 7 Tried-and-True Secrets for a Productive Home Office
You Want to Go on Vacation
- The Right Way to Ask Your Boss for Time Off
- The Free Worksheet That’ll Make Taking Vacation So Much Less Stressful
- The Stupid Easy Way to Lighten Your Workload Before You Leave on Vacation
Photo of group of colleagues in a meeting at work courtesy of pixelfit/Getty Images.
A longtime word nerd and bookworm, Stav studied history and dance at Stanford and later journalism at Columbia. Before joining The Muse, Stav was a staff writer at Newsweek, where she wrote about everything from Nazi hunters to Chinese adoptees to Good Girls Revolt, the real story and fictionalized TV show about a 1970 gender discrimination case at the magazine. She prefers sunshine and tolerates winters grudgingly.More from this Author