Should South Africa Try the 4-Day Work Week?

A company in New Zealand recently tested a four-day work week – and found that it boosted productivity and lowered employees’ stress levels. Could the same solution work in South Africa?

Published: November 2018
Video/Photos: Supplied

 When Andrew Barnes, founder and CEO of New Zealand estate management firm Perpetual Guardian, gathered his staff for a meeting on 8 February 2018, he looked every inch a 21st Century CEO. Wearing shorts, slip-on shoes, a loose-fitting shirt and a headset microphone, Andrew Barnes announced: “We’ve decided to try something reasonably radical. You will be working four days a week and you will be paid for five.”

 

So began Perpetual Guardian’s two-month, 4-day   experiment, where the company’s entire 200-strong workforce was offered a free day off, every week, with no impact on their salaries. The standard 40-hour, five-day work week was replaced by a 32-hour, four-day week. “This is an important pact between you and I,” Barnes told his employees, “because I’m wanting to see that the productivity in this company doesn’t go down, but actually – if anything – productivity goes up.”

 

Working less, doing more

 

The firm asked two researchers to study the effects of the four-day work week on its staff, and the results were surprising.

 

Or perhaps they weren’t. Because giving the employees a four-day work week meant that their collective sense of work-life balance increased, their stress levels decreased, and – despite (or because of) the lost hours – their productivity improved. They spent less time in meetings and less time on social media. Essentially, they worked fewer hours, but did better work.

 

 
They spent less time in meetings and less time on social media. Essentially, they worked fewer hours, but did better work.
Perhaps humans simply aren’t built to sit at their desks for eight hours a day, five days a week.
A working paper published by Japan’s Keio University found that, if you’re older than 40, working more than 25 hours a week could actually be affecting your cognitive performance.
“The modern workplace has an awful lot to distract us with, especially with our phones at our desks and tea to be drank.” – Chris Johnson, Vouchercloud brand expert

Avoiding work distractions

 

Barnes said that his decision was inspired by research conducted by UK mobile voucher app Vouchercloud, which showed that the average British employee is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes per day. “The modern workplace has an awful lot to distract us with, especially with our phones at our desks and tea to be drank,” said Vouchercloud brand expert Chris Johnson. “The times that we revealed in the survey, however, are still a surprise. Perhaps we’re letting ourselves get distracted far too easily, with our productivity being dented as a result.”

 

Or perhaps humans simply aren’t built to sit at their desks for eight hours a day, five days a week. A working paper published by Japan’s Keio University found that, if you’re older than 40, working more than 25 hours a week could actually be affecting your cognitive performance. There’s a sweet spot, though: working less than 25 hours was also associated with low cognitive scores, so – after a second round of tests – the researchers found that the optimal working week was between 25 and 30 hours long.

 

In other words, if you want the best results – for your employees or for yourself – you might want to consider working one day less.