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NZ leads UK in four-day workweek experience

I was interested recently to see that thousands of UK workers are to trial working a four-day week. 3,300 workers across 70 UK companies from small businesses to large corporates are going to be part of a six-month pilot. A partnership between thinktank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College have organised it based on the 100:80:100 model – 100% of pay for 80% of time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain 100% productivity.

I was amused at the reference to ‘maintaining 100% productivity’. When did any organisation enjoy 100% productivity from its workers? It just doesn’t happen, never has and never will. The best anyone can hope for is an increase on the current level of productivity, or at the least, maintaining the current level, whatever that might be.

Not new to NZ

Some organisations in New Zealand have been working a four-day working week model for years – Expert started doing this in July 2019 and we’ve never looked back. If you’d like to know more about how ours works check this out.

We didn’t introduce it to improve productivity, but to give our people an extra day for living each week – increased productivity was a bonus, but wasn’t our prime motivation.

If the trial in the UK is successful and the UK adopts this model, no doubt they’ll take the credit for being the leaders in this, but we’ll know that our little country in the middle of nowhere did it first, on our own, and with no help from academics or thinktanks. The Number 8 Fencing Wire spirit is alive and well and living down-under, or to quote Nike, we just do it.

Adapting to a new norm is possible

I’m really hoping all workplaces will adopt this model if they can, but I’ve already seen excuses being made by some sectors as to why it won’t work for them. Looking back in history, the concept of a five-day workweek is relatively new, so it’s hard to see how we can’t adapt to a four-day workweek. Twenty-four hour / seven day businesses have been around for a few decades now in some sectors, and retail, hospitality, tourism and service sectors regularly work much longer than the standard Monday-to-Friday 9-to 5-hours, so there are already models out there where staff successfully work rosters.

Britain worked a six-day workweek until the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Employers found that workers tended to ‘live it up’ on their only day-off (a Sunday) and often turned up for work on a Monday with a hangover, if they turned up at all. So Saturday became a half-day at work in the UK.

A five-day workweek was first introduced in 1908 in the USA by a New England cotton mill to give their Jewish workers Saturdays off to honour their Sabbath – sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. In 1926 Henry Ford began shutting down his automotive factories for all of Saturday and Sunday. He recognised that his employees were more productive if they worked fewer hours.

A five-day workweek was officially adopted in the USA in 1932 in a bid to counter unemployment (the Great Depression started in 1929 and ran for 10 years).

Back in the UK in 1933 John Boot, of the Boots Corporation, introduced it to his employees to help keep them from being made redundant. A side benefit was that staff turned up to work on a Monday ready for work and invigorated. A study showed that two days off each week reduced absenteeism and had a positive effect on productivity.

To learn more of the history of the weekend check this out.

Failure rate low - a paradigm shift helps

In recent years a few companies who have trialled the four-day workweek have scrapped it and returned to the 40-hour week for various reasons. I wonder if it was just a case of them not getting the model right? A paradigm shift might be in order perhaps? However, statically the failure rate appears to be very low and probably depends on a range of factors and conditions not shared by the majority of organisations who have successfully adopted it. 

Given that inflation is currently spiralling out of control with many predicting a world-wide recession looming, and the effects of Covid seeming to be a permanent state, maybe now would be a good time to move to a four-day workweek where possible. Who wouldn’t want to see productivity improve, people have more time to rest and relax, and having less overall stress in everyone’s lives? 


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