Roughly a century ago, business magnate Henry Ford announced, “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege.”
With that, at a time when a six-day workweek was the norm, the Ford Motor Company became one of the first American companies to give its workers two-day weekends. Mind you, Ford’s motives weren’t necessarily altruistic; he anticipated that this move would lead to better productivity at the workplace.
It did. On top of that, it boosted morale and company loyalty among Ford’s workers. Word about this quickly got around, and one company after another started following his example.
Cut to the present day, in which the mere mention of a six-day workweek will elicit a robust “Oh, hell no!” from most people.
Assuming humans are still around 100 years from now, the notion of working five days a week may get that same reaction from citizens of the next century. Spurred on by The Great Resignation that the COVID pandemic has brought about, a growing number of workers and employers are pushing to lessen the working week from five days to four, with no reduction in their employees’ pay or benefits.
The success reported by Josh Forman, the CEO of the debt collections services provider InDebted, is a good indication of the positive results the four-day workweek is getting across the board. On this podcast, Forman claims that 97 percent of his company’s employees feel that the four-day workweek has positively impacted their well-being and productivity. It “absolutely put a rocket underneath the business,” he adds: In the first 45 days after announcing this change, InDebted received more job applicants than in the prior four and a half months.
The premise here is simple: Businesses that adopt this policy have an easier time attracting and retaining employees. Greater happiness and health among workers equals better productivity and greater company loyalty. Everyone wins.
TGI … T?
“The way we have worked in the past isn't suitable for the society that we want to construct moving forward,” notes New Zealand’s Charlotte Lockhart.
Lockhart is the CEO of 4 Day Week Global, a community that helps companies convert to this reduced-hour business model. Prior to taking this position, she was the consumer advocate and sales and marketing leader for Perpetual Guardian, New Zealand’s largest corporate trustee company. During that time, Perpetual Guardian conducted a six-week trial of the four-day workweek, with no reduction to its employees’ pay.
The result? A 20-percent increase in productivity, as well as reduced stress, improved customer engagement and decreased utility expenses.
Encouraged by these findings, Perpetual Guardian permanently made the four-day workweek its MO. Thanks partly to the buzz surrounding the company’s success in this area, the prime minister of New Zealand has subsequently touted the four-day workweek as a means of helping the country recover from the brunt of the COVID pandemic.
4 Day Work Week Global’s pilot program manager, Joe O’Connor, recalls that when he was preparing to move to New York City from his native Ireland, his colleagues commented that he was relocating to “the center of the culture of long hours, overwork and regarding 12-hour days—or being the first person in the office or the last person to leave—as being some kind of a badge of honor.”
“Despite that,” he tells Trends w/ Benefits, “our experience has been that more and more companies here in the U.S. are very intrigued by the possibility of the four-day workweek and reduced work time. My prediction is that in some sectors of the economy, like finance, tech software and ICT, this is going to become the norm rather than the ambition really, really quickly—maybe quicker than we all believe.”
Meghan Keaney Anderson is chief marketing officer for The Wanderlust Group, an American outdoor travel technology company that adopted the four-day workweek in May 2020. “It's been incredible,” she says. “We are a busy, growing company, so my workweeks are full and productive. Additionally, though, I have a 5-year-old, so my weekends can be pretty hectic, too. Having Monday off gives me a day to get a little mental space, go for a walk and spend time outside before diving into the workweek. I really believe that I'm sharper and more productive at work as a result.”
Anderson adds that other Wanderlust Group employees have told her the extra day off makes it possible to take care of simple things like errands and appointments. This eliminates a lot of multitasking on the job so that they can focus on their work.
This has also been the case for Matt Held, who is the senior R&D manager for MUD\WTR, which has dipped its toes into the four-day workweek movement by giving its employees every other Friday off. “It's amazing how you shape your day and your efforts to make sure you're focusing on exactly what needs to be done and cutting the fat,” Held says. “Getting Friday off is so much more than a four-day workweek. You change how you work and find your genius."
Read more: Work from Anywhere (But Here)
The Future of Employment?
Can it be? Is the voice of sanity finally cutting through the whir of computer fans and the clang of industrial machines?
Maybe so. This reduced-hour business model is gaining traction across the globe. With 36 companies in the U.S. and Canada taking part in a new six-month trial coordinated by 4 Day Week Global, it’s not so far-fetched to envision a future in which people’s occupations are more evenly balanced with their free time and their family lives.
That said, skeptics have voiced some valid concerns about this idea. One of the most common qualms is that decreased time on the job might force some employees to work at too fast a clip to complete their tasks. Another concern is that fewer business hours might mean customers can’t access the services they need when they need them.
“A four-day workweek may be more feasible for some industries than others,” Anderson says, “but I think companies of all types and sizes need to do more to give their employees flexibility to live a life outside of work.”
According to Charlotte Lockhart, the biggest problems with the reduced-hour workweek tend to arise when executive-level managers try to make too many decisions, as opposed to letting the staff have their say on how the company should adapt to this new system.
“Other than that, there really are no downsides,” she claims. “If you run a proper program and you engage with your people, your customers and the business properly, you should be able to find a way to make this work.”
“We, as employers, need to remember that we borrow our people from their lives,” Lockhart concludes. “People often say to me, ‘Oh, the young ones just don't want to work as hard as we worked.’ I'm kind of like, ‘Well, good on them!’ I've got two millennial sons and I don't want them working the same ridiculous hours that I worked. I don't want them burning out. I want their children growing up knowing their fathers; I want their wives growing old with them and having successful relationships because everyone's got time for each other; I want my boys to have time to engage with sport and community activities and to be full and wholesome people; and I want them to have fulfilling careers and lives where work has a place, but it isn't everything.”
Damon Orion is a writer, musician, artist and teacher based in Santa Cruz, CA. Read more of his work at damonorion.com.
Header image by Hansjörg Keller via Unsplash.