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Activists are calling for a four day week, surveys show it’s popular and Andrew Barnes wrote a book on how it means dads no longer have to choose between work and family.
Once again attention is focussing on the potential of a four day week as the new normal.
At the start of the year we wrote about the growing support for embracing the four day week. The pandemic has only accelerated that trend.
Last week politicians and trades unions published a letter calling on European governments to implement a four day week. A global survey of office workers this week found three quarters would support a four day week.
Last week’s letter was signed by the likes of Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey and former shadow chancellor John McDonnell. McDonnell was instrumental in Labour backing a four day week in their general election manifesto last year.
The government has looked at enforcing a four day week as a way to mitigate job losses caused by the Covid outbreak. However with a vaccine now on the horizon that work is likely to lapse.
Campaign group 4 Day Week UK reckon reducing standard working hours to 32 hours a week with no reduction in pay is a long term solution. With everyone working fewer hours more people would have to be employed to get the same work done. Crucially they argue that the cut in working hours should not be accompanied by any reduction in pay.
Real estate firm JLL surveyed over 2000 office workers across the world for its research. They found 74% of respondents said they support a four day week. It’s hardly surprising according to JLL Chief Product Officer Cynthia Kantor. Not just because the pandemic has caused many people to rethink how they work. But because informally the four day week has been in operation for some time. She explained, “You see it in the data that there are far less people in an office on Fridays. That’s been true for many years in many different industries.”
Firms that trialled the four day week before Covid struck reporting interesting results. When Microsoft shifted to four day working in their Japan HQ they saw productivity jump by up to 40%.
And New Zealand firm Perpetual Guardian found no downsides for the business when they switched to four day a week working. However employees reported less stress and better engagement with work.
That experiment prompted Perpetual Guardian boss Andrew Barnes to write a book on the topic.
Published in February he could not have foreseen how topical it would become.
We spoke to Barnes back in February about the book. He explained that he first got interested in the four day week not out of concern for work life balance, but because he wanted to boost productivity. He told us, “What’s stopping productivity includes things from home. With an extra day off all those other things that interrupt a parents day would be dealt with on that day. I wondered if the gift of an extra day would change things at work.”
Barnes’ mantra is 100-80-100. That’s 100% of pay in 80% of the hours producing 100% productivity.
The switch has made recruitment easier and changed the companies reputation from fusty to cutting edge.
The four day week gives employees a chance to “participate in care” he says. And that includes men. “Fathers no longer have to make the choice between work and parenting.”
He tells of one dad in his company who now picks his child up from school more, despite being asked at the school gate ‘what are you doing here?’ And one grandfather flexed his hours so his extra day off is spread across two afternoons that he spends with his granddaughter. “When he tells the story he cries,” explains Barnes. “We’re giving people something they can’t buy.”
Barnes reckons four day weeks will only become more common as the workforce changes. He said, “Millennials have seen what happened to their parents – marriage break up, always on culture, mum taking time out of work while dad has to keep climbing the greasy pole. The next generation aren’t going to tolerate that. They will trade salary for time.”
Back in February Andrew predicted we’d reach a tipping point within five years and the four day week would become the norm. Trends have accelerated in 2020. And the survey figures showing a large majority of office workers support a four day week suggests it may be here sooner than any of us think.