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Kate Hawkesby: If a four day week increases productivity and employee happiness, surely it's a win-win

Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Thu, 23 Feb 2023, 8:49am

Kate Hawkesby: If a four day week increases productivity and employee happiness, surely it's a win-win

Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Thu, 23 Feb 2023, 8:49am

One of my fondest memories of living in London was how keen they were to hire Kiwis.

My girlfriend and I rocked up to job interviews with minimal practical skills as university graduates, and not much ‘real world’ experience under our belts. They didn’t care. 

New Zealanders ‘had a reputation’ they told us, for being hard workers, we got snapped up at every job we went for. And it wasn’t hard to figure out why, after a few weeks in. 

The work culture there at the time was so laid back, so seemingly ‘pro-breaks’ and anti-too-much hard slog. 

I’ll never forget arriving at work one morning worried about how late my train had been running, and racing in to find I was still the only person in the office by 9am. By 10.30am, coats were being donned and people were heading back out the door. “Where’s everyone going?” I naively asked. 

“Morning tea,” they replied. I couldn’t believe it. Morning tea was a full half hour break, having only spent just under an hour and a half at work. Then they’d break again at lunch – an hour at the Pub no less, then a break again for afternoon tea - another half hour - then by 5pm coats were back on to head home. 

I used to find the breaks semi-pointless given there were so many of them so I’d often work through them, only to be told by colleagues that that was setting a bad example and bosses may get the wrong idea. In other words, take the breaks with the rest of us.

But you can see how it wasn’t hard to figure out why Kiwis had a ‘work hard’ reputation. I raise this because I see Britain’s University of Cambridge is running a research project looking at the merits of a 4 day week. Much like Perpetual Guardian did here a few years back. 

The argument being – it makes employees more productive. 

The Cambridge study also found it boosts staff happiness and reduces burnout and “that, on average, businesses adopting a four-day working pattern increased their revenues by more than a third.” 

The reason they’re looking at this is because of the productivity crisis in Britain so debate is raging on whether less time at work makes you more or less productive. So, in this trial study, it was reported that, “61 British companies adopted a four day week for the second half of 2022, with almost 3,000 staff involved.. at least 56 businesses said they would continue with the four-day week, with 18 saying they will adopt the new policy permanently. Only three opted to scrap the scheme at the end of the pilot.” 

Aside from productivity, employees reported less stress, more happiness, more time for life admin, better work life balance. But it’s about totally rethinking work culture and how people work -  reducing meeting times, looking at how technology is used, fine tuning planning and so on. 

For many companies it’s a bridge too far to have that kind of upheaval, and they’d argue being flexible and socially conscious employers is just as advantageous. 

But I just wonder, as more and more companies latch onto the concept, whether a four day week is the future. If it increases productivity and employee happiness, then surely it’s a win-win.

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