When Andrew Barnes decided to change his company to a 4-day work week, he expected some positive results, but even he was surprised by the 20% increase in productivity, amongst many other benefits. Now, his organization, 4 Day Week Global, is helping companies all around the world pilot a reduced work week so they can experience the benefits for themselves. Listen in to learn why working less is better for organizations, employees, and society at large, and hear what Andrew says is the number one thing getting in the way of more organizations adopting a reduced work week.
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The 4-Day Workweek Movement With Andrew Barnes
We are talking about the movement of moving from a 5-day to a 4-day workweek. Here to offer his expertise in this discussion is Andrew Barnes. Andrew is the Founder of the not-for-profit organization, 4 Day Week Global, as well as the Founder of Perpetual Guardian. He is described as an innovator, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Welcome, Andrew.
Debra, it’s great to be here.
It’s good to have you. To start, tell us a little bit about the organization, 4 Day Week Global, and what they’re doing. I’ve seen it and heard it described as a campaign, a movement, a not-for-profit, and a foundation for research. What are you doing over there?
All of the above. We’re very accidental evangelists for an idea. We think that the five-day workweek should be consigned to history, and that the four-day week, to be clear, reduced hours working, is the way to go. We talk about a thing called the 100-80-100 rule, which is 100% of five-day pay 80% of the time provided we get 100% productivity. That’s what we are trying to push.
We are working with governments, businesses, and academics all over the world to drive this movement. What we’re trying to do is encourage people to experiment with it. We’re not saying, “You need to legislate.” We’re not saying that every organization should be forced to do it, but we’re saying, “If you experiment, you might be surprised at what you find.”
You were surprised at what you found because you have your personal journey to this with your organization. Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to this?
I was on a long-distance flight from Auckland to London. I was reading a couple of articles in the Economist Magazine. It was talking about productivity in organizations. What it said was that surveys indicate that people are productive for two and a half hours apart from the fact if you were Canadian, close to home for you, Debra, in which case, you were productive for one and a half hours a day.
I don’t believe it.
I thought, “Is this true? I don’t know but it might be happening in my business.” What is it that might be stopping people from being productive as opposed to being busy? It’s things like external phone calls, too many meetings, interruptions in work, and inability to concentrate. I wondered if I said to my guys, “I will gift you a day off a week but in return, I want you to rethink how you work. What is it that’s stopping you from being productive? If we can eliminate that, I will give you the benefit of that additional day off.” It wasn’t about giving you another employee benefit in the form of a gym membership, higher pension, or whatever it is. It was time. You can’t put a price on time. Time is extraordinarily valuable.
What I was saying is, “I’ll gift you that. You’ve got to think about how you might do things differently.” We ran this trial back in 2018. What we found was that not only did it make the company better. Our empowerment, engagement, enrichment, and team cohesion scores went up by 40%. They went up to levels that the researchers we had from Auckland University of Technology said were the highest levels they had ever seen in any company in New Zealand.
We found the stress levels in the organization drop 15%. More people said they could do their job better working 4 days rather than 5. Critically, overall productivity went up by 20%. We were producing more and working less. Our people were feeling better about it, themselves, and the organization. Was I surprised? I probably was. In the back of my mind, I thought, “There had to be something here,” but I didn’t expect to see the productivity itself then went up.
That makes me think about a couple of things. It was one of the things I was going to mention because we do have a lot of information now from neuroscience talking about how many hours can a person focus a day and to your point, about productivity. I was going to say 4 to 6. You read a number that was much lower than that even.
In the knowledge economy, it’s this idea of being productive for eight or more hours a day because quite frankly, a lot of people have to put in more time than that if they want to certainly to excel in their careers. What you are saying though is we’re not talking about cramming all of the work into four days a week. We’re talking about reducing the number of hours that people work.
That is a reduction in the working week but the reason we talk about 80% of the time is you have to start to think about what time is important to people. In my organization, when we first did the trial, we said, “Everybody is going to take a day off.” It’s not always the same day off because not everybody could always have a Friday off or a Monday off. We rotated it but when we implemented the policy full-time, we said, “You can take a day off if that’s what’s important to you. You could take two half days off if that’s what is important to you.”
For working parents, you could come in late and go home early but work five days a week because giving you a day off a week didn’t help if you’re a working parent unless we can get the educational system to switch to four days because you then still had all the childcare issues. You give the people the time off that’s important to them. That’s very critical because that’s the incentive. I’m giving you something that you can’t put a price on.
I have a chap who’s a grandfather in my Dunedin office. He has two afternoons off a week. He spends time with his granddaughter. They do granddaughter-grandfather stuff. They have tea together twice a week. When he talks about it, he cries because he would never have thought that he could spend that quality time with his granddaughter. We’re giving him that. That means that he’s not going to do anything to prejudice what we’re trying to do here.
His colleagues have great stories but they also can see a reaction in him. Therefore, this is an accountability issue. You’re not just accountable to me as the business owner. You’re accountable to your colleagues. You don’t waste their time. They won’t waste your time. The reason we do that is that we all get something from this that we couldn’t have dreamed of.
The thing that I’m hearing come across loud and clear, which I’m preaching about all the time, is flexibility and control. This is grounded in neuroscience. People ultimately want flexibility and some control over their working lives in making them manageable for the rest of their life. It’s interesting that we’re talking about this in a time when we are seeing a great deal of resistance after the pandemic going back into offices and the tension that is between executive leaders in many cases and the workforce where executive leaders say, “People need to come back into the office.”
I don’t think they have a good reason. They talk about culture and collaboration. I don’t think there’s any data I’ve seen to support this. I get that we need to rethink to use your word and reimagine the way we work. It’s interesting that you’re talking about this, which sounds like a no-brainer to me but at the same time, there’s a ton of resistance out there.
It’s quite interesting. If I walk into a room full of CEOs and say, “I’ve got a business improvement process that will add 20% to 25% to your company productivity,” they’re all going to go, “Andrew, that’s great. Tell me about it.” The minute I walk in and say, “That’s by making your staff work less,” they all think I’m an idiot but the next thing I will say is, “Four days a week.”
They will say, “That’s great but how do you measure productivity?” To which I reply, “How are you measuring productivity?” The problem that you are identifying as well is that the reality is most businesses don’t understand productivity. They use presenteeism or hours as a surrogate for productivity. All I’m doing is saying, “If you look at the research, presenteeism hours are a very bad guide toward productivity.”The reality is most businesses don't understand productivity. They use presenteeism or hours as a surrogate for productivity. Click To Tweet
When you move away from that and focus on output rather than time, that becomes incredibly liberating for the staff and the business because what you’re doing is identifying all of those little things that would never get up to the C-Suite that are stopping your people being as productive as they can be. If you go to them and say, “We’re going to bring in a consultant and find out how to take out the efficiency,” your workforce hears one thing, “Job losses.”
They also hear that I’m going to be expected to do more with less but what I’m saying is to find those inefficiencies and guess who gets the benefit. You do. You get time because I as a business owner don’t care whether you take 5 days, 4 days, or 3 days to do the job. What I want to know is if I’m going to get the productivity or the thing that pays your salary. I’m going to get that. If you can deliver that in less time, amazingly, that cascades into lots of other things. It cascades into my heating bills and the size of the premises that I need because everybody loves it.
It means I can attract and retain better talent. It means my sick day is half. It rolls. This is a very rational business strategy but we stop it because we sit there and go, “You’ve got to work five days a week.” I always think that back in the 19th century, there were a couple of bewhiskered guys sitting around at some dark satanic mill in the North of England with a bloke walking in and saying, “We should only get our people to work six days a week.”
They all sat there and said, “The world will end if we go down to six days a week.” Honestly, they were probably apoplectic when somebody suggested that maybe we might drop the eight-hour day. Why is it do we hang around hanging onto a construct of a working week designed for a repetitive manufacturing industry in the 1920s and say that has got any relevance whatsoever to the 21st century?
I’m glad you brought up that historical perspective because it was around about 100-ish years ago that globally and generally most developed nations went from a 6-day workweek to what we now have or what we consider the norm of the 5-day roughly an 8-hour day, 9:00 to 5:00-ish. I don’t know how knowledgeable you are about that transition, but if you can speak to it at all, what have you learned about that transition? To your point, there would have been resistance. It would have taken a long time perhaps. What have you learned about it that is influencing or has informed your approach to this?
In a lot of cases, people credit the five-day week to Henry Ford, not somebody well-known to be not a very focused and driven business person. Henry Ford introduced it into his factories. It took about four years to bring across the whole of his workforce. The reason he did it was quite interesting. He did it because he was manufacturing the Model T Ford cars. He needed to create a market for cars.
If you were working six days a week, you only had time off to go to church. The minute I gave you a weekend, you had time to go somewhere else. If you had time to go somewhere else, you needed a method to go somewhere else. You needed a car. Henry Ford, by reducing the working week, created a market that therefore increased the profitability and productivity of his business.
If you think about that in our service-driven society and also a society where often all members of a family are working and therefore, don’t have time to do as much leisure as they might do because of trying to fit tasks around the working week, there is an argument that this would achieve the same thing. What you would find is by increasing leisure time, you would create activity.
It would be more time to shop, dine out, travel, be educated, and play pickleball or a game of waste your life. That’s the whole point of this. You’ve got to look at it in the macro sense, not the micro sense. If we do this, it fundamentally changes economies. It addresses a lot of the big issues that we talk about like pollution.
There is one piece of research. It said that if the UK introduced the four-day week, the impact on the environment would be the equivalent of taking the entire UK car fleet off the road every year. You want to see the top 26 goals achieved. You can do it by rethinking how we work, and yet it doesn’t by the evidence that we see adversely impact productivity and profitability. If anything, it does the reverse.
It’s interesting because you talked about a lot of benefits that you experienced in your organization. We had a good list of them going. I’m glad you did bring up that environmental piece because I wanted to go there. It’s important to me personally and hopefully to other people too. I didn’t understand that piece of research was specifically to the UK but it said that carbon emissions could fall by up to 127 metric tons. That’s pretty significant.
The evidence does seem to be. There has been some research done out of Henley Business School some years ago, which seems to suggest that if you reduce the working week, people do low-carbon activities on those other days. You then get different benefits. In a lot of cities, you have congestion, but you could reduce traffic flows by 20%. It’s a lot easier now with working from home. You would then often get free flow.If you reduce the working week, people do low-carbon activities on those other days. Click To Tweet
In Auckland, if we’ve got to free flow, not only would we see a material drop in carbon emissions. Bizarrely, we would see a 1.5% increase in Auckland’s GDP because of the time that is wasted stuck in congestion. I was sitting there looking at my little business and trying to work out how I improve its productivity, but now this thing has exploded in all directions when you start to look at what it can do to the wider economy, community, and society as a whole. When asked 80% of people all over the world regardless of country, say, “We would like to work less please.”
I would like for you to talk a little bit about where this is being piloted and where it has been adopted. Perhaps, there’s probably too much to name but you could give us a snapshot. Before we get into that, here’s one other question I have about some of the benefits. This isn’t something I’ve read a lot about nor have you mentioned it but I wanted to get your thoughts on it.
That has to do with equity, in particular, gender equity. My assumption is that specifically to gender equity and women’s participation in the workplace, which has taken a massive hit with the pandemic, this would be very helpful in that regard for some reasons. I could go into why that’s the case. I haven’t seen hard evidence of that but is that something you’ve noticed? Is it something you’re tracking or that’s on your radar?
One of the interesting things right from the get-go when we introduced it in our company was that as it happened, my head of HR at the time had negotiated a four-day week with 80% pay. This is something that women should never do. Always negotiate. Everybody has done it. Don’t negotiate on time. When we shifted to a four-day week, we said, “What are we going to do here?” What we did is we increased the salaries of our women from four days to the five-day pay. That was number one because we knew returning mothers have great time management skills because they need to get the job done. They’re generally your most productive people. That was point number one.
We then said, “Once you’re starting building an output, this is very helpful because that means you can only work less time for family reasons.” By talking about output, not time, you can get much better equity in terms of outcome. Remember, the 100-80-100 formula can also apply to anybody working part-time. You’ve got that choice as to whether you drop the time or almost increase your pay. That’s how it works effectively because you’re doing it on output, not time.
The other key thing here is we are never going to achieve what we want to achieve in terms of true equality in business if you don’t make it okay for male executives or male workers to get out. One of the problems with this is, and this underpins some of the data on the gender pay gap, which is misleading, is that in general terms, there is often an age gap between a couple. It’s probably because men are so immature. Women marry people who are older than them.
If you think about it, that creates a pay gap. If you have a child, the logical solution is that the person who’s paid less, and that’s possibly by dint of age, is the one that takes the break. Equally, you know that in society or a company, you’ve got a whole bunch of people who aren’t going to have those responsibilities or don’t give a damn. They’re going to work every hour God sends. Your problem is that for often very rational reasons, you end up with this gender pay gap being created.
When you start to insist all leaders from the top, and you have to walk the top from the CEO down to the four-day week, take that time out. That suddenly starts to make it okay to take your share of care responsibilities. It means we’re not asking you to work incredibly long hours. We are quite firm on that. We don’t want you to work long hours. We want you to work 80% of contracted hours because we believe that if you are more structured and efficient, and we change a few things, you will be more productive.
My leadership team makes better decisions when they’re rested and when they have time to think and work on the business, not in the business. What happens then is this starts to balance things up because you are removing one of those impediments for women to come up. At the same time, we are allowing our dads to be dads. The best stories in my company aren’t from women. The best stories in my company are from the guys. I have a chap who walks his daughter to school every day.
It’s a two-way street. I’m sure a lot of men up there feel that way. I’ve talked at length about this. It’s something I could go on about. Gender equity in the workplace benefits everybody. There are a lot of ways how we’re working that are harmful to everybody. There is a lot of evidence to show how it’s harmful to men. Let’s get back to where I started to go. There are certain countries that tend to come to mind more so than others. Who’s doing this? Who had success? How pervasive is it now? Where are you at in terms of the number of organizations and countries that are trialing this? Maybe some have implemented it permanently.
When we started this in 2018, we were a bit of a freak show. We got extraordinary amounts of global coverage. We were the second-most read story in the New York Times after the Trump-Putin summit but that was mainly people being incredulous that we were trying it. What happened is the pandemic has changed everything. It forced us to rethink a whole pile of things around productivity, presenteeism, and ability as to whether you can trust staff.
What we’ve now got is 4 Day Week Global is running pilots where we encourage companies to come on a six-month journey with us. We put research alongside the pilot so you know what you were like before, during, and after. You’ve got an opportunity because this is a very lonely decision sometimes for a CEO to take. You’ve got other companies on that journey. We are running pilots now in the USA, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Israel. We’ve got pilots coming in Europe and Germany specifically.
We are talking to the Scottish and Welsh governments about what they’re looking to do. We’re working with the Portuguese, Spanish, and Valencian governments on their trials. You’ve got four-day week legislation or a version of it in Lithuania, Romania, Belgium, and Russia. You’ve got a version of it in India. You’ve got governments now talking about bringing it in. For example, in Australia, the Victorian premier says if reelected, he will introduce a four-day week in Victoria.
The first country in the world that has gone to a four-day week bizarrely is the UAE. One, they were trying to align their workweek with the Western workweek. It wasn’t before because they used to take Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They then shifted to that, and then the Imam said, “You can’t even have a part Friday off. It’s either Friday off or not at all.” They said, “Let’s go to a four-day week.”
It’s interesting. This has now gone from being what was fringe to being mainstream. It’s not necessarily a mainstream policy albeit there are tens of thousands of companies around the world that are doing it. It’s now talked about as a mainstream option. It has been debated at Davos twice and at the European Economic Forum once. It has been in the manifestos of the labor party in the UK.
Another bill has been introduced into the UK Parliament. Congressman Mark Takano has introduced a 32-hour bill into Congress. There is legislation that’s being considered in both New York State and California. This is starting to become mainstream. We are seeing more local authorities starting to look at doing it. My understanding is there are 1,600 school districts in the United States doing a four-day week.
I had heard that. I didn’t hear much about Canada in there. In my experience, I’m not aware of any companies. Whenever I bring it up, I do get eye rolls a little bit, “You must be lazy or something.”
Let’s say it’s one and a half hours for Canadians. Think about it. You only have to be more productive for eighteen minutes each day. Make up for that fifth day. It’s easy.
Do you feel as though you’re near a tipping point then that this will get enough momentum that it will start to cascade and be the thing that becomes the norm?
In their defense, one of the most successful law firms in Canada has gone to a four-day week. That was interesting because they had to move away from time-based billing to do that. Interesting. They have done that. It has been a very successful transition. Had you asked me years ago, I would have said, “This will start to become mainstream in about ten years.”
I now think that we grapple with gender, environmental, and mental health. The 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 of the workforce with stress and mental health issue are not productive if they’ve got that. The implications of that can be quite devastating if you look at the data for lost work time. The UK loses 17.9 million days a year as a consequence of workplace stress and health issues associated with that.
If you can eliminate all of that, you suddenly realize that there are very good reasons why we can make this move. More governments are starting to think about this. What we’ve got to do in the movement is we will encourage more companies to do this, which we are but the next stage of the process is research-driven. We’ve got a global research program coordinated out of Boston College and Oxford and Cambridge universities.
What we are doing in the next stage is we want to have randomized control research. At the moment, I can look at the impact of a company and tell you at the end of the period whether that company is better or worse but what we want to do is then start to look at the differences between companies who are doing it and companies who aren’t doing it, and see what happens there.
I also start to gather this macro data about what is the impact on society. If I can reduce workplace stress and mental health issues, what impact does that have on the health service? If I can reduce commuting time, what impact does that have on the production of greenhouse gases? What we are seeing is suddenly, organizations and governments are starting to look at this in a different light. It was very easy to initially focus on work-life balance. I’ve never done that.
I’ve always argued it’s a sensible and rational business decision but now we’ve got the evidence, we’ve got enough evidence that productivity isn’t adversely impacted. If anything, it’s improved. Surely now, there is enough evidence to support larger trials. That’s what we will see. What you will see very soon after that is you will start to see countries start to think about this in a far more structured way than we thought of before. This will be mainstream within the next five years, which is quicker than I thought.
I would imagine that as that change starts to happen, organizations will also start to realize they’re competing for talent against organizations that have implemented the four-day week. That might be a bit of an incentive as well.
That has become the number one reason. When we talk to businesses that are thinking to come on the trials, the number one reason now is the attraction and retention of staff. That’s different from where we were but very clearly now, that’s the number one. I’ll go further than saying companies. I’m going to say countries because now, we’re all sitting here with a global talent shortage.
My country, New Zealand, is now having had what some people thought was a fairly good pandemic because we were able to lock the borders. You would have naturally thought that now, everybody is pouring in but they’re not. They’re leaving. There’s a whole heap of reasons why that’s the case. Attraction and retention of talent suddenly become a national problem, not a company problem.
Medicine is the classic case in point. There’s a shortage of doctors and nurses. Why do we have a shortage of doctors and nurses? They work horrible hours. They hate the job at the end of the day, and then they leave. What about if you reduce the hours of doctors and nurses? Would you need more doctors and nurses? Yes, but not as many as you would think because you stop losing the talent from the organization. Health outcomes are better eventually and fewer people come in for treatment, which becomes a virtuous circle.
We can see that I’m drawing a longbow from what was an experiment in a 300-person company in New Zealand years ago to where we are now but the reality is that’s the journey. When you start to question a lot of the preconceptions that are linked to the way that we work, it’s quietly liberating. You can start to see the opportunities that exist for making a better world for everybody.When you start to question a lot of the preconceptions linked to how we work, it's quite liberating, and you start to see the opportunities that exist to make a better world for everybody. Click To Tweet
I love that. What would you say is the biggest obstacle? Let’s go to the organizational level to focus on this. What would be the biggest obstacle at the organizational level to implementing this?
Without a doubt, it’s your leadership team. All the time, it’s leaders either within or without your organization. There is a preconception that working longer equals working harder. That’s what I’ve always had to do, “If my people work less, that’s going to impact me. I’ll be held accountable if they don’t produce it.” Getting a leadership team to play ball is hard. In my case, I fixed the board issue. I did own the company but only half of it. I had private capital investors in with me for the other half. I announced it on national television.
That’s a great trick.
They were desperately happy but they said, “We’re going to have to go with the flow because we don’t want to be the people that said no to it.” That was a bit of a stunt. The leadership team all hated it. I had to say to them, “I’m not going to hold you responsible if it doesn’t work. That’s on me. I’m going to hold you accountable for not giving it a good go. If you don’t walk the talk and give this a proper go, then I will hold you accountable for that.” Interestingly, within a few weeks, the leadership team was going, “My team is more productive. We’re getting more things done. We found these efficiencies. I’ve got more time to think. Suddenly, I’m making better business decisions.”
Your leadership team is a problem. I wrote this in my book. It was this thing called cows milking twice a day. When you talk to somebody about this, they immediately try and think of an industry that will prove it will not work. They will say, “It wouldn’t work in x.” In this case, it was a chap talking about the dairy industry, “It wouldn’t work in the dairy industry.” They don’t necessarily work in the dairy industry. They know nothing about that particular industry but the preconceived idea is that it will never work there.
Bizarrely, there’s a piece of technology that has come out of New Zealand in the last couple of years that enables you to milk your cows from your lounge room. You can do things better because if you think about what a leader is saying if they’re saying, “The four-day week doesn’t work,” they are saying that there is no way they can improve their business. They have reached the pinnacle of human achievement. That’s it. That says a lot more about them than it does about the four-day week.
If we have reached the pinnacle of human achievement, then I’m going to end it now because I’m looking around the world and thinking there’s a lot of room for improvement.
I agree but you can see my point. That is what they’re saying because there is no reason that we do a five-day week other than it’s an arbitrary thing. There are 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of leisure, and 8 hours of work. That’s the division of the spoils. There is no rational argument for it. It’s an arbitrary construct. We’re hanging onto this for grim death whilst everything else changed around us.
The workforce looked very different a hundred years ago. I’ll ask two more things before we wrap. Broadly, is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think is important to say or for people to know?
The number 1, 2, and 3 points that we would make to companies that are contemplating this is don’t overthink it, don’t overthink it, and don’t overthink it. It’s not as hard as you might think. You are empowering people to find a way to work better. That is a direct benefit to them. If you liberate your workforce, you will be surprised at what happens as far as the organization is concerned.
That is key because if you overanalyze this and overthink this, you end up going into a death spiral of trying to work out, “How do I make this happen?” As leaders, we’re in the hot seat because we are problem solvers. What you have to do with this is put forward the policy and then get out of the way. That’s not something that sits easily with a leader.
They need to get out of their way. If they were curious and they were contemplating, what’s the first step an organization should take to start to go down this path?
The starting point is to go to the 4 Day Week website, have a look at the material on there, read the white paper, and buy the book. Why not? Go and have a look at the material. There is a lot of material. We took a decision right at the very start of this that we were going to share everything that we found with anybody who wanted it. Our research and legal policies are up there. All sorts of things are up there.
You don’t get many chances to change the world. Early on in the piece, we suddenly realized that was what was happening here. Everything that we have done subsequently says, “We are very happy to share everything.” We have a community of companies who are doing this and who will also be happy to step up and talk to people who are contemplating it.
Go to the website and have a look. That’s a great place to start. There are lots of information and good research. There’s going to be more research coming out as the trials start to produce the research, which is coming. It’s not a difficult decision. It was years ago. There is good solid evidence why this is something you should look at.
That sounds like a great spot to end. I can’t thank you enough for doing this. It has been quite inspiring because I have some days when I think, “This is a pile of poo.” How many chances do you have to change the world? I feel like we must change the world. Andrew, thank you so much for doing this.
Thanks for making the time to talk to me.
It was a pleasure.
What a fantastic conversation that you had with Andrew Barnes, Debra. It’s a great interview. I thought I knew a little bit about the four-day workweek from what I read but the compelling evidence is the fact that Andrew has personal experience with this, which is what started him off on this. It was such a compelling conversation.
I knew a lot of what he said intuitively but I wouldn’t have been able to verbalize it the way that he did and how he talked about all the benefits. My question to you is this. As you were having this conversation did you have any a-ha moments? Did you have a bit of a similar reaction to me? I was like, “This makes sense.” What was your overall takeaway after you talked with him?
Similar to what you’re saying, it was validating. He’s coming at it from a slightly different angle and a different perspective with different data but it was validating. I felt like saying, “That’s what we have been trying to say.” He and I joked a little bit more before and after the actual recording because I had mentioned the name, Brené Brown. He’s like, “Who’s that? I don’t read business books.” It’s not that she exclusively writes business books by any stretch.
You and I have been coming at this from deepening our knowledge around behavioral science, neuroscience, and all of the reasons and the data to support workplace cultures where people can be effective, environments, and how long a person works. This hustle culture that we’re in sometimes rewards people for behaviors we don’t necessarily want to reward and penalizes other people who are more encumbered by outside responsibilities, for example.
It was validating. One of the things that stood out to me was that his experience and the data that they are compiling based on the lived experience of organizational leaders in terms of productivity gains and the other benefits that they’re reaping are powerful. It’s something that leaders are more likely to pay attention to than the other data that is also very compelling and important. This will be something that they can relate to a little more.
The other thing that struck me was validating. I was like, “That makes sense.” I said, “What’s the biggest challenge?” He said, “Leaders are the biggest challenge. They’re getting in their way. They’re overthinking it.” It boils down to some form of fear of losing control, authority, or something because I did equate it to what we’re seeing with working from home and coming back to the office and the tension there.
We’re not seeing a lot of data to support that having people in the office does improve the culture, performance, or collaboration. I haven’t seen any of that at any rate. You and I are paying some attention to that. The fact that he said that, he has been the CEO of a company, and he has had that experience lends a lot of credibility to it.
In regards to that, it seems that some belief systems are so entrenched that even facts can’t move them. We’re talking about the four-day workweek. We could talk about other things. People have to experience it to see the benefits because their belief systems are so entrenched that you need to have bums in seats and hours on spreadsheets as opposed to showing that things are getting done and that you’re having an impact. Isn’t every business in the business of making things happen and creating value, whether it’s through a product or a service?
The example that Andrew gave about dairy was interesting because I also found myself going, “I’m sure in some industries this can’t work,” but then I thought, “Not everybody might be working the same four-day workweek.” He talked about the example he gave of somebody who took two half days off or a shorter week and had time with children or grandchildren. People will make these situations work. They will be productive when they see the benefits for themselves.
I’ve had experience in jobs. I don’t want to call myself out for being a slacker but it might sound like this. There are times in my life during my workday when I have tried to find things to keep me busy because what I was being paid for was done. I couldn’t move a project any further. Maybe you could argue that I lacked the initiative to start something else but it wasn’t required of me. There’s a lot being left on the table if people are at work to be present. One of the things that he said here was that presenteeism and hours worked are not a good measure of productivity or profitability. That is something that all organizational leaders need to get their heads around.
Gallup has got some compelling data. One of the initiatives that they are trying to push forward to convince leaders to pay attention to is to make employee well-being metrics a key performance indicator and factor that into measures of success and productivity because it will have a huge impact. I thought it was a great conversation.
Here’s the other thing that’s interesting to me. I’m curious about it. I don’t know enough about it. What was this like a hundred years ago when this transition happened? We can learn a lot from history. There were people who deeply resisted that transition. Like any transition, there are going to be people who resist but somehow we went from a 6-day workweek to a 5-day workweek that has become so entrenched as the norm. How did that transition happen?
I don’t know my labor history in any great detail but I know that unions were a factor in this. People were dying on the job. You look at some of the outcomes of the Industrial Revolution in England. I believe it was in the cotton mills where for women, children, and men, these were very dangerous conditions. People would be working on one job. They say, “We need to be more productive. We’re going to give you two jobs to do but we will slow it down so you have enough time to do it.”
Slowly, they would speed the work up again. You’re doing twice the amount of work in the same amount of time. People are inhaling things that aren’t healthy for them. They’re completely exhausted. It got to the point where working people to the bone was not as productive. You had unions coming in and people being willing and courageous to put their foot down and say, “I’m not going to live like this anymore.” That’s a bit of what we’re seeing now.
People do not want to spend their entire lives in an indentured relationship with an employer. You made a comment at one point in your conversation with Andrew. It’s something along the lines of how we have been indoctrinated. The more hours you work, that’s how you climb the career ladder. I’m seeing with some of my coaching clients, conversations I’m having, and what I’m reading people aren’t looking to climb any ladders anymore. People are wanting to deepen their relationships. They’re wanting to have time to do other things and not acquire as many possessions.
The challenge now in an inflationary environment is we do need a bit more money to live the lives we want. There’s a lot of insecurity all over the world, whether it’s war or financial situations but at least in the West, there is a bit of a tendency to question this idea of productivity and growth at every cost. I do want to say one thing I found interesting in what Andrew said. I took a quick glance through the white paper that he encourages readers to have a look at.
When you look at the recommendations, I love this. The top recommendation is to give employees plenty of time to think about how they can work differently and encourage them to come up with their measures of productivity. Give it to the people who are doing the work. Create the conditions for them to figure out because people will be able to do that. If someone ever asked me the question, “How can we make you as productive or more productive in less time?” I would jump at that and find those things.
One of them would be meetings. That has been a big issue. The data says that people have been in far more meetings during the pandemic and working online than they have otherwise, but this idea of democratizing or creating a participatory environment for people to have a say in how this could work is foundational to people’s sense of agency. You talked also about flexibility and control. People know how to figure this stuff out. Give it to them. That’s what’s going to make it work.
That’s where I get a tiny bit frustrated because this has been something that has been talked about for a long time, things like job crafting. People want autonomy. Giving people the autonomy to have some say and control over how they do their work. This is something that has been talked about for a long time. I am having a little low-grade level of frustration that this is what it’s taking now to finally have people pay attention to some of this stuff.
The other thing that struck me as you were talking about your experience with some of your more senior-level coaching clients who are not necessarily looking to spend more time at work, and are reevaluating the place that work holds in terms of the greater context of their life. What’s interesting to me is that when people like that have those conversations and say those kinds of things, “This is amazing. They’re reevaluating. This must be an important trend we’re seeing.” They’re seeking greater balance. They have their reasons for not wanting to put so much of their time, energy, and focus only into work.
We look at that almost in a respectful and celebratory way. However, if we contrast that and say, “What happens when more junior-level employees try to take that initiative? What happens when people who are more in labor jobs, the service sector, or more junior-level positions in organizations and businesses do that?” We call it quiet quitting. There’s almost a class distinction that is bubbling up. Everybody in the workforce is potentially reevaluating these things. We could make arguments that the pandemic has had a significant impact but it’s interesting to notice that difference.
There are differences, whether it’s across age or gender. This is my thinking around all of this. Many of us have not had experiences of understanding on some level that we’re going to die at some point. The pandemic brought this idea of mortality, insecurity, and uncertainty a little bit closer to our brains. We weren’t pushing it away or denying it quite so much. When you realize in a deeper way or in a broader way that this is the life you have and how you want to spend it, it does influence the choices you’re going to make about how you want to spend your time.
You and I are later in our careers. Even though we might not have the same day-to-day responsibilities with younger children, there are other things that we want to do, be, experience, see, or maybe even have in our lives, it feels like a bit of a now or never. That’s a little bit bleeding into many different parts of our economy and the way people think. There’s a lot of shifting of people’s priorities that is happening. Part of that was accelerated by the pandemic.
I still am so fascinated by organizational leaders and executives who want people to come back to work. What are they offering? It’s the same old. No one is asking for this fallacy that you need to come back to collaborate and be part of an employee culture that’s rich and stimulating. People are feeling more involved in working from home. There are studies coming out that say all of that.
I come back to the thing you said about how many leaders, executives, and CEOs are science deniers. We have tons of data about how the brain works. We have tons of data about what makes people happy and productive. We have tons of data on collaboration and many things that go into creating happy and healthy organizations. There’s this unbelievable pushback. It’s the idea that beliefs are more important than facts. You and I are having these conversations. The conversation you had with Andrew and other guests that we have had is pointing to the fact that people are not quite listening to what we know is going to work to everyone’s detriment.
These changes are coming. I’ve been sensing this bubbling up. That’s why I called it Work Revolution. Including my science denier comment, which I’ve used a few times, the other thing I would say is that organizational leaders have been pushing this change agenda down their workforce for quite some time now. We started talking about change and doing change workshops. There’s change agility. The phrase is changed from time to time. I’ve been in environments too where it’s like, “You have to change.” I think, “You have to change. Why aren’t you willing to change?”
They’re not showing change agility. Start walking the talk and demonstrating that you can adjust and that you are open and receptive to what’s happening in the greater environment, what the data is saying, where the science is going, and what your workforce is telling you that they need to do their best work. It’s not to say you’re going to be able to grant everything or that there won’t be some negotiations in that process but you have to start somewhere.
I always feel controversial when I say this. Maybe it is a very controversial comment. I strongly feel that you cannot put leaders in place to lead change who have not gone through a significant change in their lives and have managed through the emotional side of change. There’s this whole idea, “It’s just business.” Our brains don’t know if it’s personal or business.
Our brains react to change regardless of where the change is happening, whether there’s a death in the family, going through a separation, or something at work that’s related to the loss of a job or the loss of status. Our brains react the same way. It’s important to put people who are going to be leading change and transformation initiatives. Put people in place who understand that it is an emotional journey that they accompany their teams on and not that they push it down.
There’s one last thing I want to say about some of the things that Andrew talked about. I love that he’s suggesting to companies to do this as a trial and as an experiment, “Don’t believe me. Get your data and see if people are less stressed.” I love that his organization helps do the pre and post, “Let’s start you here. Let’s get some data on how people are feeling, what’s getting done, output, well-being, and all of that. Six months later, let’s look at what changed.” The white paper that they created shows a significant change in all of those things.
He says here, “Be clear about what you want to achieve at your company if you’re a leader.” Do you want to increase engagement and productivity? Do you want to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism? Do you want to increase retention, attract quality candidates, motivate people, and a better culture? That’s a reason to go to a four-day workweek. Why not try it?
It doesn’t have to look the same for every single company but it will be interesting to see at some point in our lifetime where it becomes the norm because the theme is, “You could do fewer hours.” He said, “Not everybody is rigidly stuck to four days. Maybe it’s just shorter days.” It will be interesting. I’m curious to see what the next ten or so years will bring. If this does become the new norm, it would be interesting.
That will happen at many levels, including the government and things like that. He did speak to all of the different layers of this that his organization is working on. He spoke to the bill, for example, that has been proposed in the UK to reduce the number of hours in a workweek. It would be interesting to see if that ignites a global trend. We will see. I’m curious to see.
I loved all the talk about the downstream effects on the environment and people’s mental health. We need to think systemically. We’re not just doing one thing. The fallacy here is people think, “My employees are going to work for four days. They’re going to get paid the same amount. I’m getting one less day of work out of them,” as opposed to, “The productivity is going to go up. My profitability is going to go up. I’m going to be paying less for sick days.”
“People are going to be happier. They’re going to be more rested. They’re going to make better decisions.” Looking at the things on the plus side and trying this experiment is a place where CEOs need to invest a bit of their time. Maybe if they were working a four-day workweek, they would have more time to think about how to do this.
They would have more bandwidth to evaluate it, think more clearly, and make better decisions. That’s a little poke. That was a great conversation. I’m happy that Andrew agreed to it. This is something I’m going to continue to keep an eye on. If you want to get in touch with us, we would love to hear from you. You can do that through our website www.WorkRevolutionPodcast.com. We are also active on LinkedIn and social media. Please do reach out. We would love to hear from you. That’s it. Thank you, everyone.
Until next time.
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About Andrew Barnes
Innovator, entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrew Barnes has made a career of market-changing innovation and industry digitisation. Most recently, in New Zealand, Andrew triggered a revolution of the entire fiduciary and legal services industries, and the transformation he has led as the founder of Perpetual Guardian has positive implications both locally and globally. He is founder of 4 Day Week Global and the 4 Day Week Global Foundation with his partner, Charlotte Lockhart.
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