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Cheat Sheet: Could we work less for the same pay?

Welcome to the Cheat Sheet, a clickable, shareable, bite-sized FAQ on the news of the moment. Today, should we all work a four-day working week?


Hang on a minute! Yesterday a New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, announced it was trialling a four-day work week for its 200 employees, keeping wages – and number of hours worked in a day – at the same level. The company says it will start the trial in March and will measure productivity across the six week trial.

So they are going to pay their workers the same amount, same hours, but one less day? Why would any company voluntarily do that?

There’s a lot of research on the subject, but the theory loosely goes that workers who work less hours in a working week are more productive, work more efficiently and are less stressed and more healthy. Four-day work weeks have also been used in some US schools to try and help attract teachers (and cope with budget shortages) and Germany’s biggest union just won the right to a 28-hour working week.

Closer to home, productivity is seen as a big issue for our economy and working more is not the solution; we already work long hours, working 15% longer than the OECD average, but we produce 20% less output, per person. If we can raise productivity, the experts say, we should all be better off.

There must be more in it for the company, surely.

There are some other benefits for the employer such as just not having to pay for the infrastructure of an office/staff for five days. So that’s less money spent on power for lights, heating and coffee, for example. But Perpetual Guardian says “if employees are engaged with their job and employer, they are more productive… We believe efficiency will come with more staff focus and motivation.”

OK sounds good to me. What’s the catch?

One potential issue is that employees will work longer hours and overtime across the four days (Perpetual Guardian says its work hours will stay the same) rather than spread across the five, potentially leading to some of the problems you’re trying to avoid; stress, fatigue, burnout. And some overseas trials – Utah ditched a four day week – have found promised savings and benefits haven’t materialised.

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