In the final quarter of 2018, following the landmark eight-week trial of the four-day week and analysis of the qualitative and quantitative data from it, the Perpetual Guardian board signed off on the four-day week across the business
“This is about flexible working and about using technology to enable that,” he says. “The learnings and challenges uncovered as part of the trial raise a number of questions that we will work through to ensure we address areas that need improvement or further innovation in order to increase flexibility and productivity,” Barnes says.
“If you can have parents spending more time with their children, how is that a bad thing? Are you likely to get better educational outputs as a consequence?
“Are you likely to get fewer mental health issues when you have more time to take care of yourself and your personal interests – probably.
“If you can take 20 percent of people off the roads every day, what does that mean?
“If you have fewer people in the office at any one time, can we make smaller offices? If people work more efficiently or remotely, coming to the office less frequently, what does that mean for urban design?
“These are interesting issues, and we should be debating them because I think it changes the composition of society. And once that changes, opportunities available for people will change. Maybe more people will be providing services for people’s leisure as opposed to traditional business-related support services.
“I don’t know what the outcomes will be, but I would say to all business owners, be a little creative — think about trying a few things.”
Barnestorming the success of an idea whose time had come
Andrew Barnes was pleased by the productivity, engagement, job satisfaction, work-life balance and many other positive findings that emerged from the trial, and gratified by the scale of local and global interest in the four-day week story – but we were not surprised. Going into the trial, we felt this was an idea whose time had come, and that we could collectively challenge some long-held ideas about how we work.
Internally, we refer to this new work structure as our ‘productivity week policy’, with all full-time employees (most of the 240 people in our business) eligible to opt in to work a four-day week.
As per the terms of the original trial, employees who opt in are eligible for a weekly ‘rest day’ provided they meet their weekly productivity objectives, and are paid at their usual salary. They continue to accrue annual leave, with entitlements remaining on the basis of their contractual hours as set out in their individual employment agreements.
The opt-in process began on 1 November last year and is gradually scaling up as teams configure their long-term productivity objectives and workloads within the new framework. Approximately half of our full-time staff have opted in to date, and ultimately we expect around three-quarters of staff will choose the four-day week.
The trial taught us that not everyone prefers a four-day week, and other flexibility choices are appreciated. Some employees might, for example, negotiate changes to their hours of work across the standard five-day week, such as starting later or finishing earlier to miss rush hour or accommodate school pick-ups. We are collaborating on innovative processes to offer flexibility to existing part-time staff and teams with seasonal peaks of work during the year.
We have always sought to avoid being prescriptive in our approach, and as we did before and during the trial, we continue to ask staff to tell us how they can work best.
At a governance level, the challenge of implementing any broadly revolutionary change is to prove the business case. After the post-trial staff review and data analysis, we began drafting a new HR productivity week policy. We knew the current legislative framework did not specifically allow for a reinvention of the 40-hour week, so to ensure we could offer flexibility on a long-term basis while maintaining regulatory compliance, we obtained legal opinions from Bell Gully and MinterEllisonRuddWatts, which offered independent advice based on assessment of relevant legislation and current employment agreements.
The board was satisfied that the case for the four-day week was sound and the new policy could be applied within the existing legislative setting, and we were able to announce the next phase of our extraordinary work experiment to the world. To date, the news of our four-day week has reached more than four billion people through reporting by the BBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Guardian and many other prominent media outlets, and has been shared millions of times on social media.
In this next phase, the academic researchers involved in the trial are again reviewing Perpetual Guardian’s progress, and we are engaging constantly with other businesses, academics and policymakers in the global conversation about the future of work. Recently, the UK’s Trade Union Council said the four-day week, with no reduction to living standards, should be an ambition for the 21st century, and the Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity based in London, announced it is considering a four-day week trial for its 800 head-office staff.
To continue inspiring conversation beyond the media stories, I have done a TEDx Talk, and we have compiled a white paper which will be shared on request with hundreds of interested parties around the world in the coming weeks. Later this year, we will publish a book about the four-day week that challenges ideas about the gig economy, worker productivity and wellbeing, and the changing world of work in the 21st century.