More days off? Time to think about new ways of working

It’s holiday season across the country. As I write this, Thursday is our special holiday for the late Queen. If you live in Victoria, you also have Fridays off, and that’s school holidays for many. This meant that for the majority we had a four-day week at most. Which, according to recent research, could indicate increased productivity.

A UK-based non-profit, 4 Day Week Global, has just reported on the first three months of a six-month trial of a four-day week. More than 70 organizations signed up for the study. This corresponded to a sample of over 3300 employees. The sample covered most industries and company sizes. So far, the results seem impressive: 95 percent of the companies that responded said their productivity was either unchanged (46 percent) or increased (49 percent).

A four-day work week.

A four-day work week.

A whopping 97 percent of responding organizations said the transition to the four-day workweek was smooth to extremely smooth. This is also a potentially groundbreaking finding because, alongside the perfectly understandable concerns about productivity, employers are also likely to be concerned about the disruption caused by such a radical change and the associated costs.

Overall, the vast majority (86 percent) of responding organizations indicated that at this point in the study they are positive about sticking with the four-day work week permanently.

Now the self-selective nature of the sample can be clearly pointed out. One can imagine that the organizations that signed up were already at least open to the potential of a revised workweek. Whether this reflects the critical importance of management buy-in or that the participating organizations had sufficiently flexible structural constraints to create a four-day work week is not clear at this time. Also, I suspect that productivity data needs to be monitored over time. What is clear is that the four-day work week can work in a significant number of organizations, at least in the short term, with little or no negative impact on productivity.


The organizational psychologist in me always has to keep the Hawthorne Effect in mind. The study, which began in the late 1920s and is known to be associated with Australian psychologist Elton Mayo, examined the effects of different lighting, rest periods, and workstation layout on the productivity of factory workers at an Illinois plant. It appeared that productivity improved regardless of the intervention.

The results have since been interpreted in a variety of ways, including that subjects want to please their observers, or that the improved feedback a study provides may be motivating. In short, one must always be careful and cautious when attributing positive changes in the workplace to interventions that preceded the changes. As is so often the case, things are usually more complex.

At the very least, this interim report encourages enlightened employers willing to think about new ways of working that are attractive to employees. It contributes to the wider debate about the role of work in our lives and whether the ‘economy’ is there to work for us or we are to work for the economy.

Jim Bright, FAPS is a professor of professional education and development at ACU and owner of Bright and Associates, a career management consulting firm. Email Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright More days off? Time to think about new ways of working

Brian Lowry

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