The five-day week is a 19th century construct that is not fit for purpose in the 21st century, according to Andrew Barnes, author of The 4-day week.
The book is a guide to how he implemented a four-day week at his insurance firm, Perpetual Guardian, and how doing so not only motivated staff more, but has multiple well being benefits, including reducing commuting, improving work life balance, addressing global heating, reducing the gender pay gap and enabling people to have more time for community work.
Barnes became convinced that productivity would not be badly affected by reducing the days people worked, given that research shows people only focus for a certain amount of hours in the working week. Productivity, he says, is a concept that many employers do not know how to measure which means they tend to link it to the number of hours workers spend at their desk. Yet, he says, workers whose time is tightly stretched due to long hours commuting and an always on culture are more likely to end up stressed and burnt out and to use at least some hours at work as a form of downtime they cannot otherwise get.
The book takes apart our modern way of working and shows how it is making us sick. Barnes writes: “As work days are stretched by brutal commutes which deprive people of rest, family time and social time, the workplace itself has been identified as a common cause and intensifier of mental illness.”
In addition to addressing work life balance issues, Barnes argues that a four-day week is an ethical way to reform a workplace where flexibility has, to a certain extent, become associated with job insecurity.
Having made his case, Barnes outlines how to implement a four-day week, starting with a trial, getting staff to own the new work pattern, engaging experts from outside the company to gather data on its success, being clear about the aims of the trial as well as honest about what is possible, focusing on output and asking employees for their views.
He says his experience shows that change needs to be continuously enforced, that culture and leadership are key and that a company-wide understanding of productivity goals and the consequences of failing to meet them is vital. In his model workers opt into the trial and the employer is able to cancel the four-day trial if it is not meeting its goals.
Barnes identifies the chief barrier to success as intellectual resistance among company leaders and says flexible working is “primarily a test of leadership”.
He ends with a rousing cry for change in an age of multiple challenges. “The truth is that every worker in extremis – stressed, overcommitted and mentally or physically unwell – is an individual embodiment of our entire planet. Now, the most conscientious students of its welfare have confirmed, beyond all doubt, that we must reinvent how we live, travel and work to survive as a species.”
*The 4 Day Week by Andrew Barnes with Stephanie Jones is published by Piatkus.