BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — In an effort to reduce employee burnout while driving up productivity, a change seems to be happening in offices across the globe.
In 2020, more and more companies are reporting plans to adopt a four-day work week. Except in the United States.
British entrepreneur and author Andrew Barnes told WBZ NewsRadio's Drew Moholland that the U.S. is significantly lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to understanding the benefits of a potential four day work week.
"Microsoft Japan recently announced that they introduced a four-day week on a test basis," said Barnes. "Productivity went up 39.9 percent, and that's not an outlier. Broadly, in companies around the world, we are seeing productivity improvements of up to about 40 percent."
In 2018, Barnes, a businessman involved in banking and real estate, made major changes to the way one of his companies functions. For the 240 employees at his estate planning firm Perpetual Guardian, Barnes innovated the regular four-day work week. It works by what he calls the 100/80/100 rule.
"I pay my staff 100 percent," Barnes said. "They only have to work for 80 percent of the time, provided I get 100 percent productivity. The benefit is that I as a businessman get the same output I'm looking for, and my staff get the benefit of a more balanced life."
Barnes decided to implement the shorter work week after reading research on productivity levels in Britain and Canada. Those studies showed that Brits were productive for only three hours per day, and the Canadians for only an hour and a half per day. Barnes pointed the finger of blame at most office environments, which he says only work to distract.
"People aren't productive when they're in the office," he said. "It's because you get in, have a chat, get some coffee, do some internet surfing ... you keep getting interrupted in open-plan offices .... going into meetings you don't need."
Research from the University of Ohio shows that the average American office worker is interrupted every three minutes, and it takes the average worker 23 minutes to fully return to a task after being interrupted.
Barnes says more U.S. companies could reap the benefits of increased productivity from a happier and healthier workforce, if only they'd be open to the workplace cultural change.
"Especially in the United States, you have a culture of overworking," he said. "But remember, at any one time, one in four of a work force has a stress or mental health issue. They're not being that productive anyway... Changing their dynamics is allowing them to be the best they can be in the office, and the best they can be at home."
According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, in 2017 only 13 percent of U.S. organizations offered a shortened work week of 32 hours or less. By 2019, that number had only risen to 15 percent.
In his new book The 4 Day Week: How Flexible Work Revolution Can Increase Productivity, Profitability and Wellbeing, and Create a Sustainable Future, Barnes argues that switching to four-days of work and three days of play is not only good for the worker. It's also good for the business' bottom line.
"If I give you a day off a week, how will you behave differently during the four days that you are working?" Barnes said. "Power bills go down, everything goes down. Your cost base drops, but your productivity rises."
The work-life balance trend is sweeping across several other westernized countries, including New Zealand, Russia, and Britain. Last week, Finland's new Prime Minister Sanna Marin suggested either a four-day work week, or six-hour work days. Marin said it follows the concept that people work harder over shorter periods, and that longer hours actually causes productivity to trail off towards the end of the day or week.
Barnes said it's also important for companies to consider a shorter work week as a way to entice the top candidates.
"You've got more jobs than you have applicants now in the United States," Barnes said. "How are you going to attract this talent? One of the ways ... is actually doing this model, because Millennials, who now make up more than 50 percent of the workforce, 80 percent of them say they will trade salary for more time off."
And job data mirrors that changing workforce desire. In 2017, ZipRecruiter reported 51 percent of job postings mentioning four-day work weeks. By 2018, it was 65 percent of postings. In 2019, 67 percent of job ads offered a shorter week.
The recent shift in workplace mentality comes almost a century after the rail and auto industries implemented the eight hour work day and five day work week in their factories. Barnes said that strategy may have worked for the Ford Motor Company, but it's not the most efficient way to run a business in the 21st Century.
"If you have more enthused, more empowered, more engaged staff who are fresher, and you've attracted better talent because of better working conditions, I reckon you're going to get better productivity," he said.
He also predicts that it shouldn't be too long until we start to see shortened work weeks become the norm. According to Barnes, "within ten years, it'll be a thing here."
Andrew Barnes' first book, The 4 Day Week: How Flexible Work Revolution Can Increase Productivity, Profitability and Wellbeing, and Create a Sustainable Future is available now at a variety of bookstores and online.
WBZ NewsRadio's Drew Moholland (@DrewWBZ) reports