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My staff have been doing four-day work weeks for eight months. Here’s what I’ve learnt

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What would your employees do if you suggested cutting their working hours down to just four normal length days, but said to them, “I’ll still pay you five”? Would they pinch themselves to check they weren’t dreaming?

This is what happened last April at Inventium.

Inventium’s chief executive Michelle Le Poidevin suggested to the team that we should try out the four-day work week.

The four-day week (FDW) was originally pioneered by Andrew Barnes from Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand. Barnes defined the FDW as 100% pay for 80% time at work, on the condition that 100% of agreed productivity is achieved.

In the last half of 2020, Inventium ran a six-month experiment where the team all worked four days per week and had Friday off. The experiment was a huge success and the FDW has become permanent at Inventium.

Here are three lessons I learnt in making a FDW actually work.

Run a pre-mortem

While most people are excited about the idea of a FDW, some may be anxious. If staff are struggling to fit their full-time workload into five days, suddenly moving to four can be stressful.

To uncover potential issues before launching a FDW, run a pre-mortem.

This involves asking staff to imagine you implemented the FDW and 12 months down the track, it was a massive failure.

Ask staff why this might have been so. This process provides a safe way for people to voice their fears. It also allows for leaders to identify issues before they happen.

At Inventium, one fear staff had was that collaboration and team bonding would decrease. As such, we decided that for our FDW, we would all take the same day off. We felt that if we took different days off, it may impede on our ability to meet as an entire business and lead to some people feeling disconnected.

Treat the four-day work week as an experiment

It’s easy to get analysis paralysis before implementing something as transformative as a FDW. The easiest way to get over this fear and take action is to treat it as an experiment.

Think about why you are doing it. For example, are you doing it to increase employee engagement or staff tenure, or to position your organisation as an employer of choice within your industry?

Once you are clear on your purpose, set hypotheses for what you hope the FDW experiment will achieve.

For example, you might hypothesise that doing a FDW will significantly improve employee engagement without affecting productivity.

Next, decide how you will test this hypothesis. For example, you might do a pre- and post- survey that measures engagement and productivity.

And of course, you’ll need to set a timeline for your experiment. Some companies have run experiments in as little as eight weeks. At Inventium, we ran it for a little under six months.

Finally, at the end of the experiment, see if your hypotheses were supported and whether the experiment was a success.

At this point, assuming it was a success, you could continue rolling out the FDW across other parts of the business to see if you get the same results.

Train people how to be more productive

You can’t expect people to suddenly be able to fit five days’ worth of work into four without helping them figure out how.

At Inventium, a large part of our business involves training our clients in how to work smarter, manage their time better, and ultimately, work much more productively. Given this, we were already a very productive team. But we knew we would have to double down on our already productive ways in order for the FDW to work.

At the start of the experiment, I ran a productivity training session to give the team 10 additional strategies to try to boost their productivity. By the end of the experiment, productivity had increased by 26%. 

If you are thinking of trying the FDW at your business, invest in productivity training so staff feel empowered to make changes to the way they approach their work in order to be able to fit five days into four.

Image by Joseph Mucira from Pixabay

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