The Four-Day Work Week and the Future of Work

four day work week

In the 19th century, we worked 100 hours a week over the course of six to six-and-a-half days. In the 20th century, that work week shifted to 40 hours over five days – but today, 77% of Americans work more than 40-hours a week – and that’s a pre-pandemic statistic. At the time of this episode's recording, legislation calling for a reduction in standard workweek hours (from 40 hours a week to 32) has been introduced to Congress, but whether that bill gains traction is anyone’s guess. Joining ProjectHR host Jennifer Orechwa today is Andrew Barnes, the Founder of Perpetual Guardian and Architect for 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit community designed to provide a platform for those interested in supporting the idea of the four day week as a part of the future of work. He is also the author of The 4 Day Week: How the flexible work revolution can increase productivity, profitability and wellbeing, and help create a sustainable future. Here, he explains:

  • Why overworking was "the pandemic before the pandemic";
  • The story of how his company went to a four day week, and what was learned from it;
  • How the 100-80-100 Rule can unlock your team's productivity; and
  • How to pitch a four day work week to your organization!

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Overworking is Unsustainable

  • There is the long-held notion that working more hours demonstrates a greater commitment to working and great financial payoff, however that is not always the case.
  • People farther down on the totem pole face the greatest challenges, working up to 90 hours a week, reaping less of the financial rewards than high level management.
  • Mr. Barnes referred to overworking as “the pandemic before the [COVID-19] pandemic”, and sought to address it by experimenting with his own workforce.


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An Experiment in Productivity

  • In 2018, Mr. Barnes adopted a new policy to introduce a four day work week at his company, Perpetual Guardian. This productivity experiment implemented a 100-80-100 Rule, allowing employees to maintain 100% of pay while working 80% of the time, while maintaining the same productivity levels experienced during a five-day work week.
    • The experiment went very well. Their engagement scores, which measure employees’ enrichment and enthusiasm, rose by 40% and stress levels dropped overall. His team also noticed that overall productivity increased by 25% during the four day work week.
  • When the experiment was over, the company returned to a five-day work week to adjust the practices to make it an even better system for its employees where they can do what best fits their schedule and productivity. The four day plan was reimplemented, with a few “tweaks”, and continues to this day.
  • Adopting a four day work week has not only benefited employee efficiency in the workplace, but it’s also created a more manageable work-life balance for employees, one they were lacking before.

Productivity and the Four Day Work Week

  • Typically, we don’t measure the actual productivity of our teams – we measure time, and use that as a surrogate, which assumes that all time worked is productive time, which is not the case at all.
    • Statistically, we get interrupted once every 11 minutes in an open plan office, an interruption that takes the average worker 22 minutes to recover from and get back to full productivity. 
    • According to The Economist article that inspired this experiment, British workers were only productive for 2.5 hours in any given work day, and Canadians were only productive for 1.5 hours.
    • With a four day work week, workers exchange their unproductive time on the job for more time away from work!
  • At Perpetual Guardian, they saw an increase in productivity with the 100-80-100 Rule in place, making a four day work week 125% as effective as a five-day week.
    • Other companies, including those in other countries, have been able to improve overall productivity between 25-50% on average.
  • Of course, what works for some companies might not work for everyone, but even for those that can’t shift to a four day work week, it should be noted that creating flexibility in the workplace, however you can create it, is critical for productivity.

Challenges to Four Day Work Week Implementation

  • For Mr. Barnes, legislation was a challenge.
    • An existing law in Mr. Barnes’ country, New Zealand, defined a specific start and end time, which required a work around.
    • To get around this, the four day work week became an opt-in policy that sits on top of existing employment contracts. This opt-in policy is a promise of 100% productivity during a four-day week.
    • Countries may need to update their workplace legislation to be more flexible about the number of hours employees work to maintain their benefits.
  • Clients had to be educated on the four day work week, to address their concerns.
    • Some companies adopted staggered four day week models that keep offices open seven days a week, to remain accessible to clients even on the weekends. 
  • Selling the concept of a four day week requires proponents to “speak in the language of business” to demonstrate the model’s viability.

Birth of a Movement

  • In the wake of his experiment, Mr. Barnes and his wife, Charlotte Lockhart, created a new organization, 4 Day Week Global.
  • The goal or the movement is to educate others about the benefits of a four-day work week, to help others make the switch, and to lobby governments to encourage more flexible employment legislation. 
  • A white paper, titled The 4 Day Week Trial was published to guide other companies in changing their workflow to adopt a four-day work week or a similar model. 
  • A New York Times article discussing the four-day work week experiment became the second most read article for the NYT.
  • 98 countries have run the story about shifting to a four-day work week.

The Future is Four!

  • Adopting a four day work week, work-from-home days, or generally more flexible work hours, are not only better for personal health, but also for the health of the planet by reducing emissions.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has made companies more open to a more flexible work life. 
    • This has established a greater trust between the company and their employees and a new found power shift.
  • Four day work weeks have been proven to work beyond office-based jobs. 
    • Volkswagen, and many German companies operate on a four-day work week even within their manufacturing facilities. 
    • Other companies are adopting a four day work week to attract and attain the top talent and to remain on the cutting edge of the employment landscape.

Andrew Barnes Background


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