Corporate experiments, on the other hand, have yielded clearer — and often more positive — results.
Last year, for example, a New Zealand estate planning advisory firm with about 240 employees earned headlines around the world after finding that a trial four-day week had boosted performance. The two-month experiment was so successful that the business, Perpetual Guardian, made the change permanent.
“You’re not just getting the same productivity, you’re getting higher productivity,” the company’s owner, Andrew Barnes, said.
Mr. Barnes was so convinced by the lessons of the experiment that he and a colleague, Charlotte Lockhart, launched a nonprofit this year to encourage businesses around the world to adopt a shorter week.
‘Work is changing’
Elusive as it may seem, there may still be hope for the four-day workweek.
Historically, experiments with the idea have tended to focus on its effects on employee happiness and work-life balance. But the Perpetual Guardian trial last year and the test conducted by Microsoft Japan this year focused on a benefit that might motivate employers: productivity.
“It is making it safer for chief executives, for boards, for companies around the world to say, ‘Well, actually, I’m not just doing this because it is a good thing for my employees, I can also do this because it is good for business,’” Mr. Barnes said.
At the same time, there’s a widespread desire among employees to work shorter weeks.
About two-thirds of workers favor a compressed workweek, according to recent surveys by the staffing firm Robert Half and the public radio program Marketplace. And a poll conducted last year by The Workforce Institute, a think tank at Kronos, a maker of work force management software, found that 34 percent of global workers wanted a four-day workweek compared to 28 percent who were happy with a five-day one. (Some unions have pushed for shorter weeks, too.)
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