Shorter Workweeks Make Employees More Productive, Not Less, According To A New Study

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Between working Monday through Friday and getting the Sunday scaries —aka, spending all day Sunday dreading Monday — it might feel like you only get one day of down time a week. Another day off sure would be nice. As it turns out, shorter workweeks actually makes employees more productive, according to a new study reported by The New York Times.

The study, conducted by New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian, found that reducing the work week to four days gave employees a 24 percent increase in that coveted work-life balance, and employees returned to work more energized and ready to tackle tasks. What's more, while they were only working four days a week, employees were paid for five. And, despite losing eight hours of their work week, employees were actually more productive.

"Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks," Jarrod Haar, a human resources professor at Auckland University of Technology who worked on the study, said in the Times. "Their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five." This makes a lot of sense because it's no secret that well-rested employees have more energy to commit to their roles, which is exactly what happened at Perpetual Guardian.

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"Our leadership team reported that there was broadly no change in company outputs pre, and during, the trial," company founder Andrew Barnes said in a report from Auckland University of Technology. "They perceived no reduction in job performance, and the survey data showed a marginal increase across most teams." Despite evidence that shorter work weeks and telecommuting a few days a week makes for happier and more productive employees, some companies are still reluctant to embrace this new normal.

"[Managers] are afraid that if you work from home, their job managing the team might become less important. They don't understand that leadership is more important when people are working remotely — not less important," Liz Ryan, CEO/founder of Human Workplace and author of Reinvention Roadmap, said in her column on Forbes's website. "Companies mired in fear can't grow. They can't thrive, because their employees' energy is focused on keeping managers happy rather than in coming up with big, audacious ideas to delight customers."

Let's be honest here. If you work five days a week in an office, you likely spend a lot of time doing non-work-related things like scrolling through social media, shopping online, and gabbing with co-workers. You probably also waste a lot of time in meetings that could have been emails.

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During the Perpetual Guardian four-day workweek trial, employees reportedly spent less time performing these non-essential tasks, found ways to reduce meeting times, and actually spent more time working collaboratively, according to the study. One employee summed up the trial for their team. "Our experience was positive. Staff felt like giving more of themselves to their job." Another person said, "[The] trial has been amazing, everyone is working harder, and morale is definitely higher."

Only being staffed four days a week might be more difficult for companies that rely on round-the-clock coverage (ahem, like media). Though one way around this is staggering days off so someone is always working but everyone still gets three days out of the office. While it could be challenging to convince companies to adopt a four-day work week — because, fear of the unknown — the results of this study make a good case for letting employees work smarter, not harder. This could go a long way toward reducing the Sunday scaries and overall work-related stress and anxiety. Yes, please!