Employees are more satisfied with their jobs, less likely to experience burnout, and less likely to take sick and personal days if they are allowed to work 4-day weeks, according to the newly released results of a 6-month pilot program that included 19 ANZ region companies.

Participants in the pilot – the third of its kind in the world to be organised by 4-Day Week Global and academic partner Boston College – spent two months preparing pilot programs that collectively involved 758 people and ran for the second half of 2022.

During the pilot programs – predicated on the idea that workers can do 100 per cent of the work of full-time workers in the space of four days – most companies gave each department a different day off per week, or rotated which day was off every month.

Fully 88 per cent of employees got one full additional day off per week, with 36 per cent of employees getting Fridays or mostly Fridays off.

The program – which grew out of a 2018 experiment conducted within New Zealand estate planning firm Perpetual Guardian – also included support initiatives such as training through virtual events, digital resources and workshops; mentoring from 4-day week business leaders and experts; and networking with other pilot companies.

“This was driven off of research indicating that people are often truly productive, as opposed to being busy, for no more than 3 hours per day,” 4 Day Week Global cofounder Andrew Barnes explained.

“The concept was to engage with employees and see how they could do things differently through a combination of process, procedure, and attitude.”

Some 547 people completed both baseline and endpoint surveys, with the final analysis showing they scored the 4-day work week high for impact, productivity, and performance.

Participants recorded a 44.3 per cent decline in the number of sick and personal days taken per employee each month, while participating companies saw resignation rates drop by 8.6 per cent.

Fully 64 per cent of employees reported reductions in burnout, with 38 per cent feeling less stress, 49 per cent reporting a decline in negative emotions, and a third reporting being less anxious.

“When you change the discussion away from time to output,” Barnes said, “it enables you to have a totally different view as to how you pay and reward people.”

A better proposition for employees

Four-day weeks have become a carrot for employers seeking to attract and retain over-stressed and self-focused employees – particularly Gen Z workers who are prioritising well-being and self development when choosing new jobs.

Offering a 4-day week “enabled [employers] to attract and retain better staff, especially in industries where the employment market is running a little bit hot,” said Barnes. “This was a key differentiator because the Millennial generation, especially, are looking for businesses where there is meaning and where they can have true engagement.”

Shorter weeks improved overall sentiment about working, driving what co-founder Charlotte Lockhart called a “delicious circle of happiness” in which 62 per cent of employees felt more positive about their work, and 54 per reported increased productivity.

“People don’t burn out and they don’t bring their negative emotions to work,” Lockhart said. “They bring their positive emotions. It’s just wonderful.”

Participants exercised more frequently and longer, were less fatigued and had fewer sleep problems – driving a reduction in work-to-family conflict for half of participants – while male participants reported doing more housework and increasing their share of childcare.

“Working a four-day week means I’m much more focused on my family, my health, and my life in general,” one participant reported. “I take that gratitude and calm into my office and it helps me make better decisions.”

As well as improving individuals’ experience of their jobs, team-building and cohesion scores increased by 40 per cent.

An organisation “has to rethink how it works when there are always people out of the organisation on a regular basis,” Barnes explained. “You can’t just say ‘Andrew is out of the office today so we’ll wait until he gets back’, because he will be out of the office next week and the week after – so we found much more cross-training, much more ability to have teams work interoperably.”

Ultimately, 96 per cent of employees said they wanted to continue working on a 4-day roster – an outlook shared by their employers, all but one of which followed overseas peers and domestic leaders like Unilever and the Victorian Government by indicating that they intend to continue the 4-day week.

“It appears that employees value the time they get off more than the amount of money that you would pay them to work those hours,” Barnes said. “They will do everything possible to ensure that productivity and customer service remain at appropriate levels, so that the four-day week program can continue.”

Pilot programs are running this year in South Africa, Brazil, Portugal, the US, and EU, and the firm is currently recruiting more companies to trial the 4-day work week – with applicants accepted through July and the next round of pilot programs due in October.