Meet the rich-lister globally advocating for a four-day working week

'Your biggest risk is whether your biggest competitor does it first'

Meet the rich-lister globally advocating for a four-day working week

A quiet moment spent contemplating the productivity within his own business culminated in rich-lister Andrew Barnes, founder of New Zealand's largest corporate trustee company, Perpetual Guardian, leading the charge for a radical HR change that is gaining global momentum.

4 Day Week Global is a not-for-profit organisation in which businesspeople, academics, and researchers collaborate to make their productivity-focused, flexible work model a reality. The initiative explores, implements, and researches whether a business can maintain 100 per cent of its productivity if its employees’ at-work time is 20 per cent less - i.e., a four-day week.

“It was not focused on work-life balance or anything of that nature, it was simply a question of how could I improve productivity in my business to make my business better,” Barnes said of the early thought process that led him to implement the four-day work week in his company in early 2018, long before the terms flexi-working or COVID were part of our daily vernacular.

Read more: Four-day week CEO: ‘At its heart, it's a conversation about productivity’

Barnes, an English New Zealand-based entrepreneur and philanthropist, read an article in The Economist that stated, on average, employees are productive only for three hours a day. He also knew that statistically people get interrupted once every 11 minutes in an office environment and it takes them 22 minutes to get back to full productivity. Barnes asked himself, if he could reduce the interruptions that happen in the workforce, would he get higher productivity?

“The idea behind the four-day week was, what can I give my employees as an incentive to focus on output? So, I thought, if they’re using their time more wisely, I’m going to give them time back,” said Barnes.

Thus, the 100:80:100 framework was born. One hundred percent of your pay packet, eighty percent of your time, in return for one hundred percent of your usual productivity.

Barnes walked into his office and declared to his HR and leadership teams that they were going to implement his four-day working week idea. “Of course, everybody hated the idea,” Barnes told HRD. “The hardest thing is to get your leadership team on the journey because they are all conditioned to think that working longer is working hard,” Barnes said.  

Read more: Spain set to trial four-day week to boost productivity

Perpetual Guardian did a month of planning and decided to trial the idea across all 240 of its employees for one year. The trial was a huge success, staff were happier, and productivity increased, so Barnes made the change permanent.

Fast-forward to today and Barnes has travelled the world advocating for, researching, and implementing the four-day week. He’s spoken in 99 countries on the topic and together with business partner Charlotte Lockhart, has launched 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit organisation with 15 staff that’s dedicated to mentoring businesses through the organisational shift.

Once a business has signed up to the pilot program, Boston College, U.S., partners with the Universities in Sydney and Melbourne in Australia, and the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, to walk businesses through every step of implementing the trial.

Businesses have access to mentors and other leaders that have experienced the programs as well as research from universities in every country that they run pilots in.

Twenty businesses across Australasia have signed up to the six-month pilot program which launches in New Zealand and Australia this June. Similar pilot projects have been running since January in Ireland, North America, and the UK, where a total of 125 businesses have signed up.

“Your biggest risk now, is not whether you try this or not, your biggest risk is whether your biggest competitor does it first,” warned Barnes.

Barnes said that there are some naysayers and leaders that are sceptical, but the idea actually isn’t a new one. Henry Ford successfully applied the same productivity model to his manufacturing business in 1926. Ford removed one day of work from his employees six-day schedules, finding that his workforce was more productive his success inspired other manufacturing companies to do the same and the 40-hour week was eventually mandated.

“All we’re trying to say is, have that discussion, be imaginative about how you might rethink your business. If you can’t reimagine how your business could work, what you’re actually saying is that the way we work today is the pinnacle of human achievement and there is no better way to do anything. Now, if that’s what your leaders are saying, get new leaders.”

Recent articles & video

Canada Day: HR's legal responsibilities to employees

How to build cultural pillars for a successful hybrid workforce

Fun Friday: New podcast teaches you how to be a better manager

Canadian employee loses home due to payroll problems

Most Read Articles

Arbitrator decides employer discriminated on basis of creed in denying request for vax exemption

Can HR fire an employee over their TikTok account?

Company must pay thousands after misleading worker on future employment