In 2018, Andrew Barnes, CEO of Perpetual Guardian rigorously tested the relationship between time and productivity in the workplace with the support of leading academics from New Zealand and the UK. The results were so compelling that nations and organizations all over the world are now piloting and implementing the 4-day week or a version thereof. We’ve already seen a handful of UAE-based businesses do their own trials with positive results. So, can we expect the 4-day week to become a common or even standard feature of the UAE’s economy?
Barnes’ 4-day week model works on the simple principle that organizations should make productivity rather than time the thing that they exchange for salary and benefits. The model is not strictly about a 4-day week per se, but about a significant reduction in working hours in an effort to increase productivity, whilst simultaneously improving the wellbeing of employees, their families, and local communities.
In Barnes’ pilot, he made an agreement with his employees that he would pay 100% of salaries and benefits, in return for the gift of an 80% time commitment if his employees were able to sustain 100% of pre-pilot productivity levels. Seems fair! What happened in practice, was that when working hours were reduced to 80%, productivity increased by 20% alongside several additional gains such as, profitability, commitment, communication, team cohesion, focus, and time management. The results blew predictions out of the water. Barnes was on to something.
The key to appreciating why a reduction in working hours is such a powerful driver of organizational performance is understanding that everything employees do, both inside and outside of their work activities, impacts their ability to reach their potential in their job role. As we become more cognizant of which activities, behaviors, and habits add value and which detract value, it becomes increasingly obvious that as leaders we need to find ways that enable employees to do more of the former and less of the latter.
The anchor of high-performance is circa 8-hours of sleep, every 24 hours. That leaves 16-hours of wakefulness in which to fit in everything else. This becomes an impossible task if an individual is required to utilize 10 or more of those hours in work and/or commuting. When time is short, individuals are forced to reduce their investment in factors that are critical to reaching their potential. This is an entirely false economy for employees and their employers because whilst time commitment may be high, productivity and value-add become increasingly compromised, and many of those hours become wasted or worse, damaging for both parties. This is the status-quo for many individuals and businesses, and we simply don’t realize what untapped potential is hiding just below the surface.
Some have argued that the 4-day week only works for office-based employees, but again the Barnes’ model found this hypothesis to be false. For those service roles such as F&B, hospitality, and customer service which are so important to the local economy, a reduction in hours ‘on duty’ would necessitate an increase in overall headcount to continue to provide the same levels of service. However, that up-front cost will be significantly mitigated by the immediate impact of reduced absenteeism, sick leave, and staff turnover. Furthermore, additional commercial benefits, such as increased time-efficiencies, innovation, improved service standards, and an increase in customer loyalty would far outweigh the comparatively small increase in staffing costs.
Just as the 40-hour week became the law for many nations in the late-1930’s, sooner or later, I forecast that the 32-hour week will become written in law too. This is because, if the case for organizations wasn’t compelling enough, there is also much to be gained by governments too. They can expect to yield a reduction in public health costs, road-traffic accidents, crime, and pollution as well as an increase in family cohesion, job creation, and an uplift in their ability to attract and retain talent. It is also expected to stimulate a ‘third day of spending’ in our economies, especially in the entertainment, social, and culture sectors.
In recent years, the UAE has launched its Happiness Agenda, followed recently by the Principles of the 50 of which the 4th principle is ‘The main future driver for growth is Human Capital’ and the 5th principle is ‘Good neighborliness is the basis of stability.’ Moreover, back in March 2021, Dubai launched its 2040 Master Plan which aims to make Dubai the world’s best city to live in, followed this past week (Nov 2021) with the announcement of significant changes to labor law due to come into practice in Feb 2022. The message is loud and clear, the UAE understands its future is people, and it is making all the necessary moves to empower those people to support the strengthening of the Union, the Economy, and the position of the UAE on the World’s stage. The 32-hour week, with all its proven people, planet, and economic advantages, has the potential to be a powerful enabler and accelerator of this and as such, will no doubt be a serious consideration.
The doubts expressed by some that regional cultural ‘norms’ will prevent the UAE from ever adopting and thus benefitting from a reduced hours model are misguided. Equally, those who advocate for a government subsidy or reduced pay in exchange for reduced hours are missing the point and will fail to yield the benefits of the change. Smart employers (and countries) will embrace the shift from a focus on time to a focus on output and will be better positioned to attract, retain, promote, and optimize the best talent.
There are already signs of an international ‘wellbeing-race’ emerging and private and public organizations are going to be expected and later required to play a part in positively contributing to that. The 4-day/32-hour week provides an opportunity for governments to feed many birds with one scone. For that reason, I have no doubt that it is here to stay. How long it takes to be adopted en masse is a matter of will, innovation, and availability of data.
About the Author
Bobbi is the Co-Founder and CWO at WellWise – Workplace Wellbeing Optimizers.
Bobbi is a social scientist with a deep commitment to accelerating our global understanding of how human society can and should function better. Bobbi seamlessly blends her passion for leadership and wellbeing with her determination to ensure work, workers, and workplaces are simultaneously healthy, happy, and high performing.
- Andrew Barnes with Stephanie Jones – The 4-day week
- Leigh Stringer – The Healthy Workplace
- Stephen P Macgregor and Rory Simpson – Chief Wellbeing Officer