Game Changers: Thought leaders changing the way we work

What an exciting time to be alive! One word: innovation. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that the world is changing at a rapid pace. Unexpected environmental changes have made us adapt our social norms at lightning speed. Technological advancements are creating opportunities that we never dreamed could exist. People are sharing ideas across the globe, creating innovations every day. 

This series focuses on the innovators who have big ideas for changing the way we work. People who challenge tradition and push past what has been defined as the “norm.” Leaders who aren’t afraid to ask “what if?”

Those who dare to change the game.

“We want people to be the best they can in the office and the best at home.”

Is it true? Can we… can we have it all?

CEO Andrew Barnes loves to read on planes. In fact, sometimes it’s the only time he has available to catch up on his reading list. One day a statistic in an Economist article changed the way he viewed working forever. 

Brits are only productive 2.5 hours a day… and Canadians are only productive for 1.5 hours a day. 

This got Barnes thinking. If this is true, then maybe the way we’re working is all wrong.

The BIG Idea

A four-day work week (with five-day pay). 

Andrew Barnes took the idea of a four-day work week to his own company, a New Zealand-based company that manages wills, estates, and trusts, Perpetual Guardian. In 2018, Barnes implemented what he called the 100:80:100 rule–100% pay, 80%time, 100% productivity. And here is what happened.

After implementing the four-day workweek

Work/life balance improved

2017 Survey: 54%

Post-trial: 78%

Staff stress levels lowered

Pre-trial: 45%

Post-trial: 38%

Team engagement levels increased

2017 Survey

Leadership: 64%

Commitment: 68%

Stimulation: 66%

Empowerment: 68%

Post-Trial

Leadership: 82%

Commitment: 88%

Stimulation: 84%

Empowerment: 86%

Barnes found that job performance was maintained and also that people’s behaviors changed. Usage of the top five websites dropped by 35%. Turns out, employees looked at this day off as a gift, one that they didn’t want to lose.

Barnes saw this four day work week as an opportunity to change more than just the way we work. He argues that fewer days at work means there will be fewer cars on the road and also less time in the office. By cutting down on commute time, carbon emissions and electricity production go down, which could have a positive impact on the current climate crisis. He also believes this shift can help the issue of gender equality, because it would change the balance of child care responsibilities and give both parents more time at home.

“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion”

While this is a proverb (now known as Parkinson’s Law) coined by the twentieth-century British scholar C. Northcote Parkinson, it’s exactly what Barnes’s findings illustrate. 

Barnes makes a deal with employees. As long as the productivity stays the same, they only have to work four days a week and they’ll get paid as if they were working five. To make this happen, things did change a little bit around the office. In his 2019 TED talk, Barnes states that “if somebody keeps disturbing you at work, it’s the equivalent of a 10-point drop in your IQ or operating under the influence of marijuana.” 

With this in mind, lockers were made available so employees could voluntarily lock their phones in them during the workday, meeting spaces were soundproofed (and also shortened), and little flags were placed in pen cups if an employee didn’t want to be disturbed. Barnes also found that with the extra time away from the office, employees didn’t use in-office time as much to get their personal to-dos done–scheduling appointments, children’s playdates, etc.

A simple idea that went global

Barnes describes in his TED talk that what started out as a local news story on his company’s trial for the four day work week quickly went viral as his idea made it around the world to 37 countries. It was also covered in over 10,000 social media posts, 3,000 media articles, and now has a global audience that exceeds 4.2 billion people (and these stats were from 2019, pre-pandemic!). 

Andrew Barnes teamed up with Charlotte Lockhart to create 4 Day Week Global, a non-profit for “like-minded people who are interested in supporting the idea of the 4 day week as a part of the future of work.” They work with the Wellbeing Research Centre at The University of Oxford and Barnes Research Fellow, Laura Giurge, to analyze what the future of work will look like. Barnes also authored a book titled, The 4 Day Week: How the Flexible Work Revolution Can Increase Productivity, Profitability and Well-being, and Create a Sustainable Future.

On the 4 Day Week website, it says that “85% of U.S. adults already approve of moving to a four day week.” Maybe a four day work week will very soon be in our future?

A brief history of the five day work week over the past decade 

1890: American workers in manufacturing were working an average of 100 hour work weeks.

1926: Ford Motor Company becomes one of the first companies in America to adopt a five-day, 40-hour week for workers in its automotive factories (even though the Welsh textile mill owner and social reformer Robert Owen is credited as the first person to call for eight hour work days, stating “eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, and eight hours rest” in 1817).

1928: John Maynard Keynes wrote “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren”, an essay that made the argument that because of technological innovations and cultural changes, that in 100 years, his grandkids would only work 15 hour days.

1938: Congress passes the Fair Labor Standards Act, which limits the workweek to 44 hours, or 8.8 hours per day.

1940: Congress amends the Fair Labor Standards Act, further limiting the workweek to 40 hours. 

1965: Senate subcommittee predicted we would be working 14 hours a week by the year 2000

2021: In very recent news, Rep. Takano Introduces Legislation to Reduce the Standard Workweek to 32 Hours 

Allie Demopoulos is a Content Copywriter at Surprise.com. A writer and producer, she believes that humor is the greatest tool and that the best of anything–comedy, music, stories–are experienced in basements. When she’s not creating, you can find her in the electric streets of Manhattan, a place she feels lucky to call home.