Make a five-day work week feel like four with these productivity-boosting tips

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  • A shorter work week has many benefits, including increased employee happiness, more productivity, and higher company profits.
  • However, very few countries worldwide apply this model, and it may be tricky to implement in SA.
  • Still, there are ways you can get the feel of it by adopting some strategies in your work life.

Gone are the days when people lived for work. Now, most people want a harmonious work-life balance - and a four-day work week model may slowly get us there.

The model is being tested across some developed economies. In the UK, a new pilot study that kicked off in January, and wrapped up an eight-week test run, found that employees felt happier, healthier, and more successful in their jobs when working four days per week.

READ MORE | We’re all exhausted but are you experiencing burnout? Here’s what to look out for

Speaking to Fox News, professional life coach Kendra Davies says that the concept has become even more prominent after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“From the studies I’ve seen, even in Iceland, Japan, and Spain - they didn't do four 10-hour days. They just let people work four days and paid them for five. That’s how the studies are actually set. And amazingly, we are more productive, we are happier, and we have this increased sense of wellbeing,” she says.

Positive results for companies, too

The UK pilot programme involves more than 60 British companies, and 3 300 workers, and will last six months. Industries taking part in the study range from marketing to tech and food production.

Would you prefer a four-day work week? Tell us why here

One of the companies, Girling Jones, a construction-recruitment firm, told Business Insider that it positively impacted company profits as well: a 29% increase in profits, after taxes, to be precise.

READ MORE | Pandemic propels workers closer to four-day week

"A hundred years ago, we moved from working six-day weeks to five," its website reads. "And we're overdue for an update."

Brianne Kimmel, founder of WorkLife, told Entrepreneur magazine that if the four-day work week proves to be a successful experiment, which she believes will happen, then companies will need to embrace this working style if they want to stay competitive in today's brutally competitive job market.

The pandemic put things into perspective

Davies, who has more than 13 years of experience in HR and training and development for organisations like Deloitte, said that it’s becoming more apparent that people don’t have a work-life balance.

“The pandemic really put things into perspective… Having the autonomy to do my work and having my organisation trust me to accomplish the tasks that need to be done is life-changing really when you think about it,” she says.

Law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr (CDH) notes that if there’s one thing that can be learned from the pandemic, it’s that “many employees can work from anywhere, and the ‘normal’ 9 to 5 is no longer palatable to the upcoming workforce.”

Unfortunately, very few countries are experimenting with or embracing a four-day work week. CDH also adds that, given that South Africa is highly regulated in respect of its labour and employment laws, it may not be as easy an exercise to implement compared to other countries.

Still, while we may not be there yet, there are certain steps we can take to get the feel of a four-day work week, says Davies.

Shifting your focus

“The overwhelming response from the studies is about wellbeing and productivity, and I think that if you are [working] Monday to Friday, 9-to- 5, then shifting your focus back onto your own wellbeing, productivity and quality of work is what [you] need to do,” says Davies.

READ MORE | ‘It’s a no for me,’ say workers as employees ask them to come back to offices after months of WFH

For example, if your work days often consist of back-to-back meetings and your days feel like a constant rat race, Davies suggests prioritising breaks so that you have a 15-minute buffer in between meetings.

“This allows you to get grounded, process the information from the previous meeting, and really be present for the next. So when 5 o'clock hits, you’re not completely [exhausted] and don’t want to be with your kids, or feel you need to have alone time,” she says.

Other suggestions worth pursuing

While working a four-day week with no pay cut might seem like a pipe dream for now, here are some other tips you can follow which can have a noticeable impact on your wellbeing:

  • Avoid checking emails all day long: this is especially important if doing so incessantly is causing you pointless stress, says life coach Melanie Allen.
  • Are you an overachiever? It’s time to let go of perfectionism: it can become destructive, cautions executive coach Marilyn Puder-York, author of The Office Survival Guide.
  • Prioritise productive tasks: try not to get caught up in activities that have no significant benefit and are time-consuming, such as unstructured meetings, as explained by US academic Matt Might in his work-life balance blog.
  • Draw boundaries: Be comfortable with saying “no”, but share the reasoning behind your decision.

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