Plenty of research shows that many employees aren't particularly productive. (And are a far cry from exceptionally productive.) One study showed the average office worker was productive for two hours and 53 minutes of each eight hour workday. The rest of the time they were checking news and social media, eating, socializing, taking smoke breaks and -- yep -- looking for another job.

Results like that make employees seem lazy.

But their employers also play a huge part. Think about all the time wasted going to useless meetings. Or creating reports no one reads. Or being forced to follow pointless rules and guidelines.

Yep: Employers share a major chunk of the responsibility for poor productivity.

So one entrepreneur decided to do something about it. 

Andrew Barnes, the founder of Perpetual Guardian, came up with the idea for a four-day workweek after reading the study noted above as well as another that shows distractions at work not only make employees less productive -- they also make people less happy.

Four-day workweeks aren't uncommon, but here's the twist. Perpetual Guardian doesn't ask employees to work four 10-hour days. Nor did it cut employee salaries.

Nope: Barnes ran a test where he paid employees for 40 hours... while only requiring them to work 32.

Employees were understandably thrilled. Researchers hired to assess the results said employees came back to work more energized and reported a marked improvement in work-life balance

The company was also thrilled. According to researchers, "Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn't leave early or take long breaks. Their actual job performance didn't change when doing it over four days instead of five." Plus, metrics used to measure team engagement rose by approximately 20 percent. 

Why? Employees say the change inspired them to find ways to increase their productivity during a shorter workweek. For example, meetings were cut from two hours to 30 minutes (when have you ever attended a 2-hour meeting and left feeling your time was well spent?) Employees set up signals to show they needed time to work without distraction.

All of which makes perfect sense. 

Deadlines and time frames establish parameters, but typically not in a good way. Give me two weeks to complete a task and I will instinctively adjust my effort so it actually takes two weeks -- regardless of how long it should take. Give the average person 40 hours to complete their work and it will take them 40 hours -- regardless of how long it should take.

But give people 32 hours to complete the same amount of work -- and provide an incentive for them to do so -- and they'll adjust their effort accordingly.

Just as life finds a way... so do people.

Tasks should only take as long as they need to take. The most productive people do things as quickly and effectively as they can -- then they use their "free" time to get other things done just as quickly and effectively.

Reducing the workweek from 5 days to 4 shifted the time/effort paradigm: Instead of allowing time to impose its will on them, Perpetual Guardian employees were inspired to impose their will on their time. 

Which your employees can also do -- if you let them.

Whenever possible, stop managing based on time. Manage by tasks. Manage by projects. Manage by deliverables. 

After all, it doesn't matter how many hours your employees work. What matters is how much work they get done. 

And, just as importantly, how they feel about their lives when they're not at work.

Published on: Jul 23, 2018