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Forget the 5-day work week—just 4 days results in 'a healthier, more loyal, more engaged staff'

Michelle Fox

If you want a more productive employee, give them a paid day off from work every week.  

That's the philosophy of Andrew Barnes, founder of the New Zealand company Perpetual Garden. He tried the experiment last year, and the results made both Barnes and his employees happy. Now his workers enjoy a permanent four-day work week.

"This is all about working smarter, not working longer," said Barnes, whose firm manages wills, trusts and estates.

"We have this perception that you've got to work five days a week, 9-5. What we are really talking about is changing how people are behaving when they are at the office," he recently told CNBC's "The Exchange."

In other words, less goofing off and more focusing on work. The idea is that employees give the company 100% productivity. They still get 100% of their salary, but only work 80% of the standard hours.

It's a success because employees get the perk — and they concentrate more consistently on work during that time than their 9-5 counterparts do, suggests Barns.

Several studies back him up. According to a U.K. study done in 2017 by deals site Vouchercloud, the average employee spends two hours and 53 minutes each day working productively.

Separately, a 2018 survey by the Workforce Institute at Kronos found that more than half of full-time workers thought they could do their job in five hours a day if they didn't have any interruptions. It polled 3,000 employees across eight nations.

Barnes is hoping other employers learn from his experience. He recently wrote a report that laid out his results and includes recommendations for how to implement a similar program.

However, he said many companies are "scared" to take the chance because they've been so conditioned about a five-day work week.

"What we're saying is that if you engage with your staff, if you give them the opportunity to come up with ideas, if you say to them, 'look, if you do things differently we will gift you this day off a week,' what they do is they change how they behave at work," he said.

"That improves the productivity and that delivers that much higher output, but at the same time gives you all the benefits of work-life balance, [and] a healthier, more loyal, more engaged staff," he added.

Barnes is not alone in recognizing the benefits of a shorter work week. Last year, the Berlin-based project management company Planio introduced a 4-day work week for its small staff. The ad agency Grey New York, owned by WPP, also launched a program last year that allowed staff to work a four-day week for 85% of their full-time salary.

—Reuters contributed to this report.

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