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Suppose your boss offered you this - a full week's pay working only four days a week, on one condition - that you get a full week of work done in that compressed amount of time. A growing number of companies are doing just that and liking the results, so much so the four-day week has gone from niche workplace concept to a growing global trend. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports now even American employers are eyeing it.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Shake Shack ran an experiment a year and a half ago. Managers at some stores would only work four days a week. The burger chain's president, Tara Comonte, says staff loved it.
TARA COMONTE: Being able to take their kids to school, you know, a day a week or, you know, one day less of having to pay for daycare, for example.
NOGUCHI: Recruitment spiked when word spread. The company recently expanded its trial to a third of its 164 stores. That forced Shake Shack to find time savings elsewhere, like using computers to track supplies of ground beef, for example.
COMONTE: It was a way to increase flexibility. You know, corporate environments have had flexible work policies for a while now. That's not so easy to do in the restaurant business.
NOGUCHI: Working four days a week might sound crazy, especially with phones and email reminding us of our jobs 24/7. But in some places, the four-day concept is taking off like a viral meme. Many employers aren't just moving to 10-hour shifts four days a week as Shake Shack did. They're going to a 32-hour week without cutting pay.
Last month, a Washington state senator introduced a bill to shorten the workweek. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev did the same. Britain and Finland are considering similar moves. Last summer, Microsoft's trial in Japan led to a surprising bump in sales and a decrease in electricity bills. Much of this is thanks to Andrew Barnes from New Zealand. He never intended to become a global evangelist.
ANDREW BARNES: This was not a journey I expected to be on.
NOGUCHI: Barnes is CEO of Perpetual Guardian, an estate planning company. He used to believe long hours were good for business. But he also understood the toll they took on employees and their families, especially on mental health. So two years ago, he used Perpetual Guardian and its 240 workers as guinea pigs.
BARNES: Core to this is that people are not productive for every hour, every minute of the day that they're in the office.
NOGUCHI: So Barnes cut distractions. The biggest target - meetings. Fewer and shorter meetings saved a huge amount of time. So did curtailing office chitchat. He monitored social media use, got rid of open-floor offices. All this, Barnes says, made it easier to focus deeper on the work.
Remarkably, employees got more work done logging fewer hours. Sales and profits grew. Employees commuted less and were happier. The company didn't police how workers spent their time, but if performance slipped, the company could revert back to the full-week schedule. Barnes says that alone motivated workers. Perpetual Guardian's story went viral, and things went haywire for Barnes.
BARNES: Frankly, I couldn't drink enough coffee to deal with the number of companies that approached us.
NOGUCHI: Demand was so great, Barnes set up a foundation to promote the four-day workweek. Ironically, he's been working a lot of overtime.
BARNES: You only get one chance to change the world. And it's my responsibility, at least on this one, to see if I can influence the world for the better.
NOGUCHI: To date, most of that interest has not come from American companies, and, indeed, the four-day week doesn't work everywhere. Natalie Nagele's heard from other leaders who say it didn't work for them. She says it fails when employees aren't motivated and where managers don't trust employees. Nagele is co-founder and CEO of Wildbit, a Philadelphia software company that moved to a four-day week three years ago. She says it's been a success.
NATALIE NAGELE: We had shipped more features than we had in recent years. We felt more productive. The quality of our work increased. So then we just kept going with it.
NOGUCHI: Personally, she says, it gives her time to rest her brain, which helps solve complex problems.
NAGELE: You can ask my team. There's multiple times where somebody's like, on Sunday morning, I woke up, and I was like, I figured it out.
NOGUCHI: It's been about a month since Michael Parlo (ph) started working a four-day week. It was a perk of his new job as a budget analyst in Westminster, Colo. He works 10 hours Monday through Thursday - or, as he puts it, until the job is done. He says he much prefers the new way.
MICHAEL PARLO: Because it is about, like, getting your work done more so than feeding the clock.
NOGUCHI: That frees Fridays up for life's many delightful tours, like talking to an NPR reporter or visits to the DMV.
PARLO: For instance, today we're going to go and get our license plates.
NOGUCHI: But that also frees up the weekends for, you know, the weekend. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
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