Tech giants and company founders who expect staff to work 12-hour days hold "backward" and "outdated" views on productivity, four-day-week advocate Andrew Barnes says.

Barnes, who founded Perpetual Guardian and successfully implemented a four-day working week for his workforce last year, says productivity increases, staff are happier and there are flow-on benefits for society and companies when staff work fewer hours - contrary to the traditional view of big business.

READ MORE:Elon Musk and Jack Ma's work mantra shocks

Tech founder Elon Musk and China's second-richest man Jack Ma, who founded one of the largest internet companies in the world, Alibaba, have come under fire in recent weeks for their views on excessive work hours among employees.

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Ma recently endorsed a 12-hour work day, calling it a "huge blessing" for young workers. He believes in the "996 movement" sweeping China - a concept that champions workers committing to a 9am-9pm workday, six days a week.

If you thought that was excessive, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has suggested people work between 80 and 100 hours per week if they want to "change the world".

But Barnes said views like this only hinder productivity and result in employee burn-out in the long run.

Heavyweight, high-earning company founders and executives with incentives to work outside the prescribed eight-hour workday could survive on three hours sleep per night but most workers could not, he said.

"All the evidence suggests this approach does not lead to productivity. If you're sitting at the top of a tree with a very traditional view of the world, and you yourself have made it to the top of the tree working those hours because you can, then that's fine but it doesn't mean that your workers can either do it the way you did it, nor do they necessarily have the incentives to," he said.

"I think it's a very backward view that both gentlemen hold."

American employment legislation is less stringent compared to New Zealand's and does not have the worker protection in place, Barnes said.

He said some countries, such as Japan, and many multinational organisations, still believed excessive work hours were needed for success.

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"Long hours don't work. Secondly, we know what happens is that then translates into big issues with regard to employee health and wellbeing."

It's a common scenario; you start your career, conditioned to think that the harder and longer hours that you work the more successful you as an employee, as well as the company, will be and that's how you can get a promotion. But Barnes believes this is an old-fashion culture rolled out at a time where there was no evidence of the impact long hours of work had on an individual or any valuation of productivity.

Perpetual Guardian founder Andrew Barnes says a four-day week increases productivity. Photo / File
Perpetual Guardian founder Andrew Barnes says a four-day week increases productivity. Photo / File

"The world has changed ... people are switched on all the time with [emails] and social media, and there has been a fundamental shift between the way society used to be structured."

New Zealand companies and those around Europe stretching as far as Slovenia were waking up to the realities of productivity in the workplace, and how that ties in with today's world with people becoming increasingly busier, he said.

Moving to a four-day week was gathering momentum among businesses but there had not yet been a similar commitment from a major multinational group.

A four-day week could have benefits for environmental causes, individual health and wellbeing and for economic gross domestic product, Barnes said.

"Society cannot go on the way it is going on at the moment with a very rigid 19th-century construct of work."