The View From Here – A New Zealand company finds success in 4-day workweek experiment

Tom Henihan

The idea of a four-day workweek has been talked about for many years but neither society, business or industry has ever fully embraced the concept. However, I can’t see any employee rejecting a four-day on three-day off work-life balance with plenty of time for family, recreation and so on.

Of course, there is always a utopian air to things that seem ideal, as if a good balance between life and work is a dream and work should always consume more of one’s time.

There was a time when a six-day workweek was considered an immutable necessity and I am sure for a time the idea that society and the economy could function on a five-day workweek was also considered merely fanciful.

With all our automated efficiencies, electronic streamlining and more informal work environments it seems remarkable that the four-day workweek is still an elusive daydream.

However, a New Zealand trust company with 240 employees put the four-day workweek to the test through March and April of this year.

At the end of the two month trial the company Perpetual Guardian deemed the experiment an “unqualified success.”

The trial was not just a random experiment where the employees and employer offered their anecdotal take on the experiment but was studied academically from both a subjective, qualitative perspective and from a more quantifiable standpoint.

Researchers at the University of Auckland and the Auckland University of Technology monitored employees stress levels and witnessed them go down from 45 percent to 38 percent, while work-life balance improved from 54 percent to 78 percent.

Interestingly, employees had input in how the four-day week would be managed and streamlined a number of processes to maintain the same level of productivity as with a five-day week.

The employees continued to be paid for a full week’s work while only working four days but due to greater commitment among the staff there was no decline in productivity.

Through the duration of the trial with a four-day workweek regimen, every department and individual function within the company operated to the same capacity as it did with a five-day week, with notable improvements in engagement, commitment and leadership.

Perpetual Guardian CEO Andrew Barnes told the New Zealand Herald, “What we’ve seen is a massive increase in engagement and staff satisfaction about the work they do, a massive increase in staff intention to continue to work with the company and we’ve seen no drop in productivity.”

I can certainly envisage a four-day week being effective but with particular industries such as manufacturing, construction, hospitality and other frontline occupations it would be unrealistic to assume that the same productivity could be maintained and the same pay expected if the people in those industries worked a four-day week.

It would be interesting also to see if Perpetual Guardian employees could maintain the same commitment and productivity over the long term.

And that question is likely to be answered as Barnes is recommending to the company board that the four-day workweek be adopted, and he points out that it is for productivity not just attendance that the company pays its employees.

 

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