The argument for a 4-day work week

In March this year, New Zealand trustee company, Perpetual Guardian, announced their intentions to embark on an unprecedented productivity trial. Their approach: a 4-day work week for over 200 of their staff. While the 4-day work week isn’t a new concept, employees who are offered this benefit elsewhere generally earn 75% of their salary. What made Perpetual Guardian’s trial different, is that there would be no change in remuneration or any other employment conditions.

For the six-week trial, staff would work 32 hours instead of the standard 40. It aimed to determine whether employee output was impacted at all by a shortened week, and the overall goal was for the company to take steps toward increasing not just productivity, but happiness on the job.

Six weeks later, what were the results?

Recently released results from Perpetual Guardian claim that productivity increased by 20%, with staff more engaged and enthusiastic about their work.

While some employees did struggle to manage within time constraints, others noted an improved work-life balance. Staff were free to spend their extra day off as they pleased - some choosing to pick up a new activity or pursue education, spend time with their family, take care of appointments and chores or to pursue other personal interests.

With an additional day giving them space and time needed for this ‘life admin’, weekends were able to be dedicated to family and relaxation. This reduced feelings of stress, and left employees better equipped to tackle the work week ahead.

While permanent implementation is yet to be approved by the board, based on these firsthand results, Perpetual Guardian managing director Andrew Barnes is now advocating that more NZ companies consider offering a 4-day work week.

 

The upside of a 4-day work week

If more businesses were to implement similar arrangements, a 4-day work week has the potential to address bigger issues - work/life balance, gender pay gap, and the health and mental wellbeing of employees, as well as reducing congestion and commute times.

There’s also potential for a positive social impact on communities. Christine Brotherton, Head of People and Capability at Perpetual Guardian, noted that many employees thought hard about how they can best use that additional day. What we could see is an increase in community support and engagement, with more time to commit to social-good causes, community outreach, and supporting family, both young and elderly.

 

And the flipside?

All this sounds pretty good, so where are the downfalls? As noted above, not all employees were successful in managing their workload into a shortened schedule. It’s likely companies would need to consider more support around time management, developing better work habits and resilience training or stress management.

There are also legal implications to consider, as employment law isn’t necessarily prepared to cater to a different working arrangement, particularly around holiday pay. Beyond this, there are logistics around scheduling to consider. Not all businesses are set up to run an empty office on a Monday or Friday (as most employees elect for a long weekend) with operations that are required on a daily basis. That’s not to say it wouldn’t work for services or manufacturing businesses, but it could take some trial and error to find the right balance.

Concerns have been raised at the potential for businesses to cut down their workforce to the most efficient employees. After all, Perpetual Guardian’s trial demonstrates that staff are essentially working 20% less efficiently than they should be over five days, suggesting you could maintain a 5-day week but cut your number of employees.

 

Will it work for your workplace?

We’ve been conditioned to focus on time over productivity, but we’ve already seen a shift away from this mindset in a modern workplace. Flexible working arrangements is an increasingly common request, particularly in a connected work environment no longer dependent on location. However to remain competitive as an employer in the market, a four-day work week isn’t necessarily the only option.

Flexible working arrangements could include the option to work from home, flexible or changeable hours, working from satellite offices or a working from a remote location for a period of time. Holding on to good staff who want to travel, live outside of main centres or work around other commitments does require some leniency from employers. Progressive firms have already seen that this doesn’t have to impede productivity or company culture. In fact, they’re more likely to see an increase in loyalty, staff retention and engagement.

 

Creating a connected company

Creating an environment that supports and encourages flexible arrangements for better work/life balance does require some consideration. An increase in cloud software has made it a far more accessible shift, but still requires investment in the right technology and systems that consider employee access but also data security.

It’s also necessary to establish clear processes and expectations around communication, output and delivery. This is where technology is helping to bridge barriers that once existed. Video calls, collaboration and workflow platforms, and communication systems such as Slack easily connect teams in real time from wherever they have an internet connection while allowing remote workers to sense and contribute to company culture. If you’re thinking about implementing these new systems, it’s a good idea to also consider how they integrate with other platforms or existing processes for seamless workflow.


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