A first-of-its-kind four-day work week experiment in New Zealand has come to an end after two months, but the trial went so well the company actually wants to make the changes permanent.
While lots of research has shown the numerous benefits a reduced work week can provide to employees, what’s remarkable about this trial is the workers at trusts firm Perpetual Guardian only had to work four days a week, but got paid for five.
From a traditional management and operations perspective, those numbers might sound a little crazy, but for the company’s founder Andrew Barnes the risky gambit actually paid off.
Over eight weeks in March and April, the company gave each of its 240 employees one day each week at full pay, with a view to seeing how the change impacted the business.
Independent surveys commissioned from researchers at the University of Auckland and the Auckland University of Technology indicated staff stress levels during the trial went down from 45 percent to 38 percent, while work-life balance improved from 54 percent to 78 percent.
Of course, those kinds of results are somewhat predictable if staff are going to be paid a full-time salary yet only expected to turn up a part of the time – but what was more surprising were the negative impacts on productivity: there weren’t any.
“Our leadership team reported that there was broadly no change in company outputs pre and during the trial,” Barnes explained in a press statement.
“They perceived no reduction in job performance and the survey data showed a marginal increase across most teams.”
In effect, during the course of the trial, full-time job performance across the company was maintained in a four-day work week, while respondents reported significant increases in engagement levels across areas such as leadership, commitment, stimulation, and empowerment.
“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,” Barnes explained to the New Zealand Herald.
Because of this win-win effect, the founder and CEO says he’s now trying to make the four-day structure a permanent part of the company ongoing, beyond the end of the two-month trial; he is recommending the change be adopted by the company’s board.
“We’re paying for productivity,” Barnes said.
“We’re making a clear distinction here between the amount of hours you spend in the office and what we get out of that.”
Of course, it remains to be seen whether the impressive outcomes of the trial can be maintained if Perpetual Guardian indeed makes the four-day week a permanent change in its business.
But there’s no doubt the benefits are many and varied for workers if they don’t have to spend so much of their week slogging away at work.
Previous research has shown working full-time can be bad for your brain and mental health, and other analyses have also borne out that productivity suffers when employees have to work too much.
Because of that, many say we could enjoy a better standard of life with a four-day work week – or a reduced-hours workday – because the less time we spend on the job, the less likely we are to suffer serious physical harm.
One thing is for sure: Barnes has zero regrets about seeing what a four-day week looks like.
“It was just a theory, something I thought I wanted to try because I wanted to create a better environment for my team,” he told CNN.
“What happens is you get a motivated, energised, stimulated, loyal work force. I have ended up with statistics that indicate my staff are fiercely proud of the company they work for because it gives a damn.”
Two independent reports on the experiment, commissioned privately by Perpetual Guardian, are available here and here.