Would productivity really take a hit if employers moved from five to four day work weeks? According to the results from one such employer to test the assumption, no.
And now that employer wants more companies to follow its lead, offering a free tool kit on how to successfully transition to a four-day week.
Last year we reported on the trial by New Zealand firm Perpetual Guardian and its CEO Andrew Barnes who had, quite suddenly, offered his staff the option to trial a four-day work week, while still getting paid the same amount they were getting to work five (30 hours compared with 37.5 hours).
The video footage of him making the announcement is pretty special.
When embarking on the eight week trial in March 2018, Barnes invited academics in to monitor the result. He wanted to ensure that staff weren’t being overburdened by the shorter weeks nor feeling any additional stress.
At the time they found the stress levers they measured were lowered from 45 per cent to 38 per cent following the trial and there was no drop in output recorded. They found an increase in team engagement levels across leadership, empowerment, stimulation and commitment to the company.
And so on the 1st November 2018, the company initiated the four-day week on a long-term, opt-in basis — and a few months later the four-day week is just part of life at Perpetual Guardian. As Barnes told New Zealand’s The AM Show, “Our productivity has gone up, our profits have gone up, our staff retention has improved, our stress levels have dropped.”
This week, Perpetual has released a comprehensive white paper into the trial and on how to implement a four-day work week in order to try and encourage more companies to pursue the strategy. Barnes said they are sharing the information to try and encourage others to “give it ago” saying it’s “important” to do so for the sake of New Zealand, especially with so many millennials now looking for flexibility and possibly resorting to uncertain gig jobs, that don’t have superannuation and sick pay and other things an employer can offer (like investing in skills development). “Sooner or later we as a country are going to pick that tab up,” Barnes said.
The White Paper includes multiple links on research into time, productivity, the impact of flexibility, staff wellbeing and more, noting at one point a World Bank policy expert who described to CNN how he maintains a 20 hour work week through two key theories: ‘Parkinson’s law’, that idea that work expands to fill the time available, and the “80/20 Principle” the idea that 80 per cent of productivity is achieved in 20 per cent of our time. This follows a UK study of full-time office workers finding that they recorded an average time of actually working as being just two hours and 53 minutes a day. Clearly, plenty of time is disappearing to other things — like internet browsing, social media, breaks, pointless meetings and the culture of simply having to sit at a desk until a certain hour.
Barnes believes too much emphasis is placed on the time people spend in an office, rather than the output of what they produce.
People clearly like or are at least intrigued by the Perpetual Guardian story — given it was picked up by media outlets across dozens of countries last year.
We’re looking forward to seeing the results from Australian employers that follow their lead. It would certainly be a dramatic change from some examples of overwork we’ve seen recently, like the complaints made to SafeWork NSW that some employees in one particular law firm often sleep in the office.