18th July, 2018
Over eight weeks Perpetual Guardian trialled a four-day work week, resulting in an increase in perceived work-life balance without impacting productivity. Can the rest of us now expect a three-day weekend?
As we wrote earlier this year, statutory trust business Perpetual Guardian started a four-day work week pilot for its 240 staff.
The project gave everyone an extra day off each week with full pay if the business didn’t suffer any downtime.
Perpetual Guardian’s founder, Andrew Barnes, took extra steps to engage a research team to work up data on the company’s productivity throughout the period (as well as a PR team to help with the many media queries that his experiment generated).
According to Barnes, the results of the pilot has revealed positive improvements across all aspects of the study. The key areas of focus include work–life balance, engagement, organisational commitment and work stimulation.
“Our leadership team reported that there was broadly no change in company outputs pre and during the trial,” said Barnes.
“They perceived no reduction in job performance and the survey data showed a marginal increase across most teams.”
Research on the initiative was undertaken by Auckland University of Technology’s Professor of Human Resource Management, Jarrod Haar, as well as University of Auckland Business School senior lecturer Helen Delaney.
Haar was tasked with undertaking quantitative research into the trial and its effects whereas Delaney conducted qualitative research.
Key results at a glance:
Both researchers found that Perpetual Guardian’s employees were already showing signs of more job satisfaction, engagement and higher staff retention rates before the pilot began. This was linked to the “planning discussions that preceded the trial”.
“Employees designed innovations and initiatives to work in a more productive and efficient manner, from automating manual processes to reducing or eliminating non-work-related internet usage,” said Delaney.
After analysing the quantitative data, Haar described the results as “largely positive”, while Delaney’s qualitative surveys showed many improvements in workplace dynamics over the course of the trial.
But Delaney’s research also identified some challenges associated with the trial. Some respondents reported added stress from maintaining a workload “incompatible with the mandatory four-day work week”.
She also found some staff reporting negative effects due to “skill variations and perceived attitudinal differences within teams” and a “perceived lack of innovation within teams to meet the terms of the new model”.
The full set of results can be found on Perpetual Guardian’s recently created, dedicated website.
The firm’s trial results have vindicated Barnes’ dedication to create an initiative that addresses flexibility and productivity concerns at Perpetual Guardian – and they’ve also given him plenty to discuss in the media.
“The researchers have found that the four-day work week is doable,” said Barnes.
“This is a promising outcome and one that we are eager to work through in terms of how we adopt more flexible working arrangements within our business.”
Unfortunately for the staff at Perpetual Guardian, that doesn’t mean the four-day work week is necessarily here to stay.
“I am working with my board and HR team, and consulting within the business on ways in which we can implement the four-day work week where appropriate,” he said.
“The learnings and challenges that were uncovered as part of the trial raise a number of questions that we will work through to ensure we address areas that need improvement or further innovation in order to increase flexibility and productivity.”
So while the world is unlikely to switch over to a four-day work week tomorrow, Barnes is optimistic the trial has been the first step along the road for workers’ greater flexibility – something that he believes is sorely needed.
“Are you likely to get fewer mental health issues when you have more time to take care of yourself and your personal interests? Probably,” said Barnes.
“If you can take 20 per cent of people off the roads every day, what does that mean?
“These are interesting issues, and we should be debating them because I think it changes the composition of society.”