NZ business pilots 4-day work week

Ever turned up to work after a long weekend and wished you had three days off every week?

For the employees of New Zealand-based business Perpetual Guardian, the dream has just become a reality.

The trust company has over 200 employees, many of them engaged in customer service roles. Interestingly, the company’s founder, Andrew Barnes, doesn’t think an extra day away from the office will hurt productivity.

“Research indicates that the average worker only achieves around three hours of productivity out of every work day,” said Barnes. “In some cases it may be as low as 1.5 hours.”

“What we’ve done is offer our employees a more flexible arrangement whereby they can have an extra day off if they can demonstrate the same level of productivity in that time, without any change to their wages.”


UK workers self-report a lack of productivity in the office


One of the reports Barnes draws from was based on a survey of UK office workers engaged in full-time positions.

The survey asked respondents to report how much time they thought they were productive at work. They also nominated the types of activities they engaged in during non-productive hours.

The average worker felt they spent two hours and 53 minutes of their day being productive, with the largest amount of non-productive time spent checking social media (47 percent of respondents), checking news sites (45 percent) and discussing out of work activities with colleagues (38 percent).

But Barnes’s contention is not that employees are wasting time at work, rather they spend a certain amount of their time concerned with day-to-day issues impacting their lives outside of work.

“The reality is that there’s a real non-discretionary element to productivity,” he said. “Everyone has family, friends or projects going on around the house. Whether you like it or not there’s not enough time on a weekend to manage all this, which results in lost productivity during the work week.”

By offering employees a more flexible arrangement regarding hours worked, Barnes believes they’ll feel more engaged at work, which should more than compensate for the fewer hours spent in the office.

“The output we want to be interested in is productivity. As an employer, I’m paying for outputs, not the amount of time each employee spends in their chair,” said Barnes.


The secret to work-life balance? Tracking productivity


As part of the six-week trial, the team at Perpetual Guardian will present a case study centred on increasing productivity by working fewer hours.

“We’ve said we’d begin with a six-week trial, but if we need more data then we might extend it to eight weeks,” said Barnes. “After that, we’ll collate our findings and, if the initiative has been a success, we’ll implement the four-day work week permanently.”

“In some departments, measuring productivity is very straightforward, while in others we’re asking our employees to come up with ways to demonstrate their productivity.”

In this sense, Perpetual Guardian is testing a doubly-radical initiative – a process informed and implemented from the bottom of the company up, which places ownership in the hands of each employee.

 

READ: Is the future of work… less work?

While this system may not work for every organisation (in fact, it may not work for this one), Perpetual Guardian nevertheless has all the features and challenges of a larger business that make it an ideal case study: a physical retail footprint, five-days-per-week opening hours, and a varied workforce that includes a significant number of remote workers.

“We have 16 retail outlets across New Zealand, so we’re going to be creating rotating rosters to ensure there’s no loss of customer service,” said Barnes. “But we’re also making this as flexible as possible for our staff.

“If they find they’d prefer to work slightly shorter days over a standard, five-day work week, they’re welcome to do that. If they’d prefer to fit everything they can into just four days, that’s fine as well.”

And with such a radical experiment already gaining attention across the media landscape, Barnes notes his employees are already feeling the pressure to prove themselves.

“Some of my staff have already said they’ve received emails from their friends saying that all of New Zealand’s business community is counting on us to get this right.”