A four-day work week - it works!

Luke Keioskie
Mon 23 Jul

The results are in – working a four-day week has benefits for everyone involved.

NZ company Perpetual Guardian undertook the landmark trial, and the findings indicate that the employer and the employees experienced a range of benefits, while also revealing a number of learnings and challenges linked to fitting five days’ worth of work into four.

Perpetual Guardian’s founder Andrew Barnes embarked on the unprecedented experiment earlier this year to define the future of work at the company.

Over eight weeks in March and April, the company trialled a four-day work week across its 240-person-strong business. The trial gave every employee a day off each week at full pay, with the aim of empowering a staff-led discussion about engagement and productivity.

The trial sought to start a conversation and challenge the way we work – and to discover whether increased working flexibility and more free personal time could lead to an increase in productivity.

Mr Barnes says there were positive improvements across all aspects of the study. “The key areas we sought to measure including work-life balance, engagement, organisational commitment and work stimulation all showed positive increases – that is a powerful combination that leads to job satisfaction. Both the qualitative and quantitative research attached to our trial correlate this,” Mr Barnes says.

“Our leadership team reported that there was broadly no change in company outputs pre and during the trial. They perceived no reduction in job performance and the survey data showed a marginal increase across most teams.”

When looking at job satisfaction, engagement and retention, Professor of Human Resource Management at AUT Jarrod Haar identified these job attitudes as being very high compared to New Zealand data of more than 6,000 employees.

“Already high pre-trial, these significantly increased post-trial and the scores are easily the highest I have seen in my New Zealand data. In summary, employees reported enhanced job attitudes reflecting positive effects from the trial,” says Professor Harr.

Mr Barnes views the trial and its outcomes as being much bigger than just the future of work at Perpetual Guardian.

“This is about flexible working and about using technology to enable that,” he says.

“The researchers have found that the four-day work week is doable. 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.

“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. 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.”

The trial raised many questions, including:

If you can have parents spending more time with their children, how is that a bad thing? Are you likely to get better educational outputs as a consequence?

Are you likely to get fewer mental health issues when you have more time to take care of yourself and your personal interests?

If you can take 20 per cent of people off the roads every day, what does that mean?

If you have fewer people in the office at any one time, can we make smaller offices? If people work more efficiently or remotely, coming to the office less frequently, what does that mean for urban design?

Mr Barnes says these are interesting issues that should be debated as they change the composition of society.

“And once that changes, the opportunities available for people will change,” he says.

“Maybe more people will be providing services for people’s leisure as opposed to traditional business-related support services. I don’t know what the outcomes will be, but I would say to all business owners, be a little creative, think about trying a few things.”