4-Day Workweeks

MSN.com recently reported about a company in New Zealand recently completed a 2-month trial where they moved to a 4-day work week with the same pay. The company reported this was a success in terms of reducing employee stress and increasing their perceived ability to manage work/life balance. Their “performance metrics” cited as measurements of leadership, commitment, stimulation and empowerment all also increased, and the CEO has recommended that they move to a permanent change in schedule.

Several things struck me as interesting about this trial as it was reported.

  1. The company, Perpetual Guardian, manages trusts, wills, and estates, but there were no reported metrics about things like customer satisfaction, volume of work completed, or any quality of work numbers. These are the kind of numbers that I see as more persuasive to an American company.
  2. Employees who grateful for their company work environment, which they see as a gift, not a right, tend to be more accommodating (available for weekend work), and loyal, as well as being willing to ‘go the extra mile’.
  3. When presented with the prospect of moving toward a shorter work week, it strikes me that many employees would be (a) fired up to be more productive, and (b) would certainly report being more personally productive in order to protect that opportunity. I’d love to see the data a year down the road when the new work plan was less of a novelty and more that people might feel entitled to.
  4. One of the things the company did was to allow time for a “planning phase” where employees were taught about ways to be more effective and efficient in the work place. Several employees reported trying out new productivity strategies, to make this work. Strategies like taking advantage of automation, focusing meeting times, staying more on-task and helping each other out more could be part of a new company culture.
  5. One strategy, “combining meal breaks with work tasks” aka working through lunch, I’d argue isn’t actually an improvement in terms of true productivity. I wonder if the company invested in productivity training, or left their managers to figure things out on their own.

I’m excited to hear about any research which shows the benefits of a shorter work week, and more leisure time, so I see this as a promising step in the right direction. Hopefully we’ll continue to see these more progressive nations set an example that might be picked up in the US.