A New Zealand company’s experiment in cutting the working week down to size has yielded such impressive results that it is now looking to make the arrangement permanent.
As an article at the New Zealand Herald  explains, estate-planning firm Perpetual Guardian conducted an eight-week trial in which it brought the week down from five days to four, while keeping each of its 240 employees on the same salary. Keen for a scientific eye to make a balanced assessment of the initiative, the firm enlisted HR academics Jarod Haar of the Auckland University of Technology and Helen Delaney of the University of Auckland Business School to measure the outcomes.
Haar and Delaney found that stress levels across the firm dropped from 45% to 38%, while the work-life balance rating rose significantly from 54% to 78%. Other improvements were seen in commitment (up 18% to 82%), stimulation (up 18% to 84%) and empowerment (up 18% to 86%). Staff were also more impressed with leadership in the firm as the trial played out, compared to how it was before, with their satisfaction levels rising by 18% to 82%.
Crucially, the firm remained just as productive with a four-day week as it was at full, Monday-to-Friday stretch.
Permanent Guardian CEO Andrew Barnes said: “What we've seen is a massive increase in engagement and staff satisfaction about the work they do, a massive increase in staff intention to continue to work with the company and we've seen no drop in productivity.”
He added: “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. We’re paying for productivity. We're making a clear distinction here between the amount of hours you spend in the office and what we get out of that.” What does the say about traditional perceptions of how productivity should be achieved?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “This story in many ways supports our work on how productivity is best measured in outputs, rather than in presenteeism. One theme that really stands out is that Permanent Guardian’s employees have such strong morale – not only do they feel valued, they also feel that there’s something great about the company they’re working for. That’s evidenced by the sharp rise in the staff commitment rating: workers are repaying the company for the loyalty it has shown them.”
Cooper notes: “it will be interesting to see how sustainable this model proves to be. Arrangements that seem novel and exciting to the current staff base – which has seen the changes play out first hand – may be regarded as fairly standard by newer hires who are recruited with advance knowledge of how the firm operates. So there will certainly be a level of challenge for the senior managers, in terms of how they maintain a sense that the four-day model is special and different.
“Furthermore,” she adds, “managers’ and employees’ expectations of what they are meant to achieve while they’re in work will be higher, so keeping up that intensity will be another challenge. And that presents a question mark relating to the social aspects of work: if staff are coming in on those four days each week knowing that they really have to focus on delivering, will they have time to develop the meaningful relationships that are part and parcel of any, well-rounded experience of the workplace?
“So there is one, key message for any firm that makes these sorts of changes and sees dramatic improvements: keep an eye on the sustainability of the model you have devised, and see how you can retain the features that have had such a dramatic impact, so that they endure well into the future.”
For further thoughts on delivering outcomes, check out these learning resources from the Institute
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- 08 August 2018