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Talking Point – Four Days Work for Five Days Pay

There’s been a bit of talk in the news recently about reducing the number of days that employees work each week in order to provide them with more free time and better work/life balance (are we still allowed to call it that? It’s rarely ever in balance). Last year, New Zealand trust company, Perpetual Guardian, made a 32-hour week an option for all of its full-time staff after undertaking a trial which saw an increase in productivity of 20% overall. Around 15% of US organisations offer four-day weeks of 32 hours or less to at least some of their employees, so it’s not just a Kiwi thing. There are likely to be employers in other countries who offer it too.

In New Zealand’s past, if a company put its staff onto a four-day working week it was usually for four-days’ pay, and most often it was done because there wasn’t enough work for them to do, and the business was usually facing economic upheavals. It often occurred just prior to receivership, liquidation or closure.

There are organisations who offer reduced working weeks, such as four days on and four days off, but this usually means working four ten-hour days – there is still an expectation to work a 40-hour week, just over fewer days. This would likely result in the staff being tired for most of their days off, and wouldn’t address the need for more relaxation time in people’s lives.

Perpetual Trust employ around 240 staff, which is a reasonable sized-organisation by New Zealand standards, so would it work for small businesses too?

Expert decided to trial it for our staff in July 2019. We were intrigued by the concept, but were also really mindful of the need for people to be happy, and to experience some weekly freedom – it’s a long time until retirement for some of our staff and relying on the odd long weekend to recharge our batteries in between annual holidays seemed like quite a stretch, especially over the long and miserable winter months between Queens Birthday and Labour Day weekends.

An essential part of Expert’s operations is providing on-going and timely customer service to our clients, so given that we’re only a small team, much thought had to go into making this work, so that seamless support continued when staff were on their free day. We’re a 24/7 business without the luxury of having an offshore call centre operating in a different time zone outside of normal working hours, which means some of our staff are ‘on-call’ permanently. We still need to have our office staffed from Monday to Friday as there is an expectation from our clients that they can meet with us to discuss non-urgent issues too, so this meant that we couldn’t give all staff a long weekend, but we could give them an individual ‘free day’ during the week to spend how they liked. The free day is fixed, can’t be swapped, and doesn’t have to be taken, though why wouldn’t you take it?

There were also other things to consider – we didn’t want to have to rewrite the employment agreements we have with our staff, and the business had to come first if we had any sort of emergency or urgent work to deal with. We were also keen to call it a ‘free day’ rather than a ‘day off’ and of course it is a privilege, not a right. Also mindful of the need to have a day each week when all staff are present so that we can celebrate things and socialise together, as well as undertake training and team meetings, meant that Fridays became compulsory work days (unless on sick or annual leave). Another restriction was the need to not drop to three-day working weeks in the case of long weekends and statutory days, so the ‘free day’ isn’t available in an already short week.

We trialed it for two months and then everyone reviewed it at the end of the trial.  We checked our productivity which had increased around 15 to 20%, we monitored the service level provided to our clients and they hadn’t decreased, we asked staff how they found it and without exception everyone loved it, though Evan complained that it rained on most of his free days, which affected his golf somewhat. So it’s now a permanent fixture until further notice.

The largest adjustment was getting used to not being at work – some of us lost track of the days as it always felt like we’d just come out of a weekend or we were just about to go into one, so it always felt like it was Friday or Monday, but definitely with no hump day to get over. Everyone enjoys the freedom that comes with a free day – whether it’s a chance to catch up on domestic stuff, mow the lawns, do some volunteering, visit the hairdresser, dentist etc, spend time with family and friends, or pursue a hobby, the key difference is having the freedom to do whatever you want for one day a week, with no strings attached and no lost income.

And everyone seems a lot happier! We’ve had no sick days since the trial began either, which means that we’re probably healthier too.

So, regardless of business size, anything is possible if the desire is strong enough. We plan to keep our four-days’ work for five-days’ pay and hope that other organisations follow suit. The benefits certainly outweigh any perceived costs involved. And of course, we’re a long time dead!

If you’d like to read more on this subject check out these articles

Stuff: Perpetual Guardian makes four-day week permanent

4dayweek.com

NZ Herald: Why four-day work week is ethically desirable

Or if you’d like to discuss how the four day week works for Expert feel free to contact us.

 

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