At one large company in New Zealand, some employees no longer work on Fridays. Others don’t work Wednesdays. But everyone is paid a full-time salary.
Perpetual Guardian, a statutory trust company with 240 employees, first tested a four-day workweek in early 2018, collaborating with academic researchers from two Auckland universities to study the impact on its business. After the eight-week-long trial, employees reported lower levels of stress, higher levels of job satisfaction, and a much greater sense of work-life balance. Just as significantly, despite the reduced hours, productivity didn’t decline. In November, the company decided to make the changes permanent. Andrew Barnes, the company’s founder, has thus far seen no downside. “In fact, the company is performing better than it did last year.”
Barnes had noticed employees struggling to maintain work-life balance when he happened upon research about average levels of productivity: One U.K. survey suggests that British workers are productive for only two hours and 53 minutes each day. By giving people an extra day off, he theorized, they might be better able to manage the other demands in their lives, which could be distracting them in the office.
He tasked employees with creating their own plans to maintain and measure productivity. “The teams themselves sat down and said, ‘How do we make lots of little changes that will enable us to deliver the outcome?'” Barnes says. Meetings were shortened or cut. People spent less time browsing the internet. Employees experimented with small flags on their desks to signal to coworkers that they were busy and shouldn’t be disturbed. “At the end of the trial, most people said they were better able to deliver their workload over four days than the five,” he says. Employees also reported feeling significantly more empowered than they had before the trial, more stimulated and satisfied by their jobs, more confident in the company leadership, and more committed. Work-life balance scores increased from 54% to 78%. Job stress dropped seven percentage points.
Employees began gradually making the transition in November, and by early this year, roughly half of the staff had opted in. The company ultimately expects three-quarters of employees to make the change.
“It’s real flexibility, not buzzword flexibility,” says Emily Svadlenak, who works as the company’s one-person marketing department. She now takes Fridays off, and she says that having more breathing space on the weekend makes the rest of the week easier. Like other employees, she will have to meet certain performance standards to be able to opt into the program again at the end of the year.
Other companies, including multinational corporations, have approached Perpetual Guardian to learn more about the transition as they consider making similar changes; one is Wellcome Trust, a U.K. firm that is considering a four-day workweek trial with the 800 employees in its main office. Barnes is confident a larger-scale experiment will prove out the concept. “If we were to have a country bold enough to really give this a go,” he says, “I think we would find that actually there is not an adverse impact on the economy.”