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Rethinking the workweek
Oct. 5, 2018
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by Ivan Raconteur

I’ve been reading about companies experimenting with a four-day workweek, and I like the sound of it.

One of the more prominent examples involves Perpetual Guardian, a firm that manages trusts and estates in New Zealand.

What makes this company stand out is that it instituted a four-day week and kept wages the same. Working hours were reduced from 40 to 32 during a two-month trial, but workers were still paid for 40 hours.

The company found productivity increased among its staff when working hours were reduced, and it is considering making the change permanent.

Not only did morale improve, but workers were energized and motivated to find ways to do things more efficiently.

Supervisors said staff were more creative and their attendance was better.

Concentration is improved when employees work fewer hours.

One employee noted the study helped her realize she had been jumping between tasks much more when she was working more hours and her concentration waned.

Employees reported a better work-life balance under the new model.

That’s hardly surprising, since they reduced their time in the office by 20 percent.

During the trial, employees were given a choice which day they wanted to take off, too. Some elected to take a day off in the middle of the week to take care of errands, appointments, and other personal business, so they could spend more time with their families on the weekends.

Others preferred to have their off day on Mondays or Fridays to have longer weekends.

Still other employees opted to continue to work five days per week, but for fewer hours so they could be there when their children got home from school.

For some employees, the four-day workweek had other benefits, as well, such as less time and expense devoted to commuting.

One of my favorite parts of the trial is that meetings were reduced from two hours to 30 minutes.

Hallelujah!

I’m confident I could be far more productive if the meetings I am required to attend were run in a more efficient manner.

If meetings include the right people, start on time, and stick to a meaningful agenda, everyone wins.

It was noted in the Perpetual Guardian case that employees created signals for their colleagues that they needed time to work without distraction.

“They worked out where they were wasting time and worked smarter, not harder,” Jarrod Haar, a human resources professor at Auckland University of Technology said. Haar was one of two researchers asked by the company to study the results of the experiment.

The company’s founder, Andrew Barnes, said the results of Perpetual Guardian’s trial showed that when hiring staff, supervisors should negotiate tasks to be performed, rather than basing contracts on hours new employees spent in the office.

That is a revolutionary idea.

“A contract should be about an agreed level of productivity,” Barnes said. “If you deliver that in less time, why should I cut your pay?”

It’s brilliant. I’d like to meet that guy.

It seems a lot of people get caught in a trap that is the opposite of what companies like Perpetual Guardian are trying to accomplish.

People may be hired for a job that is advertised as 40 hours per week, but as the staff within a company shrinks, the work gets redistributed to the employees who are left.

Frequently, it seems when employees leave, they are not replaced, but the total output of work expected is not reduced.

As a result, instead of working 32 hours and getting paid for 40 like in the Perpetual Guardian case, some employees work 50 or more hours and get paid for 40. Essentially, their dedication is “rewarded” by a lower net hourly wage.

The more hours employees work, the less efficient they become.

In addition, their work-life balance suffers. They spend more time working and less time doing things they enjoy.

There was a time when we were conned into believing technology would make our lives easier and reduce the number of hours we have to work. For many people, it has had the opposite effect.

Now, not only do many employees work longer hours for the same pay, but they end up working even during their time off, because they are constantly accessible via mobile phones and email.

The people at Perpetual Guardian and other innovative companies like them are definitely on the right track.

New Zealand is a long way from Minnesota, but I’d be willing to emigrate if I can find the right deal.

It would be worth it if I could add that many more hours of free time each week.

Life is short, and we shouldn’t spend it all in an office, especially if we can accomplish the same amount (or more) while spending fewer hours at work.


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