A New Zealand estate planning company, which made headlines when it trialled a four-day week last year, has seen a big productivity increase since it made the change permanent, with staff spending less time surfing the Internet.
“I’m doing this as a businessman, not because I want people to have a nice life,” Perpetual Guardian founder Andrew Barnes said. “Business is slowly coming to the realisation that if one in four of your staff is stressed or has a mental health problem, that is not productive.” Interest in reduced working hours is growing around the world. Britain’s opposition Labour party has promised a 32-hour week for the whole country if elected. Microsoft reported a 40% rise in productivity when it gave its 2,300 employees in Japan Fridays off in August.
Critics of a shorter working week say it is not suited to all sectors and can be difficult and costly to implement. Think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies, for example, published a report on Tuesday that estimated that Labour’s policy would cost the public sector alone at least £17 billion. Barnes, who has set up a foundation to fund research into the four-day week and the future of work, said Perpetual Guardian’s productivity, revenues and profits had been boosted since the four-day week was introduced.
Staff loyalty increased and the company was able to attract higher quality recruits. Stress levels and sick days had fallen, Barnes said. Productivity has risen 30-40%, while Internet surfing dropped 35% in office hours, with people improving their time management, holding shorter meetings and signalling if they do not want to be disturbed. The four-day week is mandatory for senior managers at the company to prevent working hours creeping up again.
“If people see a leader who is not taking four days a week, they think: ‘If I take up this policy, I won’t get to the top’,” Barnes said. Perpetual Guardian still opens its branches five days a week as staff take different days off. Barnes said the company might consider opening on Saturdays as some employees would prefer to work that day and take a weekday off instead.