In 1908, a New England cotton mill instituted the first rule that Jewish workers would not have to work on Saturdays, their Sabbath. A few years later, in 1926, Henry Ford opted to close his factories on Sunday, too—and so began the five-day work week as we know it.
For nearly a century, businesses have operated under the standard that offices are open Monday through Friday during the day. However, as technology has made remote work options more prolific, and millennials demand flexibility in their jobs, our work week is being challenged. One New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, has put an end to the traditional five-day office schedule.
Work life at Perpetual Guardian
Perpetual Guardian manages trusts, wills, and estates, and employs 240 people. In March 2018, the company conducted a two-month experiment where it transitioned away from the traditional 40-hour work week and reduced its office hours to 32 hours a week, giving employees three days off per week, instead of the standard two-day weekend.
But here’s the critical part: Even with a reduction in work hours, employee compensation stayed the same; employees did not see any decrease in their paychecks and were paid for 40 hours of work. There are many businesses that have reduced the hours of their employees, but the employees are being paid accordingly. This was not the case with Perpetual Guardian’s operational adjustment.
The firm didn’t conduct this experiment without being close watched, however. It invited a team of researchers to observe the effect of the reduction in hours on both the firm’s productivity and its employees’ well-being. Here’s what the research found:
Better work-life balance. Perhaps least surprising was the improvement on employees’ work-life balance. By having more time away from the office to do things like exercise, cook, garden, and be with their families, employees reported a 24% improvement in their personal and professional lives. They were able to take deep breaths and be out of the office without guilt.
Better on-the-job performance. Supervisors said that their teams performed better at work. More specifically, management saw an increase in their teams’ creativity. When employees came to work, they were more energized and eager to dive in than before.
Less time off. As a result of having more time off, employees’ at-work attendance went up. Employees showed up on time to work and didn’t feel the need to take long lunch breaks. It was rare that people left early. This reduction in time off led to more in-office consistency, which ultimately served to boost productivity.
Increased productivity. The firm said that by reducing work hours, it actually saw an increase in productivity across the board. This is because employees managed their time better while they were in the office by cutting back on meeting times and giving signals to colleagues when they needed to focus. As a result, employees made an effort to maximize their in-office time, which caused them to be smarter about choosing which tasks to work on.
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Can this be replicated?
The positive results—better work-life balance, improved on-the-job performance, fewer requests for time off, and increased productivity—sound compelling enough to consider rolling out this work schedule across all industries. The question then becomes, can this approach be replicated regardless of company or size? The answer remains unclear.
Some businesses have hours that must be filled. With fewer staff hours to fill those slots, it can leave a company short-handed and require the business to hire more people to make up the difference. This extra need to hire could be more costly than beneficial in the long run.
It’s worth a try
Although it worked well for this New Zealand company, it’s not a surefire guarantee that it’ll do the same for yours. The key is to take Perpetual Guardian’s example and see if you can fit it into your business for a short period of time. Watch what happens to your team’s overall happiness. If you see the same benefits, it might be worth making it a permanent policy. But if it leaves you with more gaps in your schedule and higher hiring costs as a result, it might not be worth it.
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