How One Company in New Zealand Is Proving 4-Day Work Weeks Are The Secret to Productivity

Coworkers at work


Leah Thomas
Leah Thomas866

Could shorter work weeks be the answer to stressful work environments? A New Zealand company seems to think so.

After Perpetual Guardian tested four-day work weeks last spring, they discovered their employees' stress levels lowered and their work engagement increased. And they’re now considering making this their new normal.

CEO Andrew Barnes was inspired to make the change after reading a 2016 survey conducted by Voucher Cloud. The study, which was conducted among 1,989 office workers in the United Kingdom, discovered that the average employee is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes each day.

The study asked workers to report which non-work activities take up the most amount of time during their workday. The majority of distractions were credited to the internet and social media. Forty-seven percent reported checking social media, and 45 percent reading news sites. Thirty-eight percent spend time discussing post-work activities with co-workers, and 31 percent spend time making hot drinks (understandable).

Barnes then decided to cut the hours of his 240 employees from the normal 40 to 32 each week. He also reduced their workweek from five days to four from March until April. And he still paid them for a 40 hour work week.

Perpetual Guardian had researchers from the Auckland University of Technology monitor his employees to note any changes in workplace behavior and productivity. Barnes also adjusted other practices within the company. He reduced the average meetings from two hours to only 30 minutes.

The six-week trial ended with improvements all around. Employees reported a seven percent decrease in their stress levels and a 24 percent improvement in their work-life balance. And team engagement experienced a 20 percent increase on average.

“Their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five,” Barnes told the New York Times. “Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks.”

Americans on average are working 44.5 hours a week, and 16 percent report working a 60-plus hour work week. With the constant availability of smartphones, email, and social media, some workers feel as though they never truly leave the office and are working through their personal, non-paid time.

American workers statistically spend more time on average at work. They also spend more time doing work at night. And American workers more frequently work on the weekends than employees in other countries.

Overtime hours not only lead to decreased productivity, they can have negative effects on the physical and mental health of employees. Being overworked has been linked to unhealthy mental and physical conditions, such as mental and physical illness, injury, alcohol and drug use, smoking, and weight gain.

Burnout rates across the United States are now at a high 40 to 50 percent. With these conditions, it’s understandable that companies are looking into alternative options.

More and more companies are offering flexible hours, shorter workweeks, and work-from-home flexibility. Deloitte and KPMG offer flexible hours and four-day work weeks, although employees must still meet their 40-hour quota.