Four-day working week trial at New Zealand company so successful its boss wants to make it permanent

Tom Embury-Dennis
Office workers manning the phones in a call centre: Getty

A four-day working week trial at a company in New Zealand was so successful its boss wants to make it permanent.

The firm, which deals with wills and trust funds, conducted the eight-week experiment earlier this year. It saw its 240-strong workforce, in 16 offices across the country, retain full pay alongside a three-day weekend.

Andrew Barnes, chief executive of Perpetual Guardian, said he had made a recommendation to the board to continue the policy after an analysis revealed a “massive increase” in staff satisfaction with no drop in productivity.

The research, Mr Barnes said, was conducted by two independent academics drafted to ensure an objective analysis of the impact on the company and workforce.

“What we've seen is a massive increase in engagement and staff satisfaction about the work they do, a massive increase in staff intention to continue to work with the company and we've seen no drop in productivity," Mr Barnes told the New Zealand Herald.

Despite fears a day less at work would lead to a fall in staff productivity, Mr Barnes said there had been no sign of a drop off.

"Our leadership team reported that there was broadly no change in company outputs pre and during the trial,” he said. “They perceived no reduction in job performance and the survey data showed a marginal increase across most teams."

He now needs permission to continue the scheme by the board, which is expected to make its decision in the next few weeks.

The move could potentially have ramifications for the wider New Zealand workforce. While the average New Zealander worked 1,752 hours over the course of 2016 – which makes them close to the norm when compared with their OECD peers – the amount they work is significantly ahead of the 1,363 hours put in by Germans.

Research has shown working fewer hours can result in you being more productive. Although Germany has the shortest working hours among OECD member countries, it manages to achieve among the highest productivity levels.

Stats show a German worker to be 27 per cent more productive than their British counterpart who works 1,676 hours a year.

While Germans work the fewest number of hours per year, they are closely followed by Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. Mexicans, Koreans and Costa Ricans work the most.

Four-day work weeks have been tried out in companies such as Amazon, Google and Deloitte and in a number of countries such as Japan and the US.

In the UK the average full-time worker clocks up 37.5 hours a week. There is also the issue of unpaid overtime; according to the Trades Union Congress, workers put in 2.1 billion unpaid hours in 2016, which amounts to £33.6bn of free labour.

Evidence has also shown that overwork leads to more time being taken off. In 2016, 12.5 million work days were lost due to work-related stress, anxiety or depression. In 44 per cent of cases the cause was workload.