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The Four-Day Work Week

Could working four days be more effective than working five? And could shared tasks be a solution for stay-at-home parents? Eleisha McNeill looks at these ideas as part of her series, The Future of Work.

29 October 2021

Over the 2017 Christmas holidays, Perpetual Guardian founder Andrew Barnes read a couple of research reports suggesting workplace productivity could be as low as 1.5 hours per day.

Trying to understand how it could be so low, he wondered whether a new way of working could give some answers. He decided to test it by having his company trial a four-day working week.

The trial was designed to see if there was a connection between productivity and employee engagement and wellbeing.

Employees of the trustee company were paid for a full 37.5 hour working week, but only worked 30 hours over four days.

To cover all the work that needed to be done, employees took different days off within their teams. That day off was theirs to spend as they wished, and they made the most of it.

Make the most of every hour

“Having that day off was a gift, so I certainly wasn’t going to waste it,” says client assistant Elyse Gamblin.

“I volunteered at my children’s school for their sausage sizzle, took my dogs for an extra-long walk, spent time reconnecting with friends and family who I hadn’t previously had time for.”

But that extra day of personal time also meant squeezing more into the shortened hours of work.

“Jamming full your four days of work had its challenges, and you were definitely tired at the end of the day,” she says.

“But I can honestly say that during the trial there was a positive vibe that made for a great working environment.

“Since we were all in the same boat, trying to plan as best as we could, we called on each other more and worked closer as a team to ensure our branch ran smoothly.”

Did it work?

Christine Brotherton, head of people and capability for Perpetual Guardian, says each team or business unit worked with their managers to set their own productivity measures at the start of the trial, and the results are currently being reviewed and analysed.

They’ve also worked with researchers from AUT and the Auckland Business School to understand the impact the trial had on employee engagement and wellbeing.

“At the very least we think the trial has been a success, as it has sparked discussion about how we work.” she says.

“We’ve learned so much about how we work, what we can do differently, and that there are so many benefits from being bold and innovative in our thinking.”

Untapped work force

One section of the workforce has remained untapped, till now – stay-at-home parents. Now innovative thinking and personal experience has created a new company catering exclusively to these workers.

Late last year, the Household Labour Force Survey showed nearly 20 per cent of women not in the paid work force listed looking after children as their main activity, along with three per cent of men.

The company Part Time Professionals uses these skilled workers. It takes chunks of work (like writing an online course), breaks them into smaller skill-based segments, and sends them out to their network of qualified parents – mostly women.

When the work comes back, the elements are pulled together, quality-checked, and the complete product is delivered to the client.

Output-based model

The freelancers are paid for the work they produce, not for the number of hours they work – an output-based model.

“The main goal of the business is to create more accessible work for stay-at-home parents,” says Jasmine Hardy Mills.

“It’s a model that works really well, because there’s a huge amount of untapped talent and expertise out there that’s not being used because of traditional workplace structure.”

Hardy Mills and her business partner know the people they’re working with, their specialties, and the deadlines that work for them. Decisions about work allocations are based on what they know about their freelancers.

“It’s important to us that stay-at-home parents, especially women, feel they have a real choice about how they balance their work lives and home lives,” Hardy Mills says.

“There’s a serious need to reduce the career consequences of having children, and this model of work makes a difference because it keeps women’s CVs and skills current.

“It gives them the option of working in a way that works for them.”

First published 21 June, 2018.

Story by Eleisha McNeill

JUNO does not contain financial advice as defined by the Financial Advisers Act 2008. Consult a suitably qualified financial adviser before making investment decisions. This story reflects the views of the contributor only. Content comes from sources that JUNO considers accurate, but we do not guarantee that the content is accurate.

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