A New Zealand company is on the cusp of granting its employees the ultimate in work life balance: four days work for five days pay. Photograph: Simon Ritzmann/Getty Images
A New Zealand company is on the cusp of granting its employees the ultimate in work-life balance: four days work for five days pay.
Perpetual Guardian, a trustee company, has become the first major business in the country to embark on a creating a workplace “fit for purpose for the 21st century”.
New Zealanders work an average of 1,752 hours a year, making them close to average compared with their OECD peers.
Germans work the least number of hours a year, closely followed by Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, while Mexicans, Koreans and Costa Ricans clock the most.
Last year the Autonomy Institute made renewed calls for the implementation of a four-day work week, saying it would help even out the unhealthy distribution of work and shift the focus to producing better work in a shorter time.
For the last two years a Swedish care home trialled a six-hour work day, to mixed results. Benefits included a 10% drop in sick leave and higher job satisfaction, but overall increased costs by 20%.
Kirsten Taylor, 39, a philanthropy services manager at Perpetual Guardian, says her “jaw hit the ground” when she heard the news.
“When it was announced there was nervous laughter, that feeling of it being too good to be true,” said Taylor, whose 21-month-old son spends five days in daycare from 7.30am to 4.30pm.
“My initial reaction was quite emotional because I am a single mum and I have a young son. To know that I can keep my budget exactly the way it is, afford – somewhat – an Auckland mortgage and have an extra day with my son, in his younger years … it is just unheard of.”
Announcing the six-week trial to its more than 200 employees in 16 offices around the country, founder Andrew Barnes, a Briton, said reaction from staff was one of “shock”.
Barnes hoped giving his employees an extra day to deal with family commitments, hobbies and general life maintenance would make them more focused on the four days spent at the office, in which they would only be required to work standard business hours.
If the trial period was effective, the new regime would be adopted full-time by Perpetual Guardian on 1 July.
“To be honest, some of those activities [family and life commitments] were being done within office hours. If you give people the chance to be as good as they can be outside the office – because they have more time – than you are going to get a better performance in the office,” said Barnes, who doesn’t anticipate cutting down himself.
“I had feedback that brought a lump to my throat. Single mum’s saying ‘This is life-changing.’ And as a businessman I ask: what is her level of commitment to the company at the moment? It’s sky high. But I didn’t just do it for that, I did it because it was the right thing to do.”
Professor Elizabeth George, an expert on non-standard work practices at the University of Auckland, said she would follow the test run carefully, but anticipated the new regime could be a success and may encourage other New Zealand businesses to follow suit.
“The New Zealand example will be interesting to see how they will determine success – is it that employees are happier, healthier, that the work is the same, better?” asked George.
Barnes said the results of the trial would be available to any company that was interested.