Heather Roy

12 February 2018

The Office. Funny and soul destroying in equal measure. The sad thing is that the British TV mockumentary sitcom does reflect what happens in some work places where paper-shuffling and clock watching are the norm with limited productivity and little job satisfaction. It’s the old attendance culture in action.

How can employers generate a performance culture rather than an attendance culture? Andrew Barnes, founder of NZ Trust company Perpetual Guardian announced last week that he is undertaking a 6 week trial of a four day working week for his employees – but will be paying them for five days work. He is forging the way to a better work-life balance for his employees and challenging other businesses to think along the same lines.

The news of this “four day working week but get paid for five” almost sounds too good to be true. It has attracted attention world wide, including being reported on in The Guardian which has some good international comparison about which countries workers put in the longest and shortest hours.

So why would an employer do this? Few of us, if we’re honest, actually fill the 8 hour working day with real work. Some studies show that we’re probably only doing productive work for closer to 3 hours per day. Concentration lapses, personal or family issues sometimes intrude into the working day – there is a raft of reasons. So Andrew Barnes is giving his workers some personal time back, in the expectation that productivity will actually rise and he’ll have a very loyal workforce in return. He has recognized the value in providing the right incentives – the best example I can think of recently of a win-win situation.

Mr Barnes says “it’s the right thing to do. I think in today’s world it’s very difficult for people to juggle both home and work in the office. We want people to be the best they can while they’re in the office but also the best at home. It’s the natural solution.”

The 200-strong Perpetual Guardian team will still have the same output expectation as before … what they’ve now got to do is work out how they deliver the same amount of work in a week over four days. That means work smarter, work cleverer, change the systems, change the processes.”

Andrew Barnes is optimistic that the trial will succeed. If it does, he’ll be turning the four day week into a permanent fixture at Perpetual Guardian.  Unsurprisingly the response has been extremely positive, not just from his own workers but others that would like the same sort of deal. In the modern world, flexibility and incentives are key. It’s great to see ideas like this being promoted and discussed, and coming from the private sector which is frequently slated for a perceived lack of empathy with workers.

A four day week has certainly created interesting dinner time conversation around our dining table. Well played Andrew Barnes.