Picture this: three-day weekends for the rest of your working life.

Sounds good doesn’t it?

That’s what New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian is campaigning for, after trialling four-day work weeks last year. The legal services trust gave all their full-time employees one extra day off a week with no loss of pay and reported significant boosts to productivity, staff retention, mental wellbeing, and even profits.

Now the company founder Andrew Barnes has fully integrated the shortened week into the company and is urging other New Zealand businesses to follow suit.

I think it’s a fantastic idea.

Currently in New Zealand we still measure an employee’s output and value in how many hours they put into the job, instead of how productive they are. For many, working truck-loads of hours is a badge of honour and 50-60 hour weeks is celebrated and encouraged.

It’s an archaic workplace culture that has no place in today’s society.

The benefits of workplace flexibility have long been championed by employers, but the proposition has always been one-sided. When the business community talks about flexibility they really mean the elasticity to hire and fire as they will and have less labour market obstacles like collective agreements so they can set wages according to their whim.

Four-day working weeks, without a reduction in salary (this is key), extend flexibility to working people. By extension they represent a shift towards a better work-life-balance for employees, which coincidentally tends to result in higher productivity and profits. It’s both empathetic management and a savvy business approach.

Quite simply it’s just intelligence.

“It’s about working smarter, it’s not about working longer,” Mr Barnes says.

His trial was monitored by academics at the University of Auckland who found that stress levels went down from 45 to 38 per cent, and work-life balances scores increased from 54 to 78 per cent. Staff also reported stronger levels of commitment, stimulation and empowerment, with an increased flexibility around when they engaged in work. They produced the same output at 30 hours as they did previously working 37.5 hours. I’m shaking my hands at the pure common-sensery of it all.

It’s no secret that we have a shameful mental health crisis in New Zealand. We spend so much time at work and it contributes significantly to increased, stress, anxiety, and depression. Four-day working weeks is a powerful and cost-efficient tool we can employ (excuse the pun) to contribute towards a future where New Zealand is celebrated for the mental wellbeing of our people.

There is a considerable risk for businesses if they don’t look for innovative new ways of managing the workplace like this. Young workers greatly value flexibility, autonomy, and empowerment and businesses risk a shrinking pool of dynamic employees as modern workers are lured into the gig economy.

“This is an idea whose time has come” – Andrew Barnes.

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