The four-day workweek has been the basis of countless on-the-job daydreams and idle, longing conversations among co-workers stuck late at the office when they’d rather be home.

This year, a New Zealand firm took the idea out of the realm of daydreams and into the reality of a pilot program experiment in which all employees worked four days for the same pay as five. The revised schedule, which was in effect in March and April, was so successful, the New York Times reports, that the company’s board is considering making the change permanent.

The 240 employees of Perpetual Guardian, a company that handles trusts, wills and estates in Wellington, New Zealand, were the enviable recipients of the four-day workweek. This wasn’t an act of corporate benevolence. It was a business decision. Two researchers hired by Perpetual Guardian studied the effects of the shorter workweek and found an increase in employee productivity.

Jarrod Haar, one of the researchers and a human resources professor at Auckland University of Technology, told the Times that “supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks.”

Haar told the Times that overall, “employees reported a 24 percent improvement in work-life balance, and came back to work energized after their days off.” Plus, he continued, “their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five.”

The idea for the original pilot came from the personal research of the company’s founder, Andrew Barnes. As the Times reports:

Mr. Barnes said he came up with the idea for a four-day workweek after reading a report that suggested people spent less than three hours of their workday productively employed, and another that said distractions at work could have effects on staff akin to losing a night’s sleep or smoking marijuana.

Perpetual Guardian employees told the Times that the new “workweek motivated them to find ways of increasing their productivity while in the office.”

The article does not specify what the company defined as a long break. It does note that for most companies around the world, the option of a shorter workweek meant lower salaries or cramming more work hours into fewer days. France mandated a 35-hour week in 2000, but as the Times remembers, “businesses complained of reduced competitiveness and increased hiring costs.”

Barnes, however, said he believes his “was the first business in the world to pay staff for 40 hours when working 32.”

Another benefit for his employees included cutting the bane of many office workers’ existence: endless meetings. At Perpetual Guardian, “meetings were reduced from two hours to 30 minutes, and employees created signals for their colleagues that they needed time to work without distraction.”

Tammy Barker, a senior client manager at the company, described a situation many of us who have worked in crowded corporate offices have long dreamed of: breaking free of the directive to multitask and actually focus on just one project at a time.

“Because there was a focus on our productivity,” Barker said, “I made a point of doing one thing at a time and turning myself back to it when I felt I was drifting off. At the end of each day, I felt I had got a lot more done.”

In a time when half of Americans aren’t using their paid vacation time, the idea of borrowing from a New Zealand pilot program may feel like a pipe dream—even with the glowing reports. Meanwhile, Barnes is trying to spread the gospel to more businesses in New Zealand.


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