Many of us have thought it – how good would it be to have a long weekend every weekend? Well for the staff of the New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian, that daydream became a reality (albeit temporarily) earlier this year. Throughout an eight week trial staff were asked to only work four days a week while still getting paid for five.
The trial was watched with great anticipation on both sides of the ditch as well as around the world (thanks largely to an animated social media audience). At the conclusion of the trial the news emerged that many had hoped for, Perpetual Guardian announced the trial as a success with productivity increased 20% alongside a marked increase in staff engagement and enthusiasm.
I can already hear some minds ticking over, this sounds too good to be true! The company is happy, we get an extra day off, when can we do the classic Australian move – import and claim something the Kiwis have created and pass it off as our own?
Well before you start running hypotheticals about whether it’s best to never work again on a Monday, Friday or sometime midweek, it is worth considering several additional observations from the trial which might take some of the gloss off the idealised perpetual long weekend.
For starters, there were several reports of adjustment issues. Teething issues are to be expected with any new, large-scale trial involving people, but it was interesting that loss of connection, routine disruption and inactivity on the day off were reported. For instance, one employee mentioned that “she was getting a bit bored – she would have rather come to work and seen people”, while another reported that she was “struggling to figure out what to do with the day off.”
While notable, these were not the most significant observations of effects on staff. Instead, it was intriguing (and alarming) to note the potential for further distortion of the work/life balance through an actual increase in employees’ overtime rate.
Even though Perpetual Guardian were clear in discouraging their staff from working overtime (since the trial was meant to measure productivity in the time allotted), there were issues for employees around prioritising their work demands in a shortened week as well as understanding what the company’s expectations. These issues were demonstrated by several employees reporting feeling the pressure of trying to complete five days’ worth of work in only four days. Additionally, one employee noted 10+ hour days (instead of the usual eight) becoming the norm simply because “the work just doesn’t stop”.
Many would argue that working longer on each of the four days is a natural trade off, with increased stress and longer working hours being offset by the extra day off per week. In reality though, only an extended trial would uncover whether this trade-off is sustainable in the long term.
All things considered, until further studies are conducted and additional data uncovered, it remains to be seen whether the four day working week would be a dream or nightmare come true for employees. While the additional day off would definitely help with work/life balance, several issues (especially unchanged workload expectations) have the distinct possibility to emerge and ironically destroy the very work/life balance that is meant to be enhanced by this initiative.
Personally, like most, I’d love to enjoy another day on the weekend. But, I would also like to get home at a reasonable time most nights. An idea like this is likely to be a double edged sword – it could have very favourable and unfavourable outcomes. It’s a sword that needs to be very carefully considered, trialled, implemented and balanced by employee and employer alike, lest the long weekend dream become a four day nightmare.