New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian has announced that it is embarking on a six week trial that will allow employees what many would view as the ultimate in work life balance: four days work for five days pay.
The rationale behind it is that, if employees have an extra day to deal with family commitments, life admin and to pursue hobbies, it will make them more focused and productive on the four days spent at the office, in which they will only be required to work standard business hours (a reduction to 32 hours a week from 40).
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. The average Briton works 1,676 hours a year, according to OECD data – or the equivalent of around 32 hours per week, which puts us towards the better end of the table. More specifically, workers in the South West have the lowest average working hours in the UK, at just 29.9 per week. But just because we are physically not in the office, technology means we are probably putting in many more hours than that before we get to work, after we leave and even when we are on holiday.
The IoD applauds any approach to addressing work life balance and improving resilience in the workplace. It is committed to raising awareness of mental health issues at work, with a particular focus on opening up the conversation for small and medium-sized businesses, which often lack the resources of larger corporate organisations to address their employees’ mental health. Tackling the ‘always on’ culture is certainly one of the issues employers should be addressing.
The initiative at Perpetual Guardian should definitely be applauded, however they may find the six week trial a challenge, as it is a relatively short period of time in which employees may need to change their personal circumstances to take into account an extra day out of work. If they change child care arrangements for six weeks, they might not be able to change them back again easily or affordably. Think how far in advance child care arrangements are made and are often paid for during holidays or breaks, just to secure the ongoing place. Of course, everyone will also ideally want to change their work pattern so they have a four day weekend, as opposed to mid-week breaks. I would be interested to know if there is a revolving rota or if there is a hierarchy according to family commitments, which could lead to friction. I also wonder whetherstaff might prefer to work flexibly ‘saving up’ any ‘extra' hours worked to take a longer holiday break rather than be forced to work a four day week?
As recently highlighted by the academic Peter Fleming in his book, The Death of Homo Economicus: Work, Debt and the Myth of Endless Accumulation, merely reducing working hours will not change much when it comes to health and does not create happier employees, if the other conditions at work are wretched. Having worked in employee benefits for over 10 years, we often saw that new initiatives such as this created lots of good will and a "warm" feeling at the beginning, but once it became the new normal, productivity would often dip again and a new incentive would have to be found. Many of our clients found that flexible working and other employee benefits (such as childcare, volunteering, health & wellbeing) did support long term productivity more effectively, as long as this was matched with good management, people centred working conditions and opportunities for training and career progression. I look forward to seeing the results of Perpetual Guardians’ trial and encourage employers to experiment with new ways of working. Reduced working hours may become more prevalent anyway due to greater automation and could also be an effective way to tackle climate change, unemployment and more equal working relationships between men and women.
Lhosa Daly, IoD Bristol Chair