A company decided to put its employees on a 32-hour work week instead of the usual 40 hours while paying them the same, and they actually worked better.
Imagine being asked to come into work a day less each week, but still receiving the same pay. Would you be able to finish the same amount of work, or would you always be struggling to meet deadlines? According to a new study reported by the New York Times, a firm discovered that their employees actually became more productive.
A New Zealand company called Perpetual Guardian allowed its employees to come in just four days a week while paying them for five days, and noticed such an improvement in results, that it is planning to make what was a trial a permanent change.
The firm manages wills, trusts, and estates, and discovered that its 240 employees demonstrated higher levels of productivity despite working fewer hours. The employees spent the additional time cooking, exercising, gardening, and hanging out with their families.
Perpetual Guardian decided to implement the 32-hour work week, down from the traditional 40-hour week it had previously implemented. It also requested two researchers to map the effects of the change on the company's staff.
A human resources professor at Auckland University of Technology, Jarrod Haar, who was involved in the study, said that on the whole, employees reported a 24-percent improvement in their work-life balance. Their days off seemed to energize them.
He said, "Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks. Their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five."
Since the employees now spent less time at the office, they were more motivated to find ways to maximize their time there. They shortened the length of their meetings and gave cues to their colleagues that they needed time to focus on their work without distractions.
Haar added, "They worked out where they were wasting time and worked smarter, not harder." The employees of Perpetual Guardian managed to reduce the time spent in meetings from 2 hours to a more efficient 30 minutes.
The founder of the company, Andrew Barnes, believes that his company is the first to pay its employees for 40 hours a week despite only working 32. He contrasted it with other companies who have tried to fit 40 hours into fewer days or reduced their employees' salaries for working part-time.
Barnes' idea for the experiment came to him after he read a study that indicated that people are only employed productively for less than three hours each day. He also read another study that suggested that workplace distractions had a similar effect to smoking marijuana or losing a night's sleep.
Barnes claims that the Perpetual Guardian's experiment shows that supervisors should base their contracts with new people being hired on tasks to be performed rather than on the hours they are willing to spend working in the office.
He said, "Otherwise you’re saying, 'I'm too lazy to figure out what I want from you, so I'm just going to pay you for showing up.' A contract should be about an agreed level of productivity. If you deliver that in less time, why should I cut your pay?"
Barnes observed that the people who stood to gain the most from the reduced work hours were working mothers. He noticed that despite the fact that women who return from maternity leave negotiate part-time hours, they end up doing as many tasks as those engaged in full-time work.
A senior client manager with the firm, Tammy Barker, agreed with his evaluation. Barker, an Auckland-based mother of two, used her day off to run various errands like going grocery shopping or attending appointments, so that she could relax with her family on weekends.
The trial helped her realize that she was often flitting between tasks at work, often unproductively. She said, "Because there was a focus on our productivity, 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."
Barnes noted that another benefit of the experiment was that the company received lower electricity bills, as there were at least 20 percent fewer staff in the office as a result of the new hours. He saw wide-ranging implications if his strategy were implemented. "You’ve got 20 percent of cars off the road in rush hour; there are implications for urban design, such as smaller offices."
Iain Lees-Galloway, the government's workplace relations minister recognized that New Zealanders often worked excessively long hours, and commented that it was "great to see a company finding a better way." He added, "I applaud this instance of working smarter and encourage more businesses to take it up."
A similar experiment in Sweden in the city of Gothenburg saw employees who worked a six-hour day accomplish the same amount of work in less time, if not more. However, France's implementation of a 35-hour work week in 2000 saw business complain about increased hiring costs and reduced competitiveness.Disclaimer : This is based on sources and we have been unable to verify this information independently.