Shorter meetings, more time to upskill: The 4-day work week

Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 19 Feb 2019, 10:42AM
It has been a year since Perpetual Guardian launched their four day working week. (Photo / Getty)

Shorter meetings, more time to upskill: The 4-day work week

Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 19 Feb 2019, 10:42AM

The four-day week could be the antidote to those long-winded corporate meetings that drag on, cutting into productive hours.

This according to marketer Emily Svadlenak, who has seen first-hand the impact of the four-day policy at Kiwi trusts business Perpetual Guardian.

"A big thing that's changed is that meetings that would have previously gone on for an hour now only go on for half an hour max," Svadlenak tells the Herald.

Perpetual Guardian marketer Emily Svadlenak has seen the four-day week reduce the length of business meetings. Photo/Supplied.

Perpetual Guardian marketer Emily Svadlenak has seen the four-day week reduce the length of business meetings. Photo/Supplied

She says that when the work week is shorter, everyone becomes more conscious of not wasting the time they have available.

"Those 10-minute catch-up sessions you used to have around the coffee machine suddenly become two-minute catch-ups," she says.

"Everyone enters sprint mode."

These comments come on the one-year anniversary of Perpetual Guardian first announcing that it would be trialling the four-day week – a move that sparked discussions around the world.

What at first looked like an elaborate marketing stunt later became permanent, with Perpetual Guardian CEO Andrew Barnes giving staff the choice to opt into the policy from November last year.

Having already seen the impact during the trial, Svadlenak was among those who responded with an emphatic "Yes" when the opportunity emerged.

Beyond the significant reduction in workplace procrastination, she says the four-day week has also – almost counter-intuitively – allowed her to become better at her job.

She says she often uses that extra day to upskill, honing the technical aspects of her job that otherwise would have been left on the backburner.

"It lets me get into the nitty-gritty of my job. If I want to learn more about inbound marketing or Google analytics, I now have the time to do that," she says.

This process of upskilling, she says, also occurs without the unavoidable feeling of guilt that often arises from missing a few hours of work on account of learning a new skill that may not be immediately necessary.

This point is particularly relevant at a time when business leaders at Davos suggested that upskilling is essential in addressing the issue of inequality, particularly as more jobs become dependent on digital technology. Without the continuous improvement of their skills, workers will simply not be able to secure better jobs. In this sense, the broader adoption of a four-day week could have a longer-term effect on growing capability within the workforce.

While Svadlenak and her co-workers have been given a permanent four-day week, it remains a privilege rather than a right.

But Svadlenak points out that this doesn't necessarily mean that staff could find themselves back on a five-day week on a whim.

"Everyone has an off day," says Svadlenak, explaining that Perpetual takes a longer view in determining whether staff have delivered.

She says workers are given an annual review, which takes numerous productivity targets into account. Staff are reminded that if they do not meet performance targets, they may find themselves back on a five-day workweek.

Perpetual boss Barnes says the system is far from perfect, and that they're constantly looking for new ways to improve staff performance and wellbeing.

Andrew Barnes, the CEO of Perpetual Guardian. Photo/Supplied.

Andrew Barnes, the CEO of Perpetual Guardian. Photo/Supplied.

This progress is being watched closely by the international business community, with Perpetual already receiving 350 requests from 28 countries for its latest white paper on the four-day week.

"We have much more to say about these issues and plan to release a book on the four-day week later this year," Barnes says.

While Barnes has been a strong advocate for the four-day week to be employed at more businesses, his optimism has been somewhat tempered by legislation which he doesn't see as fit for purpose.

He has noted that much of the employment legislation – in particular, the Holidays Act – is based on the antiquated approach of days worked rather than what is actually produced during those days.

As part of his efforts to nudge the legislation, Barnes submitted feedback to the Holidays Act working group sharing insights on why the legislation made it difficult to make the policy a reality.

More broadly, Barnes has called on politicians both here and abroad to look into the legislation and adapt it to ensure that flexible working arrangements can occur in a context where workers retain their rights and employers have the ability to innovate.

Workplace Relations minister Iain Lees-Galloway said he was keen to work with any businesses looking at how they can be more flexible for their staff and how they can look to improve productivity while protecting terms and conditions.

''It's not something that would be legislated for - The Employment Relations Act already allows for flexibility in work time, and it also allows for people to be on a salary rather than an hourly wage.''

The four-day work week was not something being looked at as part of the Holidays Act review, he said.