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4-day work week is a success, New Zealand experiment finds

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If productivity is plummeting in the workplace, the solution might be simple: Make the work week shorter.

One company did just that by experimenting with a four-day work week. The trial was so successful, management is seeking to make the change permanent.

Perpetual Guardian, a 240-employee New Zealand firm that manages trusts, wills and estates, recently wrapped a two-month trial where employees worked four days a week instead of the typical five, though their pay remained the same.

Teams at Perpetual were given a month to prepare, putting productivity measures in place before the trial officially kicked off on March 5. Perpetual enlisted the help of Dr. Helene Delaney from the University of Auckland Business School and Professor Jarrod Haar of the Auckland University of Technology to conduct the study.

For the experiment, employees completed surveys preceding the trial and after the trial. The shorter work week, it seems, was a success.

After the four-day work week trial, staff stress levels lowered 7 percent, and 78 percent said they could manage work-life balance, from only 54 percent pre-trial.

Performance didn't suffer either. Team engagement levels that looked at metrics including leadership, commitment, stimulation and empowerment, all climbed post-trial.

The planning phase before the trial also had a beneficial impact on the behavior of employees in the workplace; the qualitative analysis of the study found that the planning discussions pre-trial actually resulted in more employees implementing new ways to be more efficient in the workplace. These productivity hacks included automating manual processes, shorter and more focused meetings, combining meal breaks with work tasks and getting rid of non-work related Internet use.

It also found an increased level of teamwork and collaboration (“employees describe how they felt a mutual willingness to ‘help each other out,’” reads the report).

“Many employees see the reduced working hours as ‘a gift’ and ‘a privilege not a right,’ and feel a deep sense of goodwill and reciprocity towards the organization, which manifests in an openness to ‘go the extra mile’ and think about ‘what I can do to give back,’” the qualitative analysis reads. “Many employees reported a willingness to be available for work purposes on their day off.”

Outside of work, employees reported other benefits, such as having more time to participate in family life, restore, reconnect and even explore and imagine.

As a result of the trial, Perpetual Guardian CEO Andrew Barnes has recommended to its board that the four-day work week be made permanent.

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