Are four day work weeks and paid OEs the way of the future?

Jessica Satherley
Are four day work weeks and paid OEs the way of the future?

Flexible working hours have been known to spark a 0.36% rise in stock prices for Fortune 500 companies and decrease staff stress, but would paying employees to take an OE be going a step too far?

A Waikato University academic recently suggested that offering paid leave for employees to take an OE would be an effective way to keep millennials in the company, but the sweeping statement might not be popular with businesses stuck with the bill.

Perpetual Guardian gained recognition for introducing a four day work week for its employees last year, but even they do not have a formal policy keeping roles open for staff who want to take an overseas interlude.

“Staff are encouraged to discuss their OE plans and keep in touch while they are away and Perpetual Guardian will look to place them upon coming back to New Zealand,” their spokesperson said.

Professor of leadership at Waikato University, Peter Sun, said the idea of a paid OE would be a way to entice millennials to be loyal to one company for longer.

“I have spoken to many CEOs who find it challenging because they (millennials) don’t want to work at one place for too long,” Sun told Stuff.

Sun believes that four-day work weeks are the way of the future but, since Perpetual Guardian led the way for shorter weeks in New Zealand, so far others have not followed suit.

There are a handful of UK businesses that have adopted the four day work week, while still paying their employees the same five-day salary rate, but none others in New Zealand.

Perpetual Guardian first trialled its shorter week in March 2018 with an eight week test for all of its 240 staff.

Employees worked 30 hours but were paid the same full time salary for 37.5 hours and were asked to deliver the same productivity level as their former five day week.

The company’s founder Andrew Barnes said at the time: ‘We want people to be the best they can be while they’re in the office, but also at home. It’s the natural solution.”

And a year on, the new system is fully integrated for those staff members who opted into the programme and Barnes says he’s still happy with the outcome.

“Our productivity has gone up, our profits have gone up, our staff retention has improved, our stress levels have dropped,” Barnes told The AM Show in February.

A branch manager at the company, Tammy Barker, chose Wednesdays as her day off during the trial. She says the mid-week day off made her more focused and productive on the other four days.

“For me it worked really well because I used Wednesdays to catch up on ‘home admin’ like grocery shopping and personal appointments that I might otherwise have done at the weekend. This meant I had a full two day weekend to spend time with my family,” Mrs Barker said.

Due to her changing role and increased responsibility though, Mrs Barker and her immediate team did not opt into the four day work week post-trial.

After the initial eight week trial, Perpetual Guardian found that team engagement levels increased across all sectors including leadership, commitment, stimulation and empowerment. Across all sectors there was between an 18% to 20% increase in engagement as well as reporting a 7% decrease in staff stress levels.

The company noted that output was maintained at the same level and staff’s work/life balance improved by 24%. Accordingly, they kept the system in place.

A British poll has also found that productivity does not correlate to how many hours or days are spent in the office. A UK research project polled 1,989 office workers and found that during a full work day staff were only productive for on average 2 hours and 53 minutes.

The rest of their day was spent checking social media (47% of the day), reading news websites (45%), chatting with colleagues (38%) and a mixture of other breaks and personal phone calls.

On the flip side of the short work week, is the 996 work culture, which is common with many online companies in Mainland China. The schedule consists of working from 9am to 9pm, 6 days per week.

The 72-hour-a-week structure is technically illegal under the Labour Law of the People’s Republic of China. The law specifies labourers shall not work more than 44 hours per week and ‘anti 996’ protests among Chinese tech employees launched online in March.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, Inc and drone company DJI Technology Co Ltd were included in the protest list, according to Reuters