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A Commentary on Flexibility: Perpetual Guardian's Four Day Work Week

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I attended a discussion forum here in Auckland last week regarding Perpetual Guardian’s four day work week trial

In case you missed it, Perpetual Guardian spent eight weeks offering their employees the flexibility to work only four days a week, while being paid for five days. Not everyone in the company engaged in the trial, preferring their current pace of outputs or their weekly schedule.
However, most employees jumped at the opportunity to take an extra day a week in flexibility. Furthermore, this workplace experiment struck a chord in the global workforce. Perpetual Guardian recorded over 800 million hits to the articles on their initial trial!

Perpetual Guardian saw results regarding increased employee engagement, lowered workplace stress, improved work-life balance, and a general sense of increased commitment at work. Overall, it sounds amazing – no wonder 800 million are interested.

Lowering stress, saving on gas, saving on commute time, freeing up flexibility to finish other projects at home, or participate in activities with family, all of it is fantastic. 

Immediately the discussion evening centered on how we could get the work week down to 3 days. Or 2 days. Someone suggested “no-days” which just sounded like unscheduled busyness. There is some merit to consistency.

Over the course of our discussion, especially with the trial only being eight weeks, the audience raised a couple of interesting questions:
-    How much of a highlight did the trial place on actual engagement? Were people just engaged more because there was a workplace trial happening? 
-    In the long-term, how would people view employees still working five days a week? E.g.: If I can get x-amount done in four days, what did you do in five? 

One fascinating insight from our evening was on what didn’t work during the trial. For those areas of business, or those operating locations which didn’t really engage with the trial, it all came down to leadership. Where leaders failed to understand the purpose of the experiment or the benefits of such flexibility, the initiative failed. John Maxwell is right, “Everything rises and falls on Leadership.”

At the end of it all, two things stand clear from the discussion.

First, any change initiative, especially one involving large amounts of flexibility, must utilize a metric for success. 

At Perpetual Guardian, their metric was client service. If client service dipped, the trial was a failure. It wasn’t about hours at a desk, or phone calls made – it was about customer engagement.

I like how Perpetual Guardian determined they’re not paying people to be in seats. They’re paying people to interact with, and serve, customers. Their description: “Pay for outputs, not for hours.”

Second, overcome the obstacles to implementation.

Find out what the obstacles are and move them (or go around them). Learn to ask, “How can I make this work?” instead of saying, “this is why it won’t work!”

Perpetual Guardian found some of their barriers were relatively small (even if deeply entrenched!). For example, conventional workplace practices revolve around a five day work week. But no law calls for this to be so – at least not in New Zealand. So it’s a small barrier. Some barriers, such as company-wide communication around expectations and assumptions took longer to navigate. Not an insurmountable barrier, but one necessary to overcome.

So what difference does it make, especially in your workplace? Should it make a difference at all?

Should we all ditch our workplace practices and head for a four day week? Should we leave our companies tomorrow if they don’t give us an extra day off?

Perpetual Guardian’s trial strikes a chord with young millennials and Gen Z workers wanting more flexibility. I don’t think this means we need to change everything.

It’s a pretty specific example, in a pretty particular industry. Would it work in international shipping? Would it work in the automotive production or repairs industries? I don’t think so – for both examples. 

I do see a rising tide of expectation around workplace flexibility. We need to be ready. Ready to change and adapt. 

We do need to think about flexibility more. About our workplace practices, about the impact we have on employees, and about how we can leverage small changes to make a big difference in engagement.

Consider how this might be a great time to look at our own metrics for success and think outside the box around flexibility.

What ways do we employ creative thinking to overcome obstacles, take care of our employees, and continue to see our businesses grow in a world of changing workplace culture?