Case Study 06. Professor Jarrod Haar
Professor Jarrod Haar is a Professor of Human Resource Management in the Department of Management at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT). This is a summary of his quantitative and qualitative findings based on Perpetual Guardian’s Four-Day Week trial.
Managers need to trust their employees. If you want a genuine psychological buy-in, then management need to give something powerful in return – like a day-off a week.
Teams are likely to be a key factor as they inherently know the work and can cover for being one person down (when they are taking the extra day off a week).
Managers that provide trust and support and a ‘lite touch’ are likely to get much more out of their teams than those seeking to watch and police workers constantly.
Start data collection early before any adoption of FWA or a 4-day work week! That way you can understand what works and what might not work so well. Not collecting and analysing data won’t stop these approaches being successful, but data analytics can provide useful metrics and information to aid decision making and to ‘sell’ a business case – such as to Board of Directors or Owners.
I first heard about Perpetual Guardian’s Four-Day Week trial when it announced the trial in the New Zealand Herald, and I approached Christine Brotherton, Perpetual Guardian’s Head of People and Capability. Essentially, I invited myself to the party, bringing in my knowledge of employee attitudes and behaviours (like engagement and work-life balance) and my keen quantitative skills.
As a Professor of Human Resource Management, I am all about people (employees). Not only how to motivate and retain them but enhance their engagement and performance and understand their wellbeing. Indeed, I have a growing number of articles on work-life balance and internationally there is a growing interest in work-life balance, but fundamentally, we are not sure how to achieve it. This is partly because the workplaces of today are constantly demanding (including off-site through email) but also frequently distracting. The Four-Day Week trial provided a unique opportunity: could working more focussed in four days (and having the fifth day off) lead to not only greater work-life balance, but maintained job performance? What effect would it have on other forms of job performance that aids organisations? In the trial, I got to explore these factors. As a social scientist, this was an amazing opportunity and I can genuinely see and understand the potential of a four-day week.
In the beginning
One aspect I was particularly interested in was what would employees do with an extra day off a week? We have all experienced long weekends and for some Perpetual Guardian workers, this would occur in the trial. But what happens if your day off is in the middle of the week, like a Wednesday? Does a mid-week break help much or annoy people more? Would a regular day off a week (albeit on different days) lead to positive use of the extra day off? What would people use it for? Would they sleep and recover or explore and make the most of the extra day? These were research questions we simply had never had the opportunity to answer. Until now…
The extra day
To answer the question above, I asked people what they spent their leisure time on before and after the Four-Day Week trial. This was simply an open box to allow people to provide as much (or as little) information as they liked. Before the trial there was a host of activity, although the majority was exercise like the gym, golf, or walking; time with family; or pure leisure activities like watching Netflix. Immediately after the trial, I sought to understand what they had been spending the extra day on. Had anything changed? Indeed, a lot of activities mentioned above remained the same. But new uses for the day off emerged. Examples included ‘baking a cake and spending time with parents’, ‘spending much needed time studying’, and ‘cleaning the house on a Wednesday and then having the weekend free’. Someone spoke of their partner working nights and enjoying the opportunity to be home with them on their day off.
Other activities were especially relevant because the day off occurred between Monday and Friday. Parents talked about attending school activities – for the day. Some spoke of going to their child’s class and being a ‘helper’ for the day. Others worked with a community group or a charity to give back on their day off. Interestingly, many spoke about how the day off during the week empowered them – recharging batteries – and enabling them to perform their next days at work with additional energy and focus. As a researcher, I’d suggest this shows that beyond a ‘three-day weekend’ having a day off in the middle of the week might be especially valuable – again, for employees and their employer, but also families and extended family. This shows the potential benefits beyond an organisation and its employees and their families – schools, wider community benefits – the potential appears wide ranging.
An important focus – perhaps the most important – was the interest in performance. Could employees do their weekly work in four days? If they could, does it reflect them not working that hard before the trial? Or does it reflect the earlier notion of “Parkinson’s Law” around work expanding to fill the time. Given this was a key metric for Perpetual Guardian, it was important to capture this well. But I also ensured I was capturing more than just whether the workers were doing their five-day job in four days. I was interested in testing whether other forms of job performance – things we might do that aren’t on our job description but are typically valuable – and how these were affected by the Four-Day Week trial.
I had managers assess the performance of their business units before and immediately after the trial. I asked them not only established questions about the work of the team, but other performance indicators, such as how creative their team was, how well they engaged with customers and with each other. When I analysed the data, it showed that work teams did the same job working a five-day week versus a four-day week, that is, it didn’t change, and importantly it didn’t go down. So, workers were able to complete their five days a week job in four days. But there were more benefits than that. Managers reported their teams were more creative after the trial – it involved them finding solutions to doing their work in four days, so this reflected well. Importantly, they rated their teams as giving better customer service – they were more engaging and focussed when clients and customers called. In addition, they engaged in behaviours that were more positive to each other, with heightened helping behaviours providing another performance boost. This is important because all these other behaviours ultimately boost an organisation’s performance.
We live in hectic times, with job stress and job burnout real issues of concern regarding our workforces. My quantitative analysis (before the trial and immediately afterwards) showed there were significant employee benefits beyond performance noted above. Significantly lower job stress and burnout was reported, with work-life balance levels achieving record highs. Beyond wellbeing, employees reported their teams were stronger and functioned better together, more satisfied with their jobs, more engaged and they felt their work had greater meaning. They also reported being more committed to the organisation and less likely to look elsewhere for a job.
What we learned from the Four-Day Week trial is that we all have sufficient energy to work a five-day week, but this may not be the most optimal way to get work done. There is clearly potential for the four-day week. It can lead to maintaining existing performance outputs – which is needed and necessary – but it may produce such benefits beyond that, which really reinforce the advantage of a four-day week. Employees talked about the benefit of having an extra day off, and not only did they recover and rejuvenate with that extra time, they also engaged in new activities that enriched a wide range of people and community groups, and left employees with greater energy levels when they returned to work.
Of course, such change is radical and does require management to be visionary and trust its workforce. Ironically, this is similar to what employers want from their workforce. Employers ask employees to do a good job, be engaged, and trust management to guide the organisation successfully. Well, perhaps a four-day week is a place where both parties can genuinely join together – and the benefits might be astronomical. My recommendation is to follow Andrew Barnes’ advice and just trial it. You really have nothing to lose.