Case Study 01. Christine Brotherton
Christine Brotherton is Perpetual Guardian’s Head of People and Capability. This is a summary of her experience of the Four-Day Week trial; some of the key results and findings; and recommendations and advice for other companies thinking of introducing a similar policy.
Top five recommendations
Be clear about your objectives and what you are trying to achieve.
Be bold and don’t let technical issues stop you seeing the policy through.
Don’t lead from the top. Empower staff to make their own decisions and trust them to make the right call regarding customers and team members.
Create a policy that can flex depending on workloads, projects or customer requirements. Make sure staff understand there will be times they won’t get their ‘rest’ day.
Ensure productivity measures are individualised for different people and parts of the business.
Full interview with Christine Brotherton
The starting point for our Four-Day Week trial was the desire to have a conversation about productivity and to get people thinking about how they were working and ways in which they could work smarter.
The aim was to establish if there was a connection between employee engagement and productivity so there was a big focus on looking at the sorts of things we do every day at work and the types of roles we have.
One of the most pleasing parts of the trial was that it did indeed kick off a conversation about productivity and almost immediately had teams thinking consciously about what they were doing and how they were doing it.
Another key success for us was raising employee engagement by 40% when comparing pre- and post-trial results. This was a stunning result which even surprised the independent researchers who followed the trial. Professor Haar stated this was an unprecedented indicator of success and shows the power of trusting and empowering employees – but also of rewarding them to focus on work in work time and recover outside of work time (through the extra day off).
We also found that when it came to leadership, we were very successful in empowering our staff to find their own solutions as to how they were going to continue to support and service our clients while at the same time coming up with their own productivity measures as well.
The aim of the trial was to determine whether the ‘carrot’ of having one day off per week at full pay was sufficient to encourage our staff to think quite differently about how they were working.
While it didn’t come as a surprise that people felt good about having an extra day off per week, we certainly weren’t expecting the extremely positive results we received from both our quantitative surveying and also the qualitative surveying of the focus groups.
These measures were a key factor in deciding to roll out the policy full-time across the company. The trial engendered a lot of goodwill and energy, and staff have enjoyed the policy being rolled out over the summer months.
There’s also a strong sense of responsibility among staff to work with their clients and customers and to make sure everything continues to work as well as it did during the trial.
The feedback from our external clients, both corporate and individual, has been very positive, with a number of them beginning similar discussions with their own staff.
Advice and recommendations
Based on our experience, the biggest piece of advice we have for anyone considering introducing a similar policy is to be very clear about your objectives and what you are trying to achieve.
It’s also important to be bold and to have an idea and to see it through. Often companies can get stuck in the technical aspects of how to implement a new policy.
Another important tip is to be collaborative in designing a flexibility trial or policy. Leadership is crucial to success, and the guidance of Andrew Barnes and senior managers was important in demonstrating how the Four-Day Week could work in practice; but a flexibility policy is unlikely to work as a top-down or authoritarian construct. The success of our trial came from empowering staff to come to their own decisions and to trust them to make the right call with regards to their customers and team members.
Flexibility and empowerment
We created a policy that could flex so that depending on workloads, projects or customer requirements, there were times when staff didn’t take the ‘rest’ day. But we empowered staff to make that decision themselves as to whether it was the right thing to do or not. It’s important that leaders and managers take a coaching and supporting role as opposed to being directive.
Another critical aspect of the policy is coming up with productivity measures that are individualised for different people and parts of the business. For many staff this wasn’t something they’d ever thought about, so even beginning the conversation and encouraging them to think consciously about productivity measures was valuable.
As soon as they started thinking about how they serviced their clients and customers we were able to wrap around an agreement on response times, accuracy and the provision of best service.
The trial enabled us to have a deep conversation with each staff member so that they could understand what their value was in terms of output. It helped everyone to become conscious and deliberate about what they were doing and why they were doing it.
One of the many initiatives that came from staff was to cut meeting times from an hour to 30 minutes and then at the end of the trial measure whether there’d been any differences in output or value of the shortened meetings – which there wasn’t.
Staff also became much more deliberate about their behaviour and started ensuring they had an agenda for meetings and thinking about how they were going to work together and respect each other’s time.
From the beginning of the trial it was important to ensure staff didn’t extend the work hours of their four days of work and that they stuck with their normal contracted hours. The policy was about focussing on work efficiencies in order to get an extra day off and not working different hours.
This meant that staff still accrued annual leave at the same rate they were contracted under their employment agreements.
What the trial showed us is that traditional ways of working and regulated hours of work are becoming less relevant in today’s society and will become even less relevant in the future.
Initiatives like the Four-Day Week give workers the gift of time and the gift of being able to look after themselves and reconnect with families, and we know policies like this are starting to make a difference in people’s lives.
We want to encourage business in New Zealand and around the world to continue with this type of innovative thinking and look at new ways of working and move away from the traditional nine-to-five (or longer) way of working.
After all, if we continue to do everything as we’ve done in the past, how are we going to remain relevant and do things better in the future?