A plan by Perpetual Guardian to introduce a four-day working week is getting other companies and business organisations sitting up and taking notice.

In March, the company, which deals with wills and trust funds, will introduce a four-day week for a period of six weeks across the business of more than 200 staff to measure what impact this will have on productivity.

Workers' salaries will remain the same and the length of the workday will not be increased.

Perpetual Guardian founder Andrew Barnes said it was a bit of a "drop the mic moment" when staff were told of the plan on Friday.


But disbelief soon became a positive reaction throughout the company.

"There's a buzz in the place ... we've now got teams sitting down all over going, how do we work smarter, how do we work better and I couldn't have asked for anything more," Barnes said.

"The guys who are doing the job are often the best people to tell you how to do it better. So if we've energised that process, if that's all we get out of this then frankly it's a win." The trial will run from the start of March to middle of April and if it works it will become permanent from July 1.

"If you can provide a mechanism that makes it easier for people to handle things outside of the office then theoretically you're getting a benefit straight away because the time when they're in the office is time when they're actually working as opposed to doing other things."

Barnes had had a few calls from other companies.

"It's going to create a lot of interest there is no doubt. The reaction I think has been so strong that I think this is a conversation NZ Inc has to have and if this little trial helps to drive that forward that's fine." The company will share the results with anyone who wants them, including competitors.

"To me it's bigger than what I'm doing in my business. It's about how we make NZ Inc fit for purpose."

Andrew Barnes, founder of Perpetual Guardian, hopes to increase staff engagement and productivity.
Andrew Barnes, founder of Perpetual Guardian, hopes to increase staff engagement and productivity.

Yellow chief executive Darren Linton said he was interested in seeing the results "and looking at ways we may apply this to Yellow if proven successful".


Yellow also has innovative HR policies and had recently launched a flexi-hours policy "to ensure that our staff can enjoy work-life balance."

Phillipa Gimmillaro, director of human resources at Sudima Hotels & Resorts said the company was always looking at ways to improve its workplace policies and offer the best working environment for staff.

"To us, our staff are like family, and work-life balance is vital," Gimmillaro said.

We'll be interested in seeing the results of this four-day work week and reviewing whether this or something similar could be a good fit for us and the wider accommodation industry."

Kim Campbell, chief executive of business group EMA, said he would be very interested in the outcome.

"What we've advocated is the flexible workplace and if an employer can make that work and everybody's happy, great."

The results of the trial would need to be validated and wider success for such moves could depend on what type of work a company was doing.

Perpetual Guardian head of people and capability Christine Brotherton pointed to international research showing a correlation between employee engagement and productivity.

"If employees are engaged with their job and employer, they are more productive," Brotherton said.

"This is why we are adopting this trial. We believe efficiency will come with more staff focus and motivation."

Brotherton said there is a growing demand among staff for greater flexibility and this is a step in that direction.

In a recent internal survey at Perpetual Guardian, 80 per cent of staff said they were happy with the levels of flexibility when it came to annual leave, but this number dropped to 72 per cent when they were asked whether they saw their work arrangements as flexible. The figure was even lower, at 66 per cent, when staff were asked whether they could give equal priority to work and family life and still be considered for a promotion.

"This raises a number of questions for us," Brotherton said.

"How can we energise our staff to be more productive and innovative in what we do and how we do it? How can we make our measurements of productivity clearer and easier to report on? How can we draw on our good levels of engagement to empower people to lift their productivity and to provide a great place to work?"

Brotherton doesn't expect to get all the answers she's looking for from the trial, but she does believe it could guide the company toward increasing engagement and thereby productivity in the workforce.

According to research from the World Economic Forum, New Zealand ranked 20th among OECD countries in terms of the number of hours worked annually.

New Zealand workers put in 1,752 hours over the course of 2016, well ahead of the 1,363 hours put in by German workers.

Other countries on the lower end of the scale included Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and France.

Despite enjoying the shortest working hours among OECD member countries, Germany manages high productivity levels, with data showing a German worker to be 27 per cent more productive than his or her British counterpart (who works 1,676 hours a year).

Perpetual Guardian's move also comes off the back of the news this week that German metal workers had won the right to a 28-hour work week for up to two years - a seven-hour reduction on the standard 35-hour work week.

In Germany, the unions remain a powerful force in the corporate environment, continuing to play a major role in protecting worker rights.