Sleepyhead's billion-dollar ambition to develop affordable housing for its staff is the latest example of a progressive employer investing in the wellbeing of its staff.

With the introduction of the four-day week last year, Perpetual Guardian took a similarly bold step that questioned the whole notion of the five-day workweek.

Mainfreight also has a reputation for paying staff decent bonuses, dishing out $27.2 million to staff in 2019. And the company chairman Bruce Plested pushed even further, questioning whether companies should share a percentage of profits among the people who helped create them.

"It is a basic premise of capitalism to have the lowest possible input costs, but there is no particular premise that the enterprise, if successful with its strategy, must hold on to all the profits," Plested said


There are less conspicuous examples of companies looking after their staff. Air New Zealand's airfare discounts to its team, for instance, certainly contributed to the airline being voted the nation's best workplace in 2018.

While all these moves appear fundamentally altruistic on the surface, there's also something in it for the companies. We do, of course, live in a capitalist society and the most successful companies aren't in the habit of giving away money for nothing.

The benefits to Sleepyhead are relatively clear. It will allow the company to expand its footprint in New Zealand, while also improving the wellbeing of staff, who are being pushed further and further away from their place of work by the rising costs of living.

As Sleepyhead boss Craig Turner told the Herald: "The whole plan is for residents to be able to live, eat and work in the area, and not to have to drive for 30 to 40 minutes and spend all that money on petrol. That money can go into buying their homes and things they really want to have."

This money will be conveniently spent on housing owned by Sleepyhead, delivering a potential return on the investment the company has put into the project.

The executives are Sleepyhead are looking up from the quarterly balance sheet and taking a longer-term strategic view of what will allow the company to remain successful as the socio-economic and demographic makeup of New Zealand changes in the coming years. It's risky, but it could also add another few decades to the story of a company which first launched in 1935.

Beyond the financial equation, there's also the case of winning the added loyalty of staff who have been given access to something that seemed utterly beyond their reach. Whether this loyalty manifests as improved productivity will likely be the product of a future Harvard Business Review study, but looking after staff has already been shown to lead to improvements of this important business measure.

Perpetual Guardian founder Andrew Barnes understood from the outset that sceptics would quickly question the business nous of giving his staff a day off work every week, and therefore invited academics to study the impact of the change.


The data collected from this study has played a big role in convincing other companies that there's method to the seeming madness of questioning how much we work in a given week. In a sense, the bold first step of Barnes gave others the confidence to follow suit.

One thing that's notable about all these companies is that they've veered away from the token perks that often typify "hip workplaces". There are no ball pits, slides or fancy lunch rooms on show here. What you have, instead, are legitimate efforts to make the arduous chore of work a little more tolerable for Kiwi families.

Every experiment may not go according to plan, but at least we still have a few businesses brave enough to try something different.