1 Oct 2022

Making the four-day week work: 'You've got to move to the future'

4:27 pm on 1 October 2022
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Businesses who have started offering their staff a four-day working week say this is what the future of employment should look like.

After the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) suggested a 'Ministry of Green Works', including a comprehensive pilot of a four-day working week as parts of a strategy to develop the economy, New Zealanders were seen to have mixed feelings about what that would look like.

After the pandemic, many companies were flirting with the possibility of shorter weeks in order to offer a better work/life balance to its employees and attract more candidates to fill their vacant positions.

Construction software company Conqa was one of them.

The company started a four-day-week trial in March, planned to last 10 weeks to evaluate how it would impact the company's culture and productivity.

Almost seven months down the line, the initiative was still in place and the company decided to extend it until the end of the year.

Conqa product manager Damen Hansen said the idea came after the last lockdown.

"We started with giving our employees the Christmas break off without having to use their annual leave, so we gave a bunch of leave. So that was really well received and the feedback we got from that it was obviously positive, people love having free holidays. But it got us thinking how we could do that in a more sustainable way."

Hansen said while the feedback was positive, challenges started to pop-up.

"There was a lot of toing and froing that we had to work out, of 'okay - if we are working four days, we still have customers to support, we still have our sales and delivery team... How do we actually change our business model to ensure that people can be at the right place in the right time."

Conqa Product Manager Damen Hansen.

Conqa Product Manager Damen Hansen. Photo: Supplied / Damen Hansen

He said getting the team used to the new hours was also not an easy job.

"People still trying to feel like they needed to fit the same amount of work in 32 hours that they were doing in 40, when actually the shifts that we had to make was to ensure that the time was better utilised, and we were being more efficient."

And changes not only made their team happier but also helped attract new talent to the business.

"The calibre and the numbers of good candidates jumped when we made this known on our blog. It just took a massive leap," Hansen said.

About the financial impact of the changes, Hansen said the company adopted an innovating and quite ideal system.

"Everyone gets paid for 40 hours and gets leave for 40 hours and everyone turns up for 32. Sounds too good to be true, right? But we rolled that out to everyone as part of the trial."

Four-day weeks might still be in trial mode for the multinational Conqa, but in the north town of Whangarei, one shop has already been operating with shorter weeks for the past four years.

Tony Gordon Panelbeaters and Autopainters has six employees and gave them all Saturday, Sunday and Mondays off.

Owner Kevin Hurley said shorter weeks were the ultimate perk a company could offer.

"You can give people and offer people a lot of stuff, you know, perks and incentives but - give people time. Time is something you can't buy," Hurley said.

If more businesses adopt the practice, companies would have happier employers and enhanced productivity, he said.

"That's a mental thing I believe with a lot of companies - 'This is what we do, and this is what we do'. You gotta get your head out of the sand and move to the future. The hours we've been working I don't know how many years that have been around now - but it's time to move to the next stage."

Tony Gordon Panelbeaters and Autopainters owner Kevin Hurley.

Tony Gordon Panelbeaters and Autopainters owner Kevin Hurley. Photo: Supplied / Kevin Hurley

On the streets of Auckland, people wondered if the system would work for everyone.

"I'd love the idea but there are a whole lot of other factors that come into place such as pay - Would you get paid the same as your 5-day week or just 4 days?" this man said.

"Absolutely, it would really suit me and my life-style. Obviously, everything else would have to get in place before, but I think it's about living your life for living rather than working," another resident told RNZ.

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