A Far North Rural Education provider is reaping the benefits of moving to a four day working week.
Far North REAP (Rural Education Activities Programme) is a not for profit organisation that employs 23 staff from a diverse range of cultures including 14 Maori, one American, one Welsh, one English and five non Maori employees. It delivers a wide range of community and educational services throughout the region with government funding. Its role includes engaging with individuals, organisations, and whole communities to bring about positive change through educational support.
Reducing hours, empowering staff
The Centre HR executive, Lisa Jones, says it has always been flexible with workers hours and schedules, but in 2010 a more formal change was instigated by its new chief executive and the associate executive. "Starting with our Education team we re-categorised six full time positions to four days a week with minimal impact on wages as at the same time we increased the hourly rate. It was then rolled out for the rest of the staff."
The Executive Team says they were aware that these positions carry a high load of stress burnout in some organisations. "We wanted people to work passionately in a balanced way that didn't jeopardise their health and well-being. Sometimes they have to travel long distances on rural roads." Adding that some people also wanted to enjoy more time in the scenic coastal lifestyle that the area offers as well. "It's a simple concept - the employee sets their four standard days of work with their managing Executive, and then is given the weekly freedom to adjust their 'off day' as needed by updating their personal work calendar to keep colleagues up to date."
It wasn't smooth sailing to start with, they say, as some five-day-a-week staff were resistant to change and wanted to keep their full time hours, and wages. "Through a number of kanohi kit e kanohi (face to face) individual meetings they were supported to adjust at their pace. Within a few weeks of working the new four day week the feedback was positive. Here are some staff comments: "Four day a week acknowledges the stressful nature of working with high risk families. It better equips us to do our work and be flexible around sudden commitments, while still having a pay rate that reflects a full week. Keeping it informal instills a sense of trust." "It allows for another life outside work. I was able to finish building my house and can now use the extra time for contract work as I need."
The Executive Team says the change has resulted in improvements in many aspects of the workplace such as overall attitude and performance. Output since 2009 has risen by 20%. "And despite tightening of government funding our organisation has been able to increase staff from nine to 14 over the last two years with the increased flexibility around the roles." Compared to the number of applications for advertised jobs about three years ago - they have increased by 300%. "Through informal feedback we get from applicants it looks like they feel we value our employees." The Team believes REAP's workplace initiative has empowered its staff to take ownership of their time and community priorities. "Ultimately we are providing educational support that is more flexible and innovative than ever."