Engineering the secret for staff work/life balance

Hannah Murphy and Jordan Walker are two of Kirk Roberts' Christchurch office employees who have taken advantage of the company's offer to work their 80-hour fortnight over nine days.

Having energy at the end of the work week, avoiding peak traffic, and more time with the kids are just a few of the perks employees at Kirk Roberts Consulting are experiencing with a nine-day working fortnight.

The national multi-disciplinary engineering and project management company — which is developing the $35 million Sudima Hotel in Kaikoura and designed the popular Riverside Market development in central Christchurch — is introducing the option of a nine-day working fortnight for its 133 full-time staff.

This means employees can work their 80 hours in nine days to have every second Friday off.

A trial in mid-2019 in its Tauranga office saw employee satisfaction increase across several areas:

• 53% increase in satisfaction when it came to having more energy at the end of the work week.
• 47% increase in satisfaction when it came to meeting family responsibilities.
• 39% increase in satisfaction when it came to health and well-being.

The nine-day fortnight was set to become permanent in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic hit and the idea was shelved.

But with all staff working from home during lockdown and getting a taste for spending more time at home, employees were keen for working life to get back to normal so they could take advantage of the nine-day fortnight.

Since the initiative kicked off in late April, 54% of full-time employees are now participating across the company’s four offices in Christchurch, Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland.

Christchurch project coordinator for Kirk Roberts’ Geotechnical, Civil and Environmental division, Hannah Murphy, says she is keen to take advantage of a day off to hit the slopes this winter.

“I can’t wait to go skiing on a Friday and not have to wait in line — it will be so refreshing,” she says.

“Having a three-day weekend also gives you a boost psychologically. My weekends are usually very active, so that one extra day to wind down and relax before the week ahead is just what I need.”

Meanwhile, Christchurch executive manager for Kirk Robert’s Geotechnical, Environmental and Civil division, Jordan Walker, plans to spend more time with his two young children.

“An extra day off will let me get the gardening done, or any extra work, so on the weekend I can spend it with the family,” he says.

Walker says adding in an extra half hour of work in the morning and afternoon, or even a shorter lunch break, is enough to fill your 80 hours in nine days.

Chief executive Jade Kirk says caring for staff and wanting them to be happy are key drivers for Kirk Roberts.

“We want to be an employer of choice and to be as innovative in running our business as we are in finding solutions for our clients.

“We know that our people value flexibility, and that the traditional way of working doesn’t suit everyone. We also want to help lead change in the way employers operate.

“Giving our staff this flexibility option lets them make choices about how they achieve a good work life balance,” Kirk says.

Kirk Roberts also has an employee share trust which currently owns about 20% of the company’s shares, so that staff can share in company profits and take an active role in the development of the company.

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