In a field as staffing-strapped as senior living, new answers are always welcome. Now comes word from New Zealand that a very workable solution may be available, so long as operators are willing to give up their usual practices and prejudices.

By usual practices, I mean pushing your most loyal and dedicated employees to not just work five days a week, but to take on additional hours and shifts to become human spackle. By usual practices, I mean the unspoken assumption that workers are only looking for an easy-as-possible paycheck.

So what is this revolutionary new strategy? It’s pretty simple, really: Let your employees work four days, but pay them for five. I swear, I’m not making this up.

But first, some context. A New Zealand company tested the four-day work week concept after its CEO read several studies touting the resulting work-life benefits. The firm, Perpetual Guardian, helps people with wills, trusts and estate plans. During the trial, which ran across most of March and April, workers were paid for five days worked, even though only four were required.

“This is an important pact between you and I,” CEO Andrew Barnes said at a company-wide meeting in February when he unveiled the experiment. “This is over to you. We are going to give you the responsibility to figure out how this works for each team, how productivity stays up, and how we can continue to deliver to our customers despite the changing work hours.”

So what happened?

On average, participants reported a 7% decrease in a stress levels, a 24% increase in work-life balance and a 20% increase in team engagement.

Of course, an uptick in happiness is to be expected if staff are going to be paid a full-time salary for what amounts to part-time work. But what caught many observers off guard was the effect the move had on worker productivity. There was no drop off. Zero.

In effect, full-time performance was maintained despite the compressed hours. Respondents also reported higher engagement levels across areas such as leadership, commitment, stimulation and empowerment.

Thanks to the wins-gone-wild payoff, Barnes plans to make the four-day structure permanent.

“It was just a theory, something I thought I wanted to try because I wanted to create a better environment for my team,” he said in an interview with CNN.

“What happens is you get a motivated, energized, stimulated, loyal work force. I have ended up with statistics that indicate my staff are fiercely proud of the company they work for because it gives a damn.”

John O’Connor is editorial director of McKnight’s Senior Living. Email him at [email protected].