30 July 2019

The four day work week

In recent years, there has been a shift in the workplace to emphasize, and prioritize, flexibility and work-life balance. One of the ways that people have suggested to do this is with the implementation of a 4-day week. There have been multiple success stories of businesses who have introduced the 4-day week, but what does it actually mean for the workplace?

Perhaps the best-known success story of the 4-day work week was Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand based company. The feedback from this model was very interesting: stress levels decreased, the employees were, overall, far happier, and most remarkably, productivity did not drop. Further studies have even suggested that productivity even rises with shortened work weeks. The less people in the office allowed for less noise and distraction, and the increased free time made for less time during office hours being utilized for personal tasks and overall greater job satisfaction.

The findings of this experiment led Perpetual Guardian to fully implement the 4-day week structure, but the findings, while impressive in advocating for shorter weeks, do seem to be a little too good to be true.

The reality is that there are a lot more to consider that potentially negates the value of the 4-day week. The notion of working smarter not harder is not a bad one, and there is no doubt that this structure does have value, but potentially this is far more industry specific. In addition, the way that the weeks are shortened is also important to consider. Where this structure has been implemented, businesses either lessen the hours worked per week to 32, while others divide the 40 hours per week into the 4 days versus the 5, meaning employees work 9 hours a day. This could negate the so-called wellbeing benefits that the shortened week would add to the workplace, in fact it could potentially increase stress. Some businesses found that, in complete contrast to the promised increased productivity, work ethic dropped.

Especially in South Africa, the 4-day work week might not be the structure that would improve the workspace. In a country in which unemployment and the economic recession define much of business, it might not be conducive to solve these problems by lessening work. Interestingly, an Ipsos poll found that South Africans in general worked an average of 9 hours per day, without the incentive of a shortened week, and that they were less likely to take the days leave allocated them. The fact of the matter is that South Africa might not have the best climate for the implementation of the shortened week.

The 4-day work week is not necessarily a bad idea, in fact it has proven to work in several environments, but it is unlikely that it is something that should be implemented on a blanket basis, across industry and in every economic context. 

Created by: Brittany Vinnicombe