The four-day week looks here to stay

Dublin: A shorter week reflects a flexible and results-oriented culture, where employees are judged on the quality of work rather than how long they are in the office.

BY | Tuesday, 12 March, 2024
(PC: kate.sade/ Unsplash)

Author Orla Kelly, University College Dublin

Is a three-day weekend going to become the new standard?

While flexible work arrangements have been available across many sectors, many organisations now offer employees opportunities to reduce work time without reducing pay.

Many national and regional governments, including California, Finland, Iceland, Scotland, Spain, Wales, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, are debating, legislating or encouraging shorter workweeks, indicating a shift in official attitudes.

This year, workers in Belgium secured the legal right to complete a standard workweek in four days without any salary reductions.

Cultural shifts after the COVID-19 pandemic have fuelled interest in reduced work hours. Organisational innovations during successive lockdowns proved that flexible work arrangements can be implemented quickly and on a large scale.

The pandemic also sparked a shift in societal values, with Gen Z and Millennials valuing work-life balance and flexibility more than ever as they juggle jobs and personal lives.

The widespread participation in the four-day week global trials is a testament to private sector interest in experimenting with reduced work time arrangements.

The trials, launched in 2021, are a series of pilot programs led by 4 Day Week Global (4DWG), a non-profit organisation advocating for a shorter workweek with no reduction in pay.

They are designed to assess the impact of a four-day week on employee well-being, productivity, and company performance.

Almost 200 companies and 3,000 employees from various industries in Ireland, the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have completed the trials, which required a commitment to the ‘100-80-100’ model, where employees work 80 percent of their usual hours while maintaining 100 percent pay and output.

While not all the companies implemented a four-day week schedule, the majority (88 percent) did. The remaining 12 percent implemented an alternative reduced worktime schedule such as two half-days off.

The trials have been accompanied by rigorous academic research led by Boston College in collaboration with academic partners, including the University College Dublin to evaluate their impact.

Most early adopters in the trial reported positive impacts of worktime reduction arrangements Most companies have been able to implement the changes without sacrificing productivity. They have continued reduced worktime models after the trial ended.

Organisations that successfully implemented a four-day week tended to adjust workflows and scheduling, reduced unnecessary meetings and embraced new ways of working with the help of new tech such as artificial intelligence.

Usually, embracing a shorter workweek also reflects a shift towards a more flexible and results-oriented workplace culture, where employees are judged on the quality of their work rather than the number of hours spent in the office.

Organisations not investing in the necessary work reorganisation planning can struggle to coordinate projects and team responsibilities, increasing employee stress as they pack the same workload into fewer days.

For the majority of employees in the four-day week global trials, the impacts were overwhelmingly positive.

On average, employees reported a significant increase in physical and mental health well-being, their satisfaction with their lives overall, how time is used, and even their relationships. Stress, burnout, fatigue and work-family conflict significantly declined.

Levels of sleep deprivation have also fallen dramatically. In Ireland, sleep times increased from 7.02 hours a night to 7.72 hours, while time for hobbies increased by 36 minutes a week on average.

The 100-80-100 model offers advantages other flexible work arrangements do not. By retaining the pay standards, participation is not limited to those who can afford a pay cut.

Alternative part-time work arrangements, while useful for balancing the demands of work and family, can reproduce gender inequalities in the home and compromise women’s financial security and long-term career trajectories.

Notably, women, particularly those in heterosexual partnerships with caring responsibilities, tend to take on optional flexible and part-time work arrangements at much higher rates than their male counterparts.

A universal worktime policy, on the other hand, provides all employees with more time to dedicate to unpaid labour regardless of gender or parental status providing a non-stigmatising alternative to balancing career and personal life.

Reduced hours are easier to implement in some sectors than in others. Organisations in hospitality and healthcare sometimes need to hire more staff to meet goals.

For these organisations, the benefits of a reduced worktime policy can be more complicated to quantify.

Many report benefits regarding staff recruitment, retention, and lower absenteeism rates. This is particularly true for those companies in sectors that struggle with high rates of burnout.

If reduced worktime is to be scaled across all sectors, long-term planning and government investment are needed to address staffing shortages.

The trial results also suggest the shorter workweek has modest environmental benefits.

On average, commuting among employees decreased during the trials and pro-environmental behaviour increased in certain contexts.

Some participants reported spending more time on climate-friendly activities, such as active travel instead of driving.

Beyond the individual impact, reduced work time policy could be a key component of eco-social policy-making.

There are opportunities for governments to reflect on how the growing popularity of reduced work time could be leveraged to allow people to invest in their health and well-being, thereby reducing the pressure on healthcare systems.

There is also the opportunity to reap the benefits of automation and encourage people to dedicate their free time towards engagement in sustainability-related practices.

Such opportunities align with widely espoused political aims of transitioning to a sustainable well-being economy.

Dr Orla Kelly is an Assistant Professor in Social Policy at the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, University College Dublin, Ireland.

(Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.)

You cannot copy content of this page