Get Ready For The Four-Day Working Week!
Fairlady|September/October 2021
Gone are the days when we lived to work. Companies are now putting employees first and reaping the benefits. Remote working and flexihours are practically a given, but there are moves to go even further.
Charis Torrance

QUICK POLL: Which day of the week do you spend doing the least work? For me, it was always Friday. It’s a running joke that in Cape Town nobody gets anything done on a Friday after 12pm, but it’s not just Cape Town; trying to get hold of anyone at work after 3pm on a Friday has always been tricky. The fact is, none of us is 100% productive every single hour of every day. So why not trim the fat?

‘These ideas of working smarter have been around for ages, but the pandemic has pushed us to the point where we’ve decided to start challenging the way we work and see if there’s a better way to do it,’ says Professor Charlene Lew, associate professor and director of internationalisation at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria.

With burnout on the rise and productivity losses costing companies money, there’s an argument to be made for allowing employees more time off. Case in point: countries around the world are experimenting with a four-day working week, with the view that it not only boosts employee wellbeing but also improves productivity and staff engagement. Spain is set to become the first country to officially trial a four-day working week, starting in September, and the Japanese government has proposed the same (this from a country that has a word for ‘worked to death’: karoshi). New Zealand, the UK and Germany are considering it too.

The four-day working week

‘Since flexible hours and remote work have become more common and companies are seeing the advantages, the idea of the four-day working week has gained traction, especially in developed countries,’ says Phiona Martin, an industrial psychologist and career coach based in Johannesburg.

There are a few iterations of the four-day working week. The first is the compressed week: the company still gets their 40 hours a week from you, but over four days rather than five. Then there’s the reduced-salary four-day working week, where you work for four days and get paid 75% of your previous five-day-week salary. But the unicorn is the version implemented by Perpetual Guardian (and, locally, IEDM, which we’ll get to later).

In his book The 4 Day Week: How the Flexible Work Revolution Can Increase Productivity, Profitability and Wellbeing, and Create a Sustainable Future, Andrew Barnes, the founder of the New Zealand-based trustee services company, describes how they switched their 240 staff from a five-day to a four-day week. Their salaries have remained the same, and they work the same hours Monday to Thursday as they always have done. ‘Our engagement scores, or how staff felt about the company, went up by 40%,’ Andrew says. He also reported that stress levels at the company dropped by 15%, and individual productivity went up by 30%.

BENEFITS FOR EMPLOYEES

Studies and companies that have piloted this concept have reported numerous rewards for employees.

1 LESS STRESS

You’d think because you had the same amount of work to do in less time, your stress levels would be higher, but the opposite is true. ‘If you have more leisure time, you can take care of yourself, you can engage in hobbies or just other nonwork-related activities, which all help to reduce stress,’ Phiona says. Simply feeling in control of your time reduces stress.

2 BETTER WORK-LIFE BALANCE

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