Companies are adopting a 4-day work week – but do they work?

A company in New Zealand has fully adopted a 4-day work week policy, after trialling the policy to what it said was a great success.

The company, Perpetual Guardian, enables 250 of its staff to opt-in to a 4-day work week, where employees work for a standard 32 hours (instead of 40 hours) over the 4 days, while still being paid for 5 days.

Those who do not opt in, are given more flexible working hours, so they can plan their lives around work, kids and other responsibilities.

As part of the trial, Perpetual Guardian took a scientific approach, measuring work performance and job satisfaction and stress levels among employees both before and after the trial. The results, the group said, showed that there were no downsides to a 4-day week.

The same job performance was maintained during the 4 days as it was during a typical 5 day week – while stress levels lowered and work-life balance improved significantly, the group said.

Stress levels dropped from 43% to 38%, while 78% of employees saw their lives as being more balanced (compared to 54% before the trial). As such the researchers moved to make a formal recommendation to the company’s board to fully adopt a 4-day work week.

Not all results are positive

The Perpetual Guardian trial is not the first time a company has tried to adopt a 4-day work week, however.

In 2015, a US start-up, Treehouse, also decided to buck the trend and adopt a 32 hour work week. The thinking behind a shorter week is that employees should work smarter, not harder – and that, if given enough time to balance life and work, employees will waste less time on company hours doing personal tasks.

However, by 2016, Treehouse CEO Ryan Carson had abandoned policy, and instead opted to work even longer hours – hitting over 60 hours a week.

In an interview in August 2018, Carson said that the shorter week had been detrimental to work ethic – not only in employees, but also in himself – which started impacting the company’s bottom line.

As has been noted by many analysts, the system is not suited to every industry, and could have major implications for labour laws and pay agreements (particularly when it comes to those who are paid by the hour, or qualify for overtime).

Ultimately, the policy tends to be better for employees, and makes things tricky for employers.

South African workers

With high levels of unemployment and an economy in recession, South Africa might not be an ideal market for the policy.

Data from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) shows that South Africans are generally hard workers, with a significant portion of our labour force of 16.4 million working more than 49 hours a week (22% – or about 3.7 million people).

The majority of workers in South Africa still fall into the 40-48 hour range –  in line with South African labour laws – which puts the maximum normal working time allowed at 45 hours weekly, or nine hours per day.

By contrast, only 3.4% of  South African employees work in the 30-34 hour band that a 4 day work week would fall into, according to the ILO.

South Africans are also incredibly bad at using the time off afforded to them by law.

A recent Ipsos poll showed that about only half of all working South Africans use all their given leave days in a year, while the number of workers who take leave (57%) has decreased over the past few years.

Using the ILO’s data, the countries that have the highest proportion of workers working 4-day weeks is led by Malta, where just over 19% of the workforce works between 30 and 34 hours a week, followed by Hungary (13%), Sweden (11.9%), the Netherlands (11.7%) and Finland (11.2%).


Read: A huge number of South Africans are working 50 hour weeks – this is how we compare to the rest of the world

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Companies are adopting a 4-day work week – but do they work?