4-day workweek pilot in South Africa is ending – revealing some big issues

 ·19 Aug 2023

The first 4-day workweek pilot, which started on 1 March 2023, is coming to an end this month, and four-day week SA has noted some unique challenges faced by South African companies, which weren’t evident among its global peers.

It’s the country’s first-ever trial of the four-day week. The model prescribes 100% of the pay for 80% of the time in exchange for a commitment to delivering 100% of the output. 28 South African businesses and one Botswanan business participated in this first pilot.

These businesses included tax and finance services, marketing agencies, employment services companies, and IT software companies, among others.

Trials have been conducted in several counties, such as the UK, New Zealand and Japan, with the consensus being that there is a positive association between the 4-day workweek and improved employee morale, reduced burnout and maintained, or possibly increased, productivity.

This has partly been the case for the South African pilot as it reaches its end.

Director of 4 Day Week SA, Karen Lowe, noted that some of the early positives that these pilot companies have experienced as a result of the 4-day workweek model are:

  • Reduced stress and burnout;
  • Reduced negative sentiment towards work;
  • Lower instances of family conflicts at home;
  • Reduced staff attrition and turnover; and
  • Less sick days taken with lower staff absenteeism.

“The pilot’s well-being metrics are off the charts, and this is despite the various socio-economic challenges faced by South Africans in the country in the first half of 2023,” she said in an interview with eNCA.

However, she added that it hasn’t been without its challenges.

South African companies are not as progressive as their global counterparts regarding the ability to reduce their weekly working hours by 20%, and some have found it a challenge.

“What we are finding with the South African companies is that they are managing around a 12% reduction in the work week for 100% of productivity, while others have been able to creep towards the 20% mark,” said Lowe.

“The pilot has found that South African companies are not taking the reduced work hours by taking off the conventional Friday or a Monday off.

“They have been more creative in approaching the 20% work hours reduction by choosing to take Wednesdays off, fortnightlies (day off every two weeks), or structuring the time off through two half days,” she added.

Alternatively, she added, some companies have taken the weekly hour target of 32 hours and structured office hours throughout the week to make up the 20% reduction – meaning, while they work Monday to Friday, they’ve shortened the office hours per day.

However, Lowe said that many South African companies couldn’t continue with the model when public holidays were added into the mix, which was noted in April.

She explained that the companies found that they couldn’t manage the workload needed to be done over the month, with hours being reduced to fit in with the pilot combined with the time taken off for public holidays.

“April was essentially a reset month, as businesses couldn’t cope with the intensity of the workload and decided not to take the 4-day workweek in addition to the public holidays,” she said.

This was particularly evident in the online service and communication companies participating in the trial.

Despite the challenges in reducing the workweek hours for the same level of productivity, Lowe noted that early indications are that 94% of the 29 companies that took part in the pilot intend to continue the 4-day workweek model.

Lowe added that a second pilot would kick off in September, shortly after completing the first at the end of August 2023.

Read: Good news for salary increases in South Africa

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter