The 4.5-day workweek for South Africa

 ·11 Apr 2024

While some businesses have been making a case for and piloting four-day workweeks in South Africa with mixed results, anecdotal evidence points to many offices ‘unofficially’ cutting back work time, regardless.

According to office consultancy Giant Leap, the advent of work-from-home and hybrid models over the last few years has shifted worker behaviour—and even those who are being forced to return to the office are not going back to ‘old ways’ of working.

“In the past couple of years, the once-casual Friday has slid further into work-leisure limbo land—emerging less as a full workday and more as a staging ground for the weekend,” said Linda Trim, Director at Giant Leap.

“Some people show up for part of the day and leave early, while others may take the day as a work-from-home option if company policy allows it.”

Trim said that there is a trend away from “performative” Friday work—like checking social media or watching videos until the workday is finished at 17h00—and employers are also catching on to the fact that workers are sitting around needlessly.

As a result, Fridays at the office in South Africa is increasingly becoming “a ghost town”, Trim said.

“Friday has always been the day we might dress down or cut out early for drinks. The difference now is that it’s become a solution for all the ways we—and our employers—want to fix work life.”

Impact of hybrid worklife

Giant Leap pointed to a 2022 study of work-from-home habits of 1,600 professionals, where the data showed that work-from-home employees tended to work two hours less than full-time office workers, using the time for errands or lifestyle needs.

They then made up for this time by working an additional 1.5 hours over the weekend.

“They also took 15% fewer days off for sick leave and other absences, and their performance scores and promotion rates were the same as those of other workers,” Trim said.

This is also a position that aligns with proponents of the four-day workweek model, who push for 100% pay for 80% of work time in exchange for a commitment to delivering 100% of output.

The piloting of this system in South Africa ended in December 2023, showing mixed success.

But even without an official four-day workweek policy, research and surveys conducted by groups like Discovery and OfferZen have shown that work-from-home and hybrid models of work in South Africa are not going anywhere, and more employees are seeking out these models when taking up work opportunities.

According to Discovery, almost a quarter of all workers have not returned to the office full-time, with hybrid work models being cemented in the workplace.

When working in the office, South Africans spend the same number of hours in the office as they used to before the pandemic, from Mondays to Thursdays, but leave early on Fridays.

Friday is the least popular day for spending time at the office, the data showed.

“The data shows something that we already knew: South Africans like to knock off early at the end of the week,” Discovery said.

Read: Work from home is here to stay: Discovery

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