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4 day work week

Would you trial a 4 day work week?

The changing working environment

After many months of imposed restrictions many of us are keen to find more of a work life balance. The pandemic has allowed us space to think about how the future of work might look like. Many employees have suffered stress, burnout or feel devalued. Some are even leaving their jobs to seek a more flexible work-life balance.

Longer hours do not equal better productivity

Currently many employees are working on average 3 hours a day longer during the 5 day working week. Working from home has removed the commute, and often it is hard to make the distinction between work and home. Instead of a standard 40 hour working week, these hours are equating to more like 55 hours. Studies have shown that working long hours does not equate to better productivity. On the contrary, a culture of always being available to work is having a detrimental effect on our health, ability to focus and output.

France has recently introduced a law to allow the ‘right to disconnect’. This means no late night emails and allows workers to fully switch off from work, concentrating on more time for family, leisure and exercise.

The Industrial Revolution

The reduction in standard working days is not a new concept. During the industrial revolution there was reduction of 6 day week to 5 day week for factory workers. There were protests in favour of the 8 hour working day in the late 1800’s. The unions were responsible for campaigning for a weekend. In the 19th century holy days were on Saturday and Sunday, and many were campaigning for a ‘weekend’ break for praise and leisure. Henry Ford and John Boot (chairman of Boots) realised that giving employees Saturdays off meant that workers were more likely to arrive fresher on a Monday morning having spent more time with families and more leisure time. They also realised that having 2 days off per week would allow more time for shopping, which was also good for the economy.

What does the 4 day work week mean now?

The 4 day week was first piloted in New Zealand in 2018. There are now international calls for a 4 day working week. A big pilot scheme will take place in UK this summer with over 60 companies signing up to take part in the trial. Businesses in Ireland are also welcomed to take part in the pilot scheme. Find out more here.

What are the advantages of a 4 day week?

No loss in productivity

The aim is to increase productivity within the 4 days, not try and squeeze 5 working days into 4. There will be a 20% reduction in working time but a focus on maintaining 100% productivity. It has been proven that there is no correlation in working long hours and increased productivity. On the contrary trials have shown that working fewer days a week enhances productivity and employee happiness. Workers feel that they have more control over their time and are able to better balance work and home life. Workers become more creative and satisfied as they are less stressed and distracted.

Staff Retention

The hope with a 4 day working week is that companies will attract better candidates at interview stage. By removing the standard 40 hour working week, companies will offer appealing packages for new starters, plus the ability to retain existing valuable staff.

Better for Carers

It is thought that a 4 day week could be better for women. As women generally take on the major distribution of caring responsibilities, a 4 day working week would help to break down barriers for women achieving senior positions in business, supporting gender equality. It would also reduce commuting time and childcare costs.

Good for the environment

With the removal of one working day per week, carbon emissions from businesses will be reduced by a fifth. There would be reduced pollution through commuting plus saving train fare costs or petrol that would have been spent on the fifth working day. Reduced energy usage in the workplace will help to save energy powering up electronics all day.

Good for the economy

Rather than work output, leisure days could be good for the economy, serving as another spending day which in turn will boost the economy.

What are the disadvantages?

Within cities, the removal of workers means less spending on lunches and at shops on lunchbreaks. This pinch was felt during the pandemic when office workers were working from home.

There is also concern about Fridays being the day that everyone would pick off. The down days may have to be on a rota basis so that Fridays still would be a working day for some. This would avoid a ‘three day weekend’.

Many are concerned about workers having to pack in 5 days work into 4. The argument against is that if the 4 day work is managed correctly, it will be about how you work in the office not how long you stay there.

Right to Request Remote Working Bill 2021

Following the pandemic and imposed working from home, the Tanaiste has published details of a new law that will allow employees to request remote working or hybrid working. This will allow employees more flexibility in their work location, allowing them to save on commuting, exercise from home, yet still have days for meetings and collaborative tasks in the workplace. This is another step towards a better work-life balance for employees in Ireland.

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