4 day work week - a primer

The Covid-19 pandemic did radically alter the way people work, encouraging a shift towards more flexible working arrangements and remote working.

In March 2023, the Prosecutor General's Office (PGO) made a trailblazing announcement – an unprecedented decision for a state agency. In preparation for the holy month of Ramadhan, PGO announced that they planned to allow to work from home on one official day of the week.

It is evident that the risk taken had yielded positive results. After the successful trial of a 4-day work week during Ramadhan, PGO announced the continuation of this schedule from June 25 to August 4, 2023. PGO has provided guidelines for the implementation of the new work week, and it is said that employee performance will be carefully monitored during this period. If the trial proves unsuccessful, PGO will end it and return to the usual five-day work week.

4-Day work week

While PGO has not permanently shortened the work week, this is still an important step towards a 4-day work week. The Covid-19 pandemic did radically alter the way people work, encouraging a shift towards more flexible working arrangements and remote working. This has been the basis for the recent popularity of the 4-day work week concept. In fact, it has become so in demand that employees now prefer a 4-day work week over flexi work.

Multiple studies from WHO and ILO illustrate that long working hours are hazardous to human health, and have further established links with increased rates of heart disease and stroke. Studies also prove that long work hours lead to employee exhaustion, stress, work-family conflict, and the quantity and quality of sleep. As a result, it is no surprise that employees desire shorter work weeks.

Around the world

Globally, the concept of a 4-day work week is gaining significant momentum. Pilot schemes worth $10.6 million in Spain and programs in Britain and Belgium in 2022 have all been implemented. Hopping on this wagon are the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, Ireland, USA, New Zealand, and Finland.  Below are some specific details regarding these pilot programs.

South Africa: In the country’s first-ever trial of a 4-day work week, 28 South African businesses joined in which commenced on 1st March 2023. This program is based on the 100-80-100 model. Some of the companies involved in the trial specialize in IT, events planning, tax, marketing, and property development. Phase 1 of this project will continue until September and a second trial is planned to commence.

Ice Land: From 2015 to 2019, Iceland conducted one of the most sweeping trials involving nearly 2,500 participants. In February 2023, CNBC reported the trial as an overwhelming success as employees testified enhanced well-being, a better work-life balance, and increased productivity.

Japan: With Japan’s population aging and shrinking, in 2021 a recommendation from the Japanese government came for companies to let employees opt for a 4-day work week and, by extension, a 3-day weekend. The goal was to improve employees’ work-life balance, giving them more time to take care of family members, further their education, or go out with friends.

UAE: Effective from the 1st of July 2023, the government announced a 4-day work week and a 3-day weekend for federal government employees. Dubbed as a ‘compressed work week’, the scheme states that employees should not work more than 10 hours per day or 40 hours per week.

The 100-80-100 model

A popular model adopted by organizations in implementing the 4-day work week is the 100-80-100 model. This is the international registered trademark of 4 Day Week Global Limited, a nonprofit that researches and advocates for the 4-day week as a part of the future of work. Their work has also landed them on TIME’s list of the 100 Most Influential Companies of 2023.

The model simply is 100 percent of the pay for 80 percent of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintaining 100 percent of productivity.

What has been the outcome?

4 Day Week Global publishes reports on their programs conducted worldwide. Interestingly the reports show consistent findings across different sample groups: gender, company size, and even across industries.

1)     Employees

Employees who participated in the study reported reduced work-related stress and an increase in personal time, leading to several positive health and well-being benefits. These included improved mental health, decreased negativity, increased physical activity, and improved sleep quality. Moreover, with more control over their time, employees chose to engage in more meaningful activities such as socializing and spending quality time with their families. Notably, the study also revealed improved gender parity, with men spending more than double the amount of time on childcare and household tasks compared to women. Furthermore, participants also reported that they were able to save money on gas, lunches, and child care while saving time on commuting and transit as well.

2)      Company

The study noted that 92 percent of the companies who participated in the pilot said that they will permanently continue the 4-day week. This has accounted for the 22 percent productivity increase, 88 percent increase in job applications, and employees being less tired and happier. An overall fall in the carbon footprint was also recorded as employees drove less for work and spent less time in traffic. There was also a change in absenteeism, measured as sick and personal days per employee per month. Those fell from 0.56 (or just over half a day) in the comparison period to just 0.39 during the trial. Furthermore, during the trial, the revenues of the participating companies climbed by more than a percentage point on average per month.

For decades, researchers have been keen to understand the impact of working hours on happiness and performance. Work time reduction (WTR), and specifically the 4-day week, is seen as a triple-dividend reform. This means, WTR results in social, economic, and environmental benefits. Nevertheless, as cautioned by Boston University Today, it is critical to understand the potential drawbacks that accompany the benefits of a shorter work week. Reducing the number of work days by 1 does not necessarily lead to a decrease in required productivity or working hours. Instead, it often results in a more compressed and intense schedule, as employees try to fit 40 hours of work into 4 days.

More from MFR