“The five-day week is not the ultimate, and neither is the eight-hour day.”

Henry Ford, 1926

The concept of reducing working hours is not a new phenomenon. Henry Ford, the glass-half-full optimist, almost a century ago, introduced a shorter working week (from six to five days) to give a better quality of life believing that a happy workforce that is able to have an optimum life-balance will be more productive.

The pandemic, which forced reduced working hours and implemented work-from-home rules, gave impetus to an already growing movement advocating for this new future of work. A not-for-profit movement of strategists and leaders, under the banner of 4 Day Week Global have been lobbying businesses, employees, researchers and governments to play their part in creating a new way of working which will improve business productivity, worker health outcomes, resulting in stronger families and communities and work towards a sustainable work environment.

The movement is advocating to reducing the workweek to 32 hours over four days instead of sticking to 40 hours within four days. This is a 100-80-100 model where employees receive 100% of their pay for 80% of the time while maintaining 100% productivity. Their research, undertaken through pilot programmes in the USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand has found that:

  • 63% of businesses found it easier to attract and retain talent with a 4-day week.
  • 78% of employees with 4-day weeks are happier and less stressed.
  • 88% of the companies report that the four-day week is working ‘well’ for their business.
  • 46% say their business productivity has “maintained around the same level,”
  • While 34% report that it has “improved slightly.”

 A change in mindset is needed

Employees working from home during the pandemic tasted the freedom and flexibility of working to their own schedules and not having a boss hovering over their shoulders. But, according to one corporate manager, not all people are cut out to work in isolation. “It takes discipline to not take advantage of not being monitored and to structure the working day to remain productive. We have found that some employees thrive and their productivity levels are higher working remotely whilst others take advantage and end up being disciplined and ultimately losing their jobs.”

In some of the world’s most productive countries, like Norway, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, whose workforce work on average around 27 hours a week, this system works well as they operate in sophisticated economies with high-calibre employees. Whether it would work in a country like South Africa, which has varied labour forces that perform work in so many different sectors and on so many different levels is yet to be seen.

 It’s all about productivity to achieve a win-win for both sides

On the face of it, it looks quite ideal as, on the one hand, it can increase the morale of employees who are spared the increased stress (and cost) of commuting and have a better work/life balance.  For the employer, it could mean being able to reduce operating costs on power, water and maintenance or cut back on rental space. However maintaining productivity has to remain the employer’s main goal. While it seems that the big winner in all this is the employee, who would be happier working fewer hours, the extra hours that are lost, if not monitored carefully, often need to be made up by hiring more staff which can lead to extra costs for the business.

 In order to get that win-win balance, the employer has to:

  • Set clear goals and expectations on the scope of the new roles of employees;
  • Measure performance objectively based on specific, measurable data like KPIs;
  • Put in place regular evaluations perhaps linked to bonuses or pay increases.
  • Plan time off and holidays for staff during slow periods in order to maximise productivity.
  • Introduce team get-togethers to build morale to maintain a strong company ethos.

 The employee has to consider:

  • That you are being paid for outputs and results and not for hours worked.
  • Understand the trade-off and be prepared to be disciplined enough to be productive within the boundaries of the new working conditions.Set clear priorities within the home environment and with family members to be able to operate effectively and efficiently from home;
  • Be prepared to be closely monitored and to have to give on-going feedback on results.
  • Change your mindset to being a full-on employee to being a hybrid employee/self-starter.

 Will it work for Franchising?

By its very nature, franchising is entrepreneurial and owner-operators know all about flexible working hours as running a franchise translates into working long hours with very little family or ‘me’ time. Whether introducing 4-day weeks in their businesses for their staff will benefit the business will all depend on the type of franchise they operate and in which sector they operate in. South Africa’s Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) regulates the working hours of employees who earn under the ministerial threshold of R224 080.30 and many sectors are regulated by specific sectoral determination which will preclude them from introducing new working hours. Introducing the 4-day week would effectively need a change in legislation. Employees, mostly white-collar workers earning above that are not subject to the BCEA and it is in this more corporate arena that this global trend could take hold.

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