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Why the 4-day work week is catching on

A happy person with an umbrella
Picture: Pixabay

The five-day work week is less than a century old, but it’s already on its way out.

In recent years, hundreds of companies across the globe, including in South Africa, have been trialling the four-day work week, with no change in monthly pay.

Some of the pioneers include Microsoft Japan and Auckland-based financial services group Perpetual Guardian.

These trials have been closely studied, and show that employees actually get more done in four days than they did in five because people end up wasting less time on things that never mattered much in the first place.

I spoke to UK-based Girling Jones about this recently – the recruitment company implemented this working arrangement in January 2022.

In the first half of last year, its sales were up 17% in what it called “the most productive six months, per head, since our launch in 2011”.

The company’s founder and director, Simon Girling, reckons productivity has been boosted 20% – despite the 20% cut in the number of days and hours worked.

Employees can choose their weekly day off – as long as someone from each team is in every day of the week. They’re now happier, healthier, and better rested, which means they serve clients better, the company says.

In addition to improved productivity and a reduced burden on the healthcare sector, there are other economic benefits as well.

In 2020, during the pandemic, New Zealand’s then-prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, punted the four-day work week as a means of boosting domestic tourism and supporting jobs in the travel and accommodation industries.

Then there’s the savings on carbon emissions. By having their staff come in one day less a week, companies automatically cut 20% of their emissions linked to commuting.

The shift is also being boosted by hiring competition. Companies in North America and parts of Europe are increasingly competing to attract and retain staff, and the four-day week is giving them an edge in that regard.

Once enough companies go this route, it may be expected by prospective employees – just as flexible working arrangements are now.

Jamie Dimon, the CEO of banking giant JPMorgan Chase, told Bloomberg recently that thanks to productivity enhancements derived from artificial intelligence, the next generation will probably work just three-and-a-half days a week.


*The Progress Playbook is participating in South Africa’s second four-day week pilot project with the aim of understanding its advantages and challenges.

Tags: 4-day week, Four-day week, Four-day work week

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