Four-day week protagonists gain strength as trials succeed

Image from HCA Mag NZ

But the project is not out of corporate woods yet

Malini Yugendran
Auckland, November 2, 2022

Following positive results from an 18-month experiment, multinational consumer products giant Unilever has announced that it will maintain its four-day work week for all New Zealand employees.

The trial, a one-and-a-half-year research, comprised all 80 employees.

The results of the study had positive outcomes for a four-day workweek in terms of business objectives and employee engagement and work-life balance.

The research found that employees’ stress levels decreased by 33%, absenteeism dropped by 34%, and work-life tension reduced by 67%.

Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand company has found success in the system.

Its Founder Andrew Barnes said, “Four-day week is not just having a day off a week. It is about delivering productivity and meeting customer service standards, meeting personal and team business goals and objectives.”

Malini Yugendran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The concept of Leisure Society

Allocating more time for leisure and less time for work is not a new concept.

It was believed that a high number of employees worked excessively long hours, to alleviate which, the Leisure Society Movement was mooted in the 1960s. However, the trajectory towards a shorter workweek halted in the latter part of the century, and the idea of a Leisure Society vanished completely.

Recently, disruptions to the work environment perpetrated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the innovation that it warranted spurred initiatives for a four-day, 32-hour standard working week to replace the five-day, 40-hour model.

The four-day workweek is seen as a contemporary form of the Leisure Society.

The number of women joining the workforce has increased exponentially, and many women are feeling the additional strain as they continue to shoulder responsibilities for children and elderly care, as well as handle household tasks on top of their job obligations. And in many heterosexual relationships, where there is a need for one parent to spend more time with the child, typically the mother is made to stay home or work part-time.

Proponents say that the 4/32 week would allow women to consider continuing to work creating a situation where both parents take turns being at home and sharing domestic responsibilities.

Brad Olsen: Certain businesses will be beneficiaries (James Gilberd Photospace Photo from RNZ)

With more workers accepting increased leisure time instead of increased salaries, consumption is expected to decrease thus, having a less environmental effect. Also, the extra eight hours that a worker gains is in actuality a day gained, giving the employee the flexibility to run errands on a weekday without having to take time off.

What the critics say

The four-day week proposal has received minimal criticism.

The biggest objection to the 4/32 idea is that it will be costly for companies. However, as research has proven, shorter working hours correlate to increased productivity.

It is important to note here that the long-term viability of this increased level of work intensity is unknown. Proponents of the four-day workweek argue that utility costs will be reduced as companies now stay open for lesser days, thus, bringing down costs.

Brad Olsen, a Senior Economist and Director at Infometrics New Zealand posits that certain businesses would benefit far more from a four-day week whilst others may not.

The 4/32 model is based on the premise that everyone works from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday, but this does not represent the full workforce, especially those who work in the healthcare, food and beverage, and retail sector.

Supporters of the four-day workweek counter this by offering suggestions of four 10-hour days and working on rotations. They further suggest an earlier start time, a later end time, and a shorter lunch break.

Prospects for New Zealand

The four-day week idea is being promoted aggressively and tested in small-scale trials in a number of countries. Trials are being conducted at different stages in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

Barnes’ 2020 experiment in New Zealand found that employees utilised their extra non-work time effectively in areas of personal care and rejuvenation.

The Microsoft Japan worker survey indicated happier workers.

The Reykjavik (Iceland) study found significant work-life balance advantages.

Studies indicate that focusing on the overall, long-term well-being of the workforce is the best way to achieve both happiness and success.

Malini Yugendran is an Indian Newslink Reporter based in Auckland.

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