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Are we getting closer to the coveted four-day week at work?

4 Dec 2019

The dawn of the four-day week could be one of the most exciting work trends to keep up with as we enter a new decade.

Four-day work weeks are a concept that is being considered by businesses around the world, but the cultural shift needed to make it commonplace is yet to happen.

There are some companies, however, that have attested to the positive impacts implementing a shorter week can have on employees.

UK recruitment company MRL Consulting, for example, recently made the move to a four-day week without needing to adjust its salaries, benefits or annual leave entitlements. Communicating the results five months later, the company cited a happier workforce that was still able to meet its targets, alongside a drop in the number of sick days being taken.

The company’s chief executive, David Stone, said: “The UK has a problem with productivity, with the average employee thought to do about three hours of actual work in an eight-hour day.

“If we take out the time spent scrolling, socialising and procrastinating, it is absolutely possible to complete the same amount of work with one day fewer.

“Not only that, but I believe a four-day week is positively better for business. My team are healthier both mentally and physically than they were five months ago and that means that when they are here, they are focused, engaged and determined to get the job done.”

It seems that the benefits have extended to company logistics too, with Stone claiming to be “saving money by not having the office open for an extra day per week”.

Three-day weekends

But how did employees at the company use their extra day away from the office? MRL published case studies giving insights into how three-day weekends can boost a person’s work-life balance.

Consultant Chris Percival, for example, described using his additional day off to spend more time with his family. “My wife and I are expecting our first child … so I’ve been able to use my Fridays to get prepared for our new arrival,” he said.

“Having a three-day weekend means less stress and more energy to focus on my family. I’ll be able to spend crucial time with the baby and will also be able to help out with childcare further down the line when my wife returns to work.”

MRL is headquartered in Brighton, but its offices in France and Germany have also swapped to a four-day week.

Is Ireland getting closer?

There are some groups in Ireland that are encouraging companies to follow MRL’s lead. Earlier this year, Fórsa launched its contribution to a national coalition campaigning for a four-day work week.

The trade union’s director of campaigning, Joe O’Connor, said that shorter weeks are a logical reaction in the face of automation.

“We believe that we should be talking about productivity rather than time, and in particular when you look at the technological changes that are coming down the line – the fourth industrial revolution of artificial intelligence, automation – it’s vitally important that the benefits from that are shared with workers.

“We’re pushing for this because we believe there’s a need for a gradual, steady and managed transition to a shorter working week for all workers in the public and private sector.”

4DWI for a four-day week

The aim of the Four Day Week Ireland (4DWI) coalition –supported by Fórsa, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Friends of the Earth and more – is to provide support for Irish companies that agree to pilot or introduce a four-day week. For businesses to achieve this, 4DWI advises on three routes:

  • Good business leadership, combined with market and labour market factors, which will increase the attraction of the four-day week to more and more companies
  • The reduction of working time, without loss of pay or productivity, through negotiations between management and unions in organisations where collective bargaining takes place
  • Government as a large employer leading by example, supporting private companies that introduce reduced working time, and legislating where appropriate

‘Focused, energised and happy’

Indeed, some Irish companies have already made the transition, such as Galway-based recruitment company ICE earlier this year. Its CEO Margaret Cox spoke at the 4DWI launch, saying: “One of our teams has a slogan for their four working days: focused, energised and happy.”

ICE has reported “great employee positivity” since the change, as well as jumps in the volume of talent interested in joining the team and commendations from clients.

Additional benefits of the extra day off work that have been highlighted by the coalition include less pressure on women with regards to childcare, and positive environmental impacts such as cuts to pollution from fewer commutes.

O’Connor added: “We’re not talking here about a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution – we’re not saying that everybody will work a traditional four-day week, in the same way as everyone doesn’t work a traditional five-day week, nine to five, at the moment.

“We’re saying that this should be the new standard work arrangement, the new benchmark across the economy, and of course within that there will be flexibility for both employers and employees.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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