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Irish employers worry four-day week could impact productivity and finances

13 Mar 2023

Almost three quarters (73pc) of Irish professionals surveyed by Hays said they would consider moving to a different organisation to avail of a shorter working week.

Irish employers and Irish workers are divided over whether a four-day working week would work out in the long term, with the latter group mostly in favour while the former has reservations.

According to a survey by Hays, 95pc of Irish workers would be in favour of a four-day working week. The company surveyed 973 employers and professionals across Ireland.

It found that despite the overwhelming majority support for the transition to a four-day week, there had been a significant drop in the percentage of workplaces offering it in 2023 compared to 2022.

In 2023, the number of workplaces that have implemented or are trialling a four-day working week is 3.5pc. In 2022, it was 6pc.

Most respondents (81pc) believe that four-day weeks will become the norm in the future, however.

It seems Irish employers are attempting to resist what many of them believe to be inevitable as they have concerns about how things such as productivity and finances would fare.

More than half (51pc) of employers are concerned about a four-day week’s potential impact on productivity. Almost the same percentage (47pc) said they were not prepared to switch to a four-day week for operational reasons, while 22pc said they couldn’t consider it for financial reasons. One fifth of employers were concerned the change could increase pressure on staff.

Employees’ opinions on the potential benefits of a four day week could did not match up to the views of employers.

The vast majority of professionals would see the positive benefits of an additional day off, with 89pc believing it would have a positive effect on employee mental health and wellbeing.

A majority (59pc) thought that working one less day would be beneficial for organisational productivity and one-third thought it would improve employee living standards. Almost half (47pc) thought it would improve talent attraction and retention.

This point on talent and retention could prove to be the factor that persuades more employers to trial the four-day week. Almost three quarters (73pc) of Irish professionals said they would consider moving to a different organisation to avail of a shorter working week. This was a rise of almost 10pc on last year’s figure of 64pc.

Three quarters of respondents said that they would use their extra day off for leisure time, including exercise and hobbies. A slightly smaller majority (71pc) would spend time on life admin, while 70pc would choose to spend more time with friends and family.

Others (44pc) said they would use the extra time off for self-development, such as learning a new language and just over a fifth (21pc) would volunteer.

Among the companies in Ireland that trialled a four-day working week, 88pc of employees said that it has had a positive impact on their professional life. The same percentage found that it was beneficial to their personal life.

While the Hays survey yielded mixed results regarding attitudes to four-day weeks, those in favour could take encouragement from recent results of a six-month trial across 61 companies in the UK.

The trial went very well for most, with more than 90pc of the companies involved saying they would continue the model.

That trial was conducted by non-profit 4 Day Week Global alongside the UK’s 4 Day Week campaign group and think-tank Autonomy.

According to behavioural scientist and CEO of 4 Day Week Global, Dr Dale Whelehan, the UK results saw a difference in how men and women benefitted.

“While both men and women benefit from a four-day week, women’s experience is generally better,” he said.

“This is the case for burnout, life and job satisfaction, mental health and reduced commuting time. Encouragingly, the burden of non-work duties appears to be balancing out, with more men taking on a greater share of housework and childcare.”

Commenting on the Irish results of the Hays survey, operations director at Hays Ireland Maureen Lynch said, “At face value, for many employees, the prospect of a four-day working week is extremely attractive. However, what this looks like in practice may be dependent on the industry and jurisdiction.”

“For some employers, this means reducing the number of hours in the traditional 40-hour working week, for others, it means compressing 40 hours a week into four days rather than five. While the number of employers currently offering a four-day working week is still extremely low, this research suggests that this may change within the next ten years with employees seeking more appealing and flexible working options.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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