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The Four Day Week – If It Sounds Too Good To Be True!

Introduction


The standard working week in Ireland typically ranges from 35-39 hours per week in the Public Sector to 39 - 40 hours per week in the Private Sector and this has been standard practice for a number of decades. The Programme for National Recovery (PNR), which was agreed in 1987, provided for a reduction in the standard working week in the Private Sector by one hour, (from 40 to 39) the implementation of which was negotiated locally at enterprise level. At the time this created significant challenges for Employers to retain productivity and arrangements included overtime and additional annual leave of circa 6 days to facilitate its introduction in certain settings.


In recent years, the concept of a Four Day Week working week has been put forward, primarily by Trade Unions, to promote a shift to an effective 28-32 hour working week. In this scenario the workforce would over time transition to a reduced working week while maintaining existing productivity and overall remuneration. This is the so called ‘100/80/100’ principle which means maintaining 100% Pay for 80 % of the Hours while continuing to deliver 100% productivity.


The Proponents?


Four Day Week Ireland is a Trade Union led campaign advocating “a gradual, steady, managed transition to a shorter working week for all workers, in the private and public sectors.” 4 Day Week Global foundation, is “a not-for-profit organisation established by international four-day week pioneer Andrew Barnes, following the successful introduction of a four-day working week in his business, Perpetual Guardian, in New Zealand in 2018.” The campaign slogan says “for all workers, in the private and public sectors”. Over recent years, the campaign has also had the support of environmental groups like Friends of the Earth and a number of NGO’s. Proponents have argued that such a development could have a positive impact on the environment, as it would likely result in less pollution from commuting, as well as helping families to better arrange childcare support.


There are a very small number of Employers who have adopted the model or are engaging in pilot projects at present, for their own reasons, but it must be understood that these are self-selecting, representing a tiny percentage of the overall population and the learnings may not be more widely transferable.


What Does The Research Evidence Say? It’s Not All Rosy!


Proponents of the ‘4 day work week’ suggest that there are multiple benefits to be secured and that these can be sustained over time. Their claims include “increase employee satisfaction, company commitment and teamwork”, “but it also decreases stress levels”. “Even better, reducing employees’ work schedules to a 4 day work week doesn’t harm their productivity or company output.” “It is a business improvement strategy centred on working smarter rather than longer.” “The four-day week is working for huge numbers of businesses worldwide.”


There are many assertions and cliches being put forward as evidence to support its’ introduction without hard quantitative and qualitative data that is sustained over time across multiple workplace settings.


By contrast, some 4 day week pilots have been abandoned and Managers have reported concerns about sustaining the benefits over the longer term.


Practical Issues


A significant number of issues arise in considering a move in this direction:

  • What about ‘Internal Equity’ in an organisation where the opportunity is only available to certain categories of workers? Businesses needs to decide who can and cannot participate, as not everyone may be permitted to work a four day week based on business needs. Any potential equality or discrimination issues will need to be carefully considered.

  • How does the ‘100/80/100 Principle’ apply in certain work settings e.g., Security, Air Traffic Controllers, Teachers, Gardai, Army, Customer Facing Roles, Pilots and Cabin Crew , Bus Drivers, Train Drivers , Call Centre Agents, Seasonal Workers, Nurses, Surgeons etc?

  • The employer should always retain the right to designate any extra day off based on business needs whilst taking account of the employees’ preference.

  • When does overtime apply? If an employee is eligible for overtime pay, then the implications for overtime payment and its calculation will have to be set out and in compliance with the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997. If an employee is salaried and there is no liability to pay normal overtime, this will usually be easier to deal with, as the person receives the same amount of pay every week, regardless of the number of hours worked or the number of days worked.

  • How are annual leave and public holidays managed? What happens in a week when a public holiday falls and what payment is due? It may also be necessary to set out leave arrangements in terms of the number of hours of leave available rather than days and so any established rules in employment contracts, or the employee handbook, may need to be looked at.

  • What is the impact on sick pay entitlements?

  • What happens with existing flexi time arrangements?

  • Why is the ‘100/80/100 Principle’ being pursued as the default model to be deployed when other options may be more viable?

  • How does this interact with requests for remote working and other flexible working arrangements?

Any employers considering a move in this direction should only do so on a pilot basis for a defined period and reserving the right to revert back to the 5 day model. Base line metrics (both quantitative and qualitative) are required to enable a like for like comparison at the end of any pilot.


A More Realistic Alternative –The Compressed Working Week (100/100/100)


Perhaps a more realistic ambition is for some organisations to explore the opportunity of a compressed working week where people work their existing hours and maintain their pay and productivity over 4 days. This already operates successfully across many manufacturing sites in Ireland who work a ‘continental shift system’ and certain settings where a compressed working week is viable.


Compressed working will not work for every business or for every employee. If customers expect to find people who are available five days a week, then an employee who is unavailable (e.g. every Friday) could cause problems. Some sectors are more flexible than others, particularly those which are client-based, but others, like healthcare, require staff to work over long periods and often at unsociable hours. In these circumstances, employers may be attracted to considering how working hours can be reconfigured to provide extended cover but without premium pay.


Alternatively Employers may consider an 80/80/80 Model or some variation of same whereby staff can work reduced hours on pro rate pay and productivity.


Stratis Advice – Proceed With Extreme Caution


A 4 day week based on the ‘100/80/100 Principle’ is a noble ambition that has not been properly researched or validated. There is a danger that Employers will, over time, end up with a de facto ‘100/80/80’ as it is simply impossible to sustain any productivity benefits from the move to 4 working days. This might require cover to be provided via overtime or additional staff, or a combination of the two.


We would also question the merits of the campaign that can, at best, only apply to a small segment of the overall workforce. It may create a lot of disquiet and inequity within an organisation particularly amongst those who cannot avail of the option. There may be a necessary level of work intensification and oversight associated with the ‘100/80/100 Principle’ that contributes to increased stress and burnout which are clearly undesirable.


A four day working week may work in some organisations and suit some ways of working. However, the four day working week will not suit all organisations and all forms of work. Therefore, we would urge employers to proceed with extreme caution and seek advice before responding to such requests.


If you would like to talk to us about any of the above issues, please get in touch with me at liam.doherty@stratis.ie or any one of our Partners.


Liam Doherty PhD | Senior Partner

Stratis Consulting

‘Strategic Employment Relations’


T: +353 (0) 1 2936748

M: +353 (0) 87 2236476


Disclaimer: The information in this article is for practical guidance only and does not constitute legal or case specific advice. The answers to specific situations will vary depending on the circumstances of each case. This is not a substitute for specific professional advice relevant to individual circumstances facing your business.


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