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It’s business as usual for the four-day working week

Forget remote working, it's the shorter weeks we should be excited about, says Billy MacInnes
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Image: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

1 December 2022

Say what you like about The Beatles but when it came to loving they were positively Stakhanovite in their application to the task. Seven days a week was for mere mortals. Those boys were going for eight days a week – and still that wasn’t enough.

“Eight days a week is not enough to show I care,” they chirped but I can’t help wondering if, in their enthusiasm for the job and their dedication to working more hours than God sends, they were running the risk of burnout and lost productivity.

I ask this question in the light of recent research into the effectiveness of the four-day week. Back in June 2021, I wrote a column looking at the subject of the four-day working week sparked by the launch of a pilot programme for employers by Four Day Week Ireland to trial its effectiveness.

 

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As I noted at the time, businesses taking part in the pilot programme would introduce the shorter working week for employees over a six-month period starting in January 2022.

Now, as they say, the results are in and they seem fairly conclusive. The four-day working week has proven to be a success so far for all those businesses who took part in the pilot.

Twelve Irish companies participated in the project, backed by Fórsa and carried out in partnership by Four Day Week Ireland, University College Dublin (UCD), and Boston College, examining the financial, social, and environmental impact of a four-day working week on businesses and employees in Ireland.

Four of them tracked company industry-specific productivity metrics and all observed improvements. Of the seven companies that provided data on revenue, six reported monthly revenue growth. Nine of the 12 companies have committed to continuing with the four day schedule. The other three plan to continue for now but have not committed to it long-term yet. Two businesses that tracked energy usage reported reductions.

Another new age of work

As for employees, 100% of workers would like to continue the four-day week. Lead researcher Dr Orla Kelly of DCU said there had been “significant improvements across a wide range of well-being metrics, including positive affect, work-family and work-life balance, and several domains of life satisfaction. Conversely, stress, burnout, fatigue, and work-family conflict significantly declined. Levels of sleep deprivation have also fallen dramatically”.

The trial was particularly successful for women who reported a significant improvement in life satisfaction, larger gains in sleep time and to feeling more secure in their employment.

Welcoming the research, general secretary of Fórsa Kevin Callinan said: “The four-day week can be at the forefront of a new age of work, providing transformative social benefits without losing pay or productivity.”

Back in December 2021, I asked whether a four-day week was likely to become a mainstream employment trend in the future. As I said at the time, if it doesn’t happen, it won’t be for a lack of capability to make it happen. In most cases, the technology is already there.

If anything, a four-day working week would serve as an endorsement of IT’s capability to enhance productivity. It would also counterbalance all those times when enhancing productivity with IT has been measured in terms of how many people can be displaced by technology.

I firmly believe that IT has a great role to play in helping people save time at work so they can make more and better use of it elsewhere.

The Beatles can keep their eight-day week, as for the rest of us:

“Four days a week, we’ll work for you
Four days a week is just enough to show you care.”

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