The six-month experiment for a four-day work week
Some Irish companies are taking the lead on scrapping presenteeism and rewarding productivity, says Billy MacInnes
20 December 2021 | 0
It’s just six months since I wrote about the launch of a pilot programme for employers by Four Day Week Ireland to trial the effectiveness of a four-day week. The plans was for businesses to introduce the shorter working week for employees over a six-month period starting in January 2022.
In October, it was revealed that 17 companies located across Ireland had signed up to the programme. At the time, Kevin Callinan, General Secretary of Fórsa, which is leading the Four Day Week Ireland campaign, stated: “Since the outbreak of Covid-19, our working practices have shifted dramatically and for many, flexible working is here to stay. We know from our research that a four-day week has no impact on productivity, so there is no reason not to trial it.”
He suggested that Ireland could “be a global leader in delivering reduced hour working and developing a culture of world-renowned work-life balance for our people alongside a high-productivity business environment”.
Here we are two months later, a matter of days before the start of 2022 and news emerges that Typetec, one of Ireland’s oldest services companies, intends to move all employees to a four-day week starting in February.
The company will measure the success of the new working week across multiple KPIs including commercial, financial, and operational targets. It will collaborate and share data with independent researchers from UCD and Boston College. Results will be analysed and shared at a macro-level, so that more Irish private and public sector organisations can be informed and encouraged to make a similar commitment to their employees.
Commenting on the plans, Typetec CEO Paul Dooley (pictured) said the company was “completely focused on creating and maintaining a great working culture and environment”. He noted the company had introduced remote working for all employees “long before the pandemic” and it had been very successful “with productivity levels and staff morale seeing a significant boost”.
No one can accuse Typetec of not eating its own dog food. As Dooley noted, Typetec is a company that specialises in workplace productivity solutions, so a four-day week “was an obvious next step for us. We held a town hall meeting to inform the staff and the reaction was so positive and there’s a tangible air of shared excitement as we look forward to next year”.
But while employees will be working a day less for the same amount of money, they will be expected to deliver the same amount of productivity as they did in a five day week.
According to Joe O’Connor, global pilot programme manager, for 4 Day Week Global, there are now 20 Irish companies who have signed up to the programme.
So is this likely to become a mainstream employment trend in the future? If not, it won’t be for a lack of capability to make it happen. In most cases, the technology is already there and the pandemic has caused employees and employers to reappraise the fundamentals of their working lives. The Great Resignation is also helping to focus minds on the nature of work and the attractions (or not) of working at a particular employer.
The core tenet behind the four-day week is that people can deliver the same level of productivity in 80% of the time but that they should be rewarded the same as for a five-day week. Personally, I don’t find that particularly contentious. You shouldn’t be paid less for doing the same amount of work.
We have been engaged in a process of reducing working hours across many years. The five-day working week has been in operation since the weekend was included in an agreement between factory owners and workers in northern England in the early 19th century. A four-day week is merely the next step. Some would argue it has taken an inordinately large amount of time to get here.
I think this is partly down to the old Aristotelian statement that “nature abhors a vacuum” where people filled spaces in their working week with less productive tasks or spurious meetings. Without the vacuum to fill, people will become more focused on the time they have to do the job that’s asked of them.
If the four-day week takes off on a wider scale, it will be an acid test for how well IT is fulfilling the promises it has made over the years of enhancing productivity. It will also provide a positive counterbalance to all those times when enhancing productivity has mainly been measured in terms of how many people can be displaced by technology.