A shorter working week is the dream for many, but it will be a challenge to roll out to all sectors
A four-day week for five day’s pay may sound like a dream for many workers, particularly those who feel their work life balance is completely out of kilter.
But it is questionable whether a one size fits all approach could be rolled out across all sectors.
The Four Day Week Ireland campaign group was set up in 2019, and includes unions, businesses, environmentalists, women’s representatives and academics.
It is part of a Four Day Week global foundation.
This is a not-for-profit organisation set up by four-day week pioneer Andrew Barnes, after he introduced it in his business Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand in 2018.
Chairperson of the Four Day Week Ireland campaign Joe O’Connor says it has been over 100 years since the five-day working week was invented, so it’s time for an update.
It has been adopted by software developers 3D Issue in Donegal, SCL Sales, Access Earth, JMK Solicitors, and recruitment firm ICE Group.
The basic concept is that you would do a day’s less work – but most importantly – for the same pay.
However, you would be expected to produce the same amount of work.
The Four Day Week campaign says the working week it is advocating is a flexible model. It describes this as the 100-80-100 model. This would mean 100pc of the pay for 80pc of the time, in exchange for 100pc of the productivity.
The extra day you would not work is not set in stone, but the most preferred option appears to be a four-day week that allows for a three-day weekend.
In theory, no. The idea is that you would get the work done as you would be more focused and have higher energy levels because of the extra time off.
However, some workers already on a four-day week are doing longer days to compensate for the extra day off.
There is no doubt that most workers would prefer more time off, but the level of productivity would have to be monitored.
The four-day week campaign quotes research from a Swedish university that projects reducing the average working week to four days would deliver a reduction in emissions of 16pc.
Director of the ICE Group, Margaret Cox, told the Oireachtas Enterprise Committee yesterday it was an accepted fact that women do a greater share of general household and caring work than their partners.
She said many could not afford to go down to 80pc wages on return from maternity leave, but would get paid 100pc under this four-day week proposal.
Although the ambition is shorter hours, there is concern that some workers might end up working a compressed week in four days. Some might find it stressful to be just as productive.
This could include grocery shops, childcare services or hospitals where there might be difficulties finding staff to work the extra days. Concerns have also been raised about manufacturing and construction firms maintaining output.
Deputy David Stanton said for many professions, including childcare or teaching, productivity is linked directly to the amount of time put in.
Andrew Barnes, Founder of the Four Day Week Global, told the committee that he did not dispute that employers would have to bring in more staff in some sectors.
He spoke about understanding what output is rather
than just the amount of time spent.
He referred to trials in education, where the quality of teaching went up where there were less hours of teaching.
He asked why we assume a five-day week based around repetitive manufacturing processes in the 1920s would deliver the best outcomes now.
Ibec referred to a pilot programme in Sweden where a six-hour day was introduced for some nurses. The nurses became “healthier, happier and more energetic”.
However, it said the costs were too high and the pilot was abandoned. It said for 68 nurses to change from eight-hour days to six-hour one, 17 new workers were hired at a cost of €1.26m.
Employers fear the extra day might turn into overtime, which might be paid at a premium rate.
You could end up with a situation where a four-day week was open to workers in some sectors and not others.
Concerns have been raised that this could put people off entering certain professions.
Chairman of the four-day week campaign, Joe O’Connor accepted this is a concern but said if you don’t start somewhere you won’t get anywhere.
There is a chance, but it could take many years before pilot schemes are assessed, or employers participate.
If you work in a private sector office-based job, it looks more likely at the moment.
The government has not committed to the idea, although it has given €150,000 towards a pilot scheme that is being rolled out next year.