Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Companies warned not to rush into four-day work week

A survey by Remchannel measured interest in the four-day work week in South Africa and found employers have a growing interest.

Employers should not rush into changing their operations into a four-day work week and understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every organisation must consider its specific business context.

Lindiwe Sebesho, managing director designate of Remchannel, says employers should not rush into it without first understanding the employee value proposition (EVP) challenges they wish to address.

“Employers must have good reasons for adopting a four-day work week model to ensure they can effectively assess its impact. Understanding and evaluating whether adopting such a model would address the critical issues is paramount.”

According to Sebesho, the benefits of this work model must be weighed up against other elements of the EVP, which aim to enhance work-life integration.

ALSO READ: SA corporates increasingly considering a four-day work week

Insights from four-day work week survey

The insights drawn from Remchannel’s 2021 Employee Benefits Guide, indicate that employers are optimising benefits that emerged as a result of Covid-19, such as:

  • home office set-up support for employees who continue with remote or hybrid work;
  • staggered starting hours to reduce the frustration of driving in peak hour for those who returned to the office;
  • variable hours to assist with school pick-up; and
  • no internal meeting days to reduce the time spent in meetings.

 Sebesho says the survey’s findings provide a deeper understanding of the four-day workweek’s impact on employee well-being, performance and alignment with EVPs in South African corporates.

The survey shows that the four-day workweek aims to achieve three things:

  • reduce work time from the typical 40 hours to 32 hours a week;
  • improve employee engagement by giving them more time away from work; and
  • maintain or even increase productivity.

The survey also revealed that 90% of respondents believed that employees’ work-life balance would improve, 61% believed that employee performance would improve and 72% believed there would be an increase in talent retention.

The research also indicated significant challenges in implementing this model. A critical barrier was identified where companies view it as a cost-reducing measure which would potentially involve pay cuts. A crucial insight from the survey was that 76% of participants indicated that employees would not take a pay cut as a result of an organisation adopting a four-day week.

“This should not be of concern as the pay formula for the four-day week is based on productivity, meaning that fixed pay remains the same for a reduced time as long as productivity remains the same and/or increases. Therefore, the four-day work week is not about saving direct costs as it aims to improve employee wellness, engagement and productivity,” Sebesho says.

ALSO READ: Will the 4-day work week improve your wellness? We may soon find out

Global success

Following the success of the four-day work week model in countries like the UK, a six-month four-day work week pilot was launched in South Africa earlier this year. Regarding buy-in from South African corporates, the responses were mixed, with 46% responding maybe or unsure, 28% responding with yes and 26% responding with no. 

The challenge of the four-day work week lies in finding a mutually beneficial solution that benefits the employees and the companies. Innovative working models should aim to boost productivity while maintaining, if not improving, the current wage structures, Sebesho says.

Businesses should be open to exploring various alternatives, such as a flexible 40-hour work week, not confined by specific days. This model allows for distributed work hours across the week, such as half days over seven days, adding another layer of adaptability to the evolving work landscape, she says.

“Remember, the four-day workweek is only one part of the overall remuneration and benefits strategy. Organisations must use appropriate data insights and advisory expertise to navigate the various remuneration and benefit options and structure comprehensive strategies that best fit the needs of their employees and drive sustainable business performance,” Sebesho says.

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