In March this year, some South African companies participated in a four-day work week pilot programme, and so far all is well, with a majority of participants leaning towards sticking with the four-day week.
This groundbreaking initiative was spurred on by the success of similar projects in various other countries, which demonstrated that a reduced work week did not negatively impact productivity.
Speaking on eNCA, Karen Lowe, the head of the four-day week SA pilot, said the driving force behind the initiative is that the traditional five-day work week model no longer resonates with the modern workforce’s needs.
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She said the programme’s primary goal is to evaluate the potential benefits of transitioning to a four-day work week, maintaining the same level of productivity while allowing employees an extra day for rest and personal pursuits.
The pilot programme began in March, involving 28 South African companies and one Botswana company. These organisations volunteered to participate in the six-month study, facilitated by four-day week SA pilot’s academic research partners Boston College and Stellenbosch Business School.
“What is very interesting to understand is that the South African businesses are not quite as progressive as our global counterparts in managing to get to the full 20% of the reduced work week. The four-day week model is based on the 100-80-100 model, where employees get 100% of the pay for 80% of the time in exchange for producing 100% of the output.
And what we’re finding with the South African companies is they’re getting over 12% and some are creeping closer to the 20% mark
Lowe said what is astonishing to see is that their wellbeing metrics are tracking similar outcomes to global pilots. “In other words, we’re seeing reduced stress, reducing negative sentiments, reduced work, family conflict and reduced levels of burnout.
“We’re also seeing those good old bottom line markers such as reduced staff attrition and turnover, less sick days taken — resulting in reduction in staff absenteeism, and just overwhelmingly positive results coming from the first cohort of South African participants in spite of all of the socioeconomic conditions …” she said.
Though not without challenges, Lowe said the pilot programme has shown impressive promise.
She said one notable obstacle surfaced in April, when participants experienced an intensified workload due to the convergence of work cycles and public holidays.
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However, she said the participants quickly adapted and resumed their journey toward optimising a four-day work week.
At this stage, Lowe said about 94% of South African companies are indicating that they want to continue with the four-day work week when the pilot ends.
She did, however, explain that these are still qualitative results, as Boston College and Stellenbosch business school still need to do the overall final end-of-line surveys that are going out at the end of this month.
“So, we’ll know at the end of this month what the final verdict is. But the global benchmark is that 92% of organisations that have participated in previous trials have opted to stay on the four-day work week going forward,” she said.