When Ardern uploaded a video to Facebook last week that had the idea of a four-day work week, an audience outside New Zealand became aware of it after the headlines. In the midst of the flexibility companies had to show in response to the novel corona virus crisis, what used to be a marginal term in many quarters no longer seemed so unthinkable.
Ardern said she was looking for creative ways to boost domestic tourism and help industry recover as the country began to reopen with strict border measures. However, she formulated the idea in the context of broader workplace changes caused by the pandemic.
It urged companies to think about new guidelines.
“I would really encourage people to think about it if you are an employer and able to do it,” said Ardern, “if that is something that would work for your workplace.”
An existing trend
For his research, Pang spent time in offices that had implemented the guidelines in Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Scandinavian countries to trace why they carried out the move. “It is not just sensitive social democrats that do this,” he said, but also countries where “revision is the norm”.
Some studies show that productivity and job satisfaction increase in a shorter, more compact schedule.
The Finnish Prime Minister has touted the idea, the British Labor Party has campaigned for it, and companies like Microsoft in Japan and Shake Shack in the US have managed to try versions of it. While ultimately not all of them stayed, a UK study last year found that 64 percent of company executives with four-day work weeks saw employee productivity gains, while 77 percent of workers associated it with better quality of life. In the same study, bureaucratic hurdles such as contracts were identified as the main limitations.
This is partly why Karen Jansen, an organizational behavior researcher in the UK, predicted before the pandemic that a major shift toward the shorter workweek would not happen before 2030. Well, she said, the corona virus is speeding up this timeline.
“In the past, flexible work arrangements were a bit stigmatized,” she said. “These negatives, I think, are disappearing. Covid has achieved a balancing effect. “
“This experience has taught us that we don’t have to have a single model for everyone,” added Jansen. “The question, I think, is who will go back to the old way.”
Many of the benefits of a four-day working week theoretically overlap with the benefits of working from home that go beyond security during the pandemic, Jansen said. “It is this ability to find work-life balance to protect the environment in terms of your commuting and your footprint on Earth.”
Similar to remote working, four-day weeks, even if they are widespread, are unlikely to be equally available to all workers. There are different models for the shortened week, some of which compress the same performance in fewer hours, while others simply imagine longer hours over fewer days.
The pandemic has already widened the gap between those who can work remotely and those in the healthcare, retail, supply, food processing and other sectors who cannot stay at home and are at increased risk. The crisis has also exacerbated the inherent inequalities between workers in formal jobs with fixed contracts and working hours and workers in the gigantic and informal economy.
The four-day working week cannot repair these “bubbles”, said Jansen. Instead, she said, the three-day weekend would become a “bubble” like remote work that spans an increasing number of people and jobs, and excludes others.
Initial studies have shown that women around the world bear the brunt of childcare and other domestic responsibilities as part of locks and work-from-home assignments, which aggravates the existing dynamic. In contrast, a four-day working week could normalize a pattern in which people of all sexes split their time more evenly between home and work, thus removing a firmly anchored barrier to the career advancement of women.
“You will never get women to the top unless you get the boys out of the office,” said Barnes. “It makes it okay [for men] Spending time at home, looking after children, taking responsibility for care. “
Barnes is the CEO of Perpetual Guardian, New Zealand’s largest estate planning company, and his employees, who worked four days before the outbreak, easily switched to remote work, he said. According to surveys he conducted, they would prefer a mix of office and remote work.
For companies in need of a cut, Barnes asked management to consider moving to four-day weeks, as one less day could be a way to cut office costs.
“Pay them what they’re worth,” said Barnes. “Not how much time you spend in the office.”