Could a four-day week become the new normal?

2 years ago   •   3 min read

By Alpona Dutta

Trade union Fórsa believes that a four-day week could have benefits for all, including employers and at a recent webinar presented research to support its claim. Alpona Dutta reports.

Against the backdrop of forced home working because of Covid-19, the issue of work-life balance has gained increased attention lately. The notion of a four-day week, proposed by some unions and HR specialists, was highlighted again recently in a webinar organised by the trade union, Fórsa. 

One of the focal points in the webinar was the presentation of research from Behaviour & Attitudes (B&A) which suggested a very enthusiastic response to the prospect of a four-day week, with two-thirds, including a majority of employers, feeling that it is quite realistic and achievable in the medium term. Some 14% of respondents took a negative view of the prospect, however. 

The campaign defines a 4-day week as quintessentially being the ‘same job, same goals, same salary but over 4-Days rather than 5.’ 

The research was based on the survey results comprising of 1,020 all-adult respondents, using a predefined questionnaire in a home-quota and face-to-face setting, alongside a working sample that consisted of 554 adults.

This type of discussion will, however, not be a first. Economist Lord John M. Keynes in the 1930s predicted a 15-hour week move in what he remarked to be the Fourth Industrial Revolution, noted Joe O’Connor, Director of Campaigning at Fórsa, who presented the findings of the survey in the webinar. 

Campaigns advocating a Four-Day week are being replicated across the world, with a gradual upward transition among the workers in the trade unions and businesses and also amongst those working in the public and private sectors, especially after a few international events that have been in the limelight of late. 

There is, however, a difference between what is desirable and what can be achievable. A substantial majority of the population surveyed (3 out of 4) believe that a 4-Day week would be desirable for employees, with a majority (59%) feeling it should be achievable for employers as well.  The findings report an almost even division among employers, with 46% feeling that it may be feasible.

A noteworthy feature throughout the survey was the fact that perhaps young full-time working-class respondents preferred the introduction of a Four-day week compared to their slightly older counterparts. Those who had office jobs or those employed in jobs that required technical skills or manufacturing were the most enthusiastic of the lot. 

When asked whether the government should explore the introduction of a four-day week as a mandate, 77% supported the Government exploring the introduction of a 4-Day working week with almost half (48%) strongly supporting such an initiative. Even amongst employers, a substantial majority are enthusiastic and supportive of the Government exploring the introduction of a 4-Day week. However, there was reported to be what the panellists state to be a ‘margin of error’ of 6% people, who neither supported nor opposed the discussion. 

These findings are supported by an EU report on work-life balance.  It found that greater work-life balance reduced costs, increased productivity, reduced unplanned attrition and travel time and increased sales. 

Professionals from various walks of life and representatives from the political parties were in attendance at the Fórsa,seminar. The panel consisted of Kevin Donoghue, Lead Organiser at Fórsa, Joe O’Connor, Margaret Cox of the ICE Group, Oisin Coghlan, Director of Friends of the Earth Ireland, Orla O’Connor, Director of The National Women’s Council of Ireland, Brid Smith of the Irish Solidarity-People Before Profit, Fine Gael politician Senator Emer Currie, Jennifer Whitmore TD of the Irish Social Democrats, Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly TD, Fianna Fáil politician Senator Malcolm Bryne, and Green Party politician Senator Róisín Garvey. 

A Four-day week, however, shouldn’t mean a decrease in productivity. It is for the benefit of the employees and it should be an employee’s responsibility to ensure that the work does get delivered on time. Clearly, the main beneficiary of the four-day week will be the employees and it rests with them to ensure that they can deliver the same productivity in less time. Convincing employers to embrace such a change, remains a major challenge, however. 


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