So when Ardern posted a video on Facebook last week, hinting at the idea of a four-day work week, audiences outside of New Zealand took note, judging by big titles. In the midst of the flexibility that companies had to show in response to the new coronavirus crisis, what, once in many circles, would have seemed like a marginal notion no longer seemed so unthinkable.
Ardern said it is looking for creative ways to boost domestic tourism, to help the industry recover as the country begins to reopen with strict border measures still in place. But she presented the idea in the context of broader workplace changes brought on by the pandemic.
“I have heard many people suggest that we should have a four-day week,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s really between employers and employees.”
It has pushed companies to consider new policies.
“I really encourage people to think about it, if you are an employer and able to do it,” said Ardern, “if it is something that would work for your workplace. “
A pre-existing trend
For his research, Pang spent time in offices that had implemented the policy in Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Scandinavian countries to find out why. they were making the change. “It is not only the delicate social democracies that do it,” he said, but also the countries where “overwork is the norm.”
Some studies show that productivity and job satisfaction increase on a shorter and more compressed schedule.
The Prime Minister of Finland has touted this idea, the Labor Party of the United Kingdom has campaigned on it and companies like Microsoft in Japan and Shake Shack in the United States have managed to try versions. Although not all of them ultimately stayed, a study done in the UK last year found that 64% of business leaders with four-day work weeks saw an increase in staff productivity, while 77% of workers have linked it to a better quality of life. The same study cited bureaucratic obstacles such as contracts among the main limitations.
This is partly why before the pandemic, Karen Jansen, a researcher on organizational behavior in the United Kingdom, estimated that a major change to a shorter work week would not occur before 2030. Now, has she stated, the coronavirus is “speeding up” this schedule.
“Before, flexible working hours were a bit stigmatized,” she said. “These negative points, I think, disappear. Covid had a leveling effect. ”
“This experience has taught us that we don’t need one model for everyone,” added Jansen. “The question, I think, is who will go back to the old one. “
Many of the benefits of a four-day workweek, in theory, overlap with the benefits of homework that extend beyond safety during the pandemic, said Jansen. “It is this ability to reconcile work and private life, to help save the environment in terms of travel and footprint on Earth. “
Like remote work, four-day weeks, although gaining popularity, are unlikely to be available to all workers equally. There are different models for the shortened week, some of which envision the same condensed outing in fewer hours while others simply imagine longer hours spread over fewer days.
The pandemic has already exacerbated the gaps between those whose professions can be practiced remotely and workers in health care, retail, delivery, food processing and other sectors who cannot stay at home and face high risks. The crisis has also exacerbated the inherent inequalities between workers in formal jobs, with contracts and fixed hours, and those in the gig and the informal economy.
The four-day work week cannot resolve these “work bubbles,” said Jansen. Instead, she said, the three-day weekend would become a “bubble” like remote working, encompassing an increasing number of people and occupations while excluding others.
Early studies have shown that women around the world bear the brunt of child care and other household responsibilities under lock-ins and home work orders, which exacerbates preexisting dynamics. On the other hand, he argued, a four-day work week could normalize a pattern in which people of all genders divide their time more evenly between home and the workplace, thereby removing a good barrier. established for the professional advancement of women.
“You’re never going to get women at the top unless you get the guys out of the office,” said Barnes. ” Things are going well [for men] spending time at home, taking care of children, having family responsibilities. “
Barnes is the CEO of Perpetual Guardian, New Zealand’s largest estate planning company, and its employees, who were already working four weeks before the epidemic, were easily switched to remote work, he said. They would prefer a mix of office and remote work to get ahead, according to surveys he has conducted.
For companies needing to downsize, Barnes urged management to consider moving to four-day weeks, as one day less could be a way to cut office costs.
“Pay them what they’re worth,” said Barnes. “Not how much time they spend in the office. “