WATCH: A four-day work week would be great, but is SA ready?

A four-day work week is every employee’s dream and is attracting growing interest in countries around the world, including South Africa, but what does it entail?

“Local employers must understand the model, decide if it will work for them and know how to implement it effectively,” says Kirk Kruger, master reward specialist with the South African Reward Association (SARA).

“The four-day work week should not be confused with the so-called compressed work week,” he says. For the compressed work week, employees receive the same pay and work the same hours per week. However, they work more hours during on-days to make up their weekly total of hours worked.

In contrast, a four-day work week means employees will work one day less in the week, but the same number of hours per day as before. They will still receive their full salary and benefits and in essence, they are paid for outputs and not for hours worked.

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Healthier work-life balance in a four-day work week

Employers and employees are interested in the model because it promotes a healthier work-life balance, increases motivation and has a positive effect on productivity.

On their in-week off-days, workers can take care of personal, family and lifestyle priorities, resulting in a better quality of life, mental and physical well-being and more energy.

However, Kruger says he does not think South Africa as a country or an economy is ready for this on a large scale and interested employers will want to test the waters before committing.

“Potential adopters are more likely to be niche organisations, such as smaller and medium-sized technology companies. Even then, they should take time to investigate its impact on their operations, possibly running a pilot programme first.”

Some people like to compare it with work from home. “Since Covid ushered it in, work from home has gained momentum and I think it is here to stay,” says Kruger. For now, he says work from home will remain the primary focus for employers due to the flexibility and location independence it offers and will overshadow the four-day model.

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The four-day work week could become a benefit

“However, as work from home becomes the norm, workers and especially those with scarce skills, may start looking for employers that offer both.”

Is it a good way to attract and retain employees? “Absolutely,” Kruger says. “Research shows a higher level of worker engagement and therefore there is good reason for employers to consider it as part of their employee value proposition.”

It can differentiate them with in-demand and self-motivated candidates who will deliver results whether they work four days or five, while it will help to retain those who appreciate the flexibility it affords.

However, before jumping in, employers must consider the model’s impact on operational continuity and customer engagement to ensure they do not experience lapses in service delivery during peak hours due to insufficient staff.

“This requires a high level of engagement with employees to develop effective policies, including structured communication, active change management and collaborative corrective measures,” says Kruger.

He says with careful planning employers can make the four-day work week a new highlight of their total reward strategy, but they should consult their reward specialist to ensure their leave, overtime, pay and benefits structure aligns with this new way of working.