Four-day work week

More questions than answers about implementing a four-day work week

Technology will be the driving force in calls for a four-day work week

Calls for a four-day work week in the South African context may be premature. Employers have so far been quietly cautious about the subject, but as with most examples of radical change, implementation will be the ultimate test.

It seems that experts agree that five obstacles stand in the way of implementation in South Africa:

  1. Legislative: how the various employment laws will need to be changed and how long the consultative process takes in bodies such as Business Unity South Africa and the National Economic Development and Labour Council;
  2. The question about productivity, and the responses from employer and sector-specific organisations;
  3. Responses from unions representing employees in diverse industries;
  4. The research generated from international case studies and experience which will influence government;
  5. The state of the national economy.

Nicol Myburgh, Head: HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies, says: “When looking at the concept of a four-day work week it is important to consider the industry as a whole. In a country like the UK which has primarily a service economy, it’s a workable concept. In contrast, South Africa’s economy is largely driven by manufacturing, which means we will have additional challenges because fitting five days of manufacturing into four is not a simple task.”

Furthermore, at a corporate level, a whole host of complexities will need to be considered.

  • If employees’ salaries are based on the hours they work, will this affect their salary?
  • Most contracts will need to be renegotiated.
  • KPIs (key performance indicators) and job descriptions will need to be changed.
  • What type of sector will this work for?
  • Will this be viable for all sectors?

A four-day work week is a relatively new concept, brought about primarily due to recent advancements in technology. However, some companies are already trialling the idea, with promising results for both employees and employers.

Myburgh continues: “The key questions to ask are, will the four-day work week be realistic in the South African context, and will both employers and employees reap the benefits? If not, the concept is dead in the water in South Africa – for the short to medium term at least – especially if the economy remains stagnant.”

He concludes: “For the moment a four-day work week will only be realistic in certain sectors, but as our economy evolves and changes over time to become more service orientated, it could become a more viable option in the future. Only time will tell.”


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