In a growing global trend, companies are looking to scrap the 5-day workweek and replace it with a 4-day system.

Covid-19 sent us all home to work, and if the trend was to be believed, we would never return to the workplace. Elon Musk, together with thousands of other employers around the world think otherwise, and are now coercing employees back into the office. All of this has no doubt got employers thinking.

Data collected by 4 Day Week Global, a global non-profit organisation, shows that the 4-day workweek project appears to have impressed some companies in the US and UK. The concept is built on the idea of employees being paid 100% their normal rate, but working only 80% of their normal work week (i.e. 4 days instead of 5), with the aim of achieving 100% output in their work performance.

The data shows that employees are more focused on their work when they are afforded an extra day of rest during the week. There is apparently less fatigue and employees’ enthusiasm for their work is increased exponentially. At face value it sounds like a winning concept to optimising operations while promoting  a harmonious workplace and improved employee wellness.

A coalition of South African businesses is looking to test the concept  by implementing a 6-month pilot project. Several companies in sectors such as IT, Public Relations and others have signed up for the project and we await the results of this exercise.

However, even if the exercise shows favourable signs from the participating companies, in our view this may not guarantee its success across the broader South African economy.

Unlike the US and UK, the South Africa economy relies heavily on its labour market workforce to stimulate growth with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. Can we afford this luxury?

With this in mind, as well as the nature of some of our leading sectors such as agriculture and mining, which are heavily reliant on labour, the jury will be out for some time as to whether the concept of a shorter week will add value to our economy. 

Certainly in labour-intensive sectors one would expect that they will be reluctant to relinquish a full day of work when this will probably impact negatively on productivity and profits.

Ironically in a way, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act already provides for shorter weeks where in sectors such as  mining and manufacturing, 4-day shift systems are commonplace. The difference though is that unlike the concept studied by 4 Day Global, these 4-day shift systems ordinarily do not provide for fewer hours worked overall (and according to them, may not result in the improvement in employee wellness).

Ultimately, the concept of a 4-day workweek may well have a place in particular sectors, particularly in the realm of knowledge workers who are then able to apply their time more flexibly and constructively, to both their and their employers’ benefit. The South African pilot project will no doubt spark some healthy debate.

We are well placed to advise you should you be considering adopting and adapting your workplace hours of work.