Movement for four-day week gathering momentum in wake of pandemic

Campaign for four-day-week seeks to increase ‘me time’ and maintain productivity

A reappraisal of working hours is one of the positive legacies of the pandemic. Organisations have recognised that not everyone needs to be clocked in together and that letting people work from home has not spelled disaster for productivity.

What’s also coming through loud and clear is that the reappraisal is far from over. Indeed, judging by the number of companies contacting the 4 Day Week Global campaign, it has only just begun.

Covid created a seismic shift in people’s perceptions of their work-life balance. They want more “me time” and the four-day week is one solution. That said, the version of the four-day week being proposed is radically different to what the term used to mean: workers forced to take reduced hours with reduced pay.

A more accurate description would be shorter or reduced working with no loss of pay or benefits. It’s what the campaign calls the 100:80:100 approach – 100 per cent of the pay for 80 per cent of the hours with 100 per cent of the output.


Under this model the working week drops from 40 to 32 hours and the starting point is a commitment to the reduction. Thereafter what it looks like in practice will be different for every organisation.

Flexible rosters

In reality, very few companies that have opted for reduced hours are closing their doors completely one day a week as this would suit only a minority. Far more prevalent are alternatives such as staggered shifts and flexible rosters that have allowed companies to increase rather than decrease their productivity and level of customer service.

Irishman Joe O'Connor, who is currently a visiting scholar at Cornell University, is leading the international six-month pilot for the campaign which includes participating businesses and academic institutions from the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. The Irish academic input is being overseen by Dr Orla Kelly from the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice at UCD.

4 Day Week Global is a not-for-profit initiative started in New Zealand in 2018 by Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart, who is the campaign's chief executive, a cancer survivor and a passionate advocate for making work a better experience. "The first and most important point to make is that no one is saying that a four-day, nine-to-five structure will work for every company, every sector and every employee," Joe O'Connor says. "Yes, we're talking about moving to a four-day week as the new standard, but with different versions based on the 100:80:100 model."

O’Connor adds that companies in sectors such as finance, software, ICT, PR/marketing and advertising currently make up about 60 per cent of inquiries about the campaign and he believes that, in part, the upsurge in interest may be linked to reduced working hours giving companies a competitive edge when it comes to hiring and retaining talent.

Feedback from employers posted on 4 Day Week Global’s website shows that businesses that have made the switch are finding it easier to attract new recruits while employees on a four-day week say they feel happier and less stressed. Companies implementing reduced hours have also seen increases in productivity, better customer engagement and improved employee health.

“From the business perspective what’s important is being really clear about the metrics by which you’re going to judge the success of a trial. What are the key objectives and targets that still have to be met?” O’Connor says. “Then you can ask people to come up with ideas, solutions and changes to work practices that will enable them to do their work smarter, giving the same output in four days rather than five.”

Strategic decision

Optimum Limited is one of the 17 companies on the Irish pilot. "We have taken a strategic decision to put our team at the top of our agenda and focus on their wellbeing and work-life balance choices while ensuring our clients still get a superior service," says client relationship manager Ronan Harrison. "We believed this new way of working would also be positive for recruitment and this became evident when we received over 200 applications for an administrative role at the start of the year.

“Rather that alter our employment contracts, we have asked staff to opt into a productivity policy which outlines the parameters of the pilot,” he adds. “The policy details the 100-80-100 model, the goals, ground rules, expected KPIs and how it will be reviewed.

“It was important for Optimum to remain a five-day-a-week business, so we have drawn up a robust roster with Mondays or Fridays as the free day.”

With the move back to the office, Optimum has also implemented hybrid working. Two of the four days are remote, two are in the office and everyone is in on a Thursday.

“The next great frontier for competitiveness, both between businesses and between countries, is going to be quality of life, including employee wellbeing and the work-life balance,” O’Connor says. “There is ample research that shows how beneficial a four-day week is for individual employees. But beyond that, it can also be a business improvement strategy that can make a company more efficient and more productive with a more focused, more motivated and better energised workforce that is more loyal to the company.

“Other second-order benefits include reduced sick leave and absenteeism and companies spending less money on recruitment and training because there’s lower turnover.”