Employers should begin to consider switching to a four-day working week for their staff, a new trade union-led campaign has said.
Fórsa trade union called on private companies, and agencies in the public sector, to look at trialling the idea.
The concept was first piloted by New Zealand businessman Andrew Barnes, who introduced a four-day week at his company, Perpetual Guardian, who manage trusts and estates.
Academic research on the trial last year showed productivity increased among the 240-person workforce, while staff reported a better work-life balance, and less stress. The idea is that by concentrating productivity, and cutting down on distractions, employees can get the same amount of work done in four days.
“It’s not about companies cutting hours, cutting workers, [or] making people work longer hours . . . It’s about changing how you work when in the office,” said Mr Barnes. Workers still received the same amount of pay as they had while working five days a week, he said.
The businessman attended the start of the Four Day Week Ireland campaign in Dublin.
“Done correctly this is very beneficial for business, it’s beneficial for the workforce. It addresses things like gender pay. If it’s okay for men to take time off, you get more women in the C-suite, and men looking after families,” he said.
“If you take 20 per cent of cars off the road everyday it is good for the environment. If you allow people to have downtime in a week, you’re dealing with the epidemic in stress and mental health driven by work issues,” he said.
Joe O’Connor, a Fórsa official leading the campaign, said the four-day working week was the “alternative to the race to the bottom, the gig economy, that is emerging”.
What about productivity?
The proposal was “about changing the narrative that working long hours is some sort of badge of honour,” he said. “What we’re saying is we should be judging people on the productivity and the output, and not on time,” he added.
Galway-based recruitment and training firm ICE began a trial of the four-day week earlier this year. And company director Margaret Cox said the group decided to try the switch late last year, with a trial period to run from July to the end of this year. Staff have the option to take off either Monday, or Friday, and work an hour longer during the remaining four week days.
“So essentially, you have a three-day weekend every single week, it’s fantastic,” said Ms Cox. “We’re not cramming, we know what we have to do and everybody is focused on getting it done.”
Changes in the office include better etiquette around not disrupting colleagues if they are in the middle of working on something, she said. “We’ve put away mobile phones in the office – we’re not on Facebook or Twitter and that kind of thing, because that’s an interruption,” said Ms Cox.
“At this stage 13 weeks into it, it looks like it’s going to be successful and we’re going to stick with it . . . We believe we’ve maintained productivity, we believe in some areas we’ve improved productivity,” she said.
“It’s not for everybody and I accept that. There are lots of different ways of introducing flexibility and the four-day week is one of them,” she added.