It would be understandable if the recent study conducted by UCD and international researchers with 12 Irish companies which found that the working week can be shortened to four days without any loss of pay for employees or loss of productivity for employers was viewed with scepticism.
The research points to multiple benefits accrued from shortening the working week including reduced stress, improved family time, better sleep and an enhanced quality of life for employees. Companies, meanwhile, reported positive outcomes, suggesting productivity had not declined and staff had become more engaged.
Mistrust of change – particularly when the benefits seem too good to be true – is not irrational. But while the Irish study was small, it mirrors other larger studies into the benefits of a four-day working week in countries including New Zealand, Australia, the US and the UK.
The research suggests the benefits of a four-day week are widespread but women appear to be the biggest beneficiaries. As it stands, childcare responsibilities fall disproportionately to women who are far more likely to seek a shorter working week in exchange for reduced pay and are often unable to participate in the workforce because of childcare commitments. Women are also frequently passed over for promotion because of what is viewed as a lack of commitment to longer working hours.
Those who advocate for change challenge a widely accepted but entirely groundless narrative that simply working longer hours makes someone more productive and more valuable.
More research is needed and change should come gradually and carefully. The pandemic created a space for the re-imagining of the workplace and allowed remote and hybrid working models to develop. Companies, and their employees, are trying to work out what the future will look like – and sustaining viable jobs is vital.
But the workplace revolution must continue and if evidence points to a better working model, we would be foolish to ignore it.