The concept of reducing working days or hours has always fascinated me because of the possibilities it can unlock. In 2019, I spoke about the idea of shorter working days, and lesser working days. You can check out the article to get a general idea. In that article, I highlighted some case studies of companies that have tried out the concept. These were Microsoft, Perpetual Guardian, Harvard Business Review, and Workforce Institute. Recently some businesses in South Africa signed up for a pilot to test out a 4-day workweek. Let us discuss that and more in this article.

4 Day Workweek Pilot in South Africa

The pilot already started on the 1st of March 2023. 29 businesses signed up for it – 28 South African and 1 from Botswana. For South Africa, this is actually the first-ever attempt at exploring a 4-day workweek. In total, this pilot has a sample of over 500 people, spanning from owners to staff. The businesses that have signed up for the pilot are diverse. Some of the businesses’ areas of specialization are ICT, consultancy, financial services, property development, marketing, and wellness, amongst others.

The pilot is being overseen by 4 Day Week SA. Their inspiration came from 4 Day Week Global. 4 Day Week Global was founded by Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart. They came up with a model they coined 100-80-100. This means 100 percent pay for 80 percent of the time but committing to giving out 100 percent of the input. I am sure you now get why it is a 4-day workweek. A normal workweek has 5 days; 80 percent of that is 4 days. The idea is to rethink the age-old concept of a Monday-to-Friday workweek.

Why The Interest In Shorter Workweeks?

You may wonder why there are more and more pilots or trials on this subject. There are a number of implications for both the employees and the businesses or companies. Many employees are overworked; many are suffering from burnout. For some time now there have been strong indications that many employees are struggling with mental health issues. That is why exploring ways to improve employee well-being is paramount nowadays. Businesses are also keen on finding innovative ways to increase productivity and profitability.

There are of course several other ways to improve employee mental wellness, business productivity, and profitability. However, past studies have shown that shorter workweeks could be the holistic answer to all that. That is why more and more businesses are eager to test out the theory. This is understandable because how shorter workweeks turn out can be contextual. That is why a business or company has to find out how it pans out for its context.

Mixed Feedback Because Of Some Concern

It may seem that applying shorter workweeks anywhere wholly yields great results. For the most part that is true. Shorter workweeks tend to be symbiotic. As in, there is increased productivity which is good for the business or company. Then there is increased mental wellness for the employees. Plus the employees get to have more free time to spend with loved ones and do other things. Imagine the beauty of being off from work for 3 days every week. All of that is well and good. However, one of the biggest concerns has been the possible incidence of burnout. Here is the thing, remember the 100-80-100 model or principle. The employees are expected to efficiently complete a normal week’s work in 4 days. Some prior studies even showed that employees clocked in more hours to measure up.

That means a 4-day workweek may not necessarily be 4 days. It may actually be the normal workweek in disguise. Thus there is a need for objectivity there. I do not think the risk of burnout is alarmingly there though. I believe it can only be there if the owner or management fails to remain objective. As in, they can increase workload and pressure simply because it is now 4 days instead of 5. Then again the difference between 4 and 5 days is a day – about 8 hours. I doubt that is a premise for crazily increasing workload and pressure. After all, in conventional workweeks, the majority of employees spent most of their time not doing anything productive. That is why I think that this concern may not be as big as it seems in theory. In fact, shortening the workweek can condition employees to be more productive.

The overall insights from most studies done before have indicated that lesser working days and shorter working days led to increased productivity. Employees also ended up happier and more fulfilled when working shorter and lesser days. Spending less time at the workplace also led to a decrease in operating costs. The studies even showed that when employees have too many hours at work they tend to lose focus and that reduces their productivity. There is a clear indication that shorter workweeks must be the future of work. Given that the convention has always been 5 or even 6 days, it will take a paradigm shift. Is a 4-day workweek practical in Zimbabwe? Do you think businesses or companies in Zimbabwe will be willing to shift to that? Kindly share your comments below.