Four-day work week pilot in SA an unexpected success

This was the first pilot in a developing country and Africa, with 26 companies concluding a six-month trial that kicked off in March.

According to research, South Africa’s four-day work week pilot programme was an unexpected success, showing huge benefits for both employees and employers.

The four-week pilot programme was initially greeted with scepticism.

It was run by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with 4 Day Week South Africa NPC and researchers at Boston College and the Stellenbosch Business School.

The research findings of the pilot show that companies rated their experience with this new way of working as 8 out of 10, with 92% of the companies definitely intending to continue the four-day work week or considering doing so.

In addition, employees valued their time off so much that 51% say they would want a 21 to 50% pay increase to revert to a five-day work week at their next jobs, while 13% said no amount of money will get them to return to the five-day formula.

“Companies reported a range of business benefits from revenue increases to improved productivity, positive impacts on recruitment, decreased resignations and decreases in absenteeism,” Karen Lowe, global head of partnerships at 4-Day Week South Africa, says.

ALSO READ: SA corporates increasingly considering a four-day work week

Well-being of employees improved

Employees noted improvements in their overall well-being including a reduction in stress, burnout, fatigue, poor sleep and anxiety, a positive boost in mental health and work-family balance and an increase in exercise frequency.

Lowe says self-rated productivity emerged as the most significant change, with nearly half of employees reporting an increase in productivity during the trial period.

The pilot participants underwent significant review in the way they operated, implementing more structured focus periods throughout the day, reducing meeting duration and frequency, increasing the use of technology and automation and improving communication, delegation and employee autonomy, she says.

“Companies were innovative in their approach to work-time reduction, working with employees to agree on the day or times that best suited their individual needs, while ensuring alignment with business requirements.

“Although still short of the target of eight hours a week, 64% of participants reported a reduction in work time and 57% reported a decrease in the number of days worked each week.”

ALSO READ: Largest 4-day week trial results good news for future of work

Benefits unique to SA

Lowe says there were benefits that are unique to the South African context, such as more time off in a country where intergenerational caring responsibilities are high, administrative responsibilities such as renewing driver’s licences demand in-person attendance, poor public transport and traffic congestion present daily challenges and a large number of people engage in side hustles and embryonic entrepreneurial pursuits.

The South African findings differ in some regard from those of pilots in the developed world, but there was no change in the time participants spent volunteering to help the environment. There was also little change in domestic and international travels and little to no change in childcare costs.

“We seized our ‘Moonshot Moment’ to be the first African country to trial the 4-day work week, although it was met initially with much scepticism and frequent debate about its viability in South Africa. Our journey shows success despite the numerous challenges facing South African employers and employees.”

Professor Mark Smith of Stellenbosch Business School who led the local research, said the trial was significant for South Africa. “The four-day work week presents the rare combination of benefits for employees as well as employers by enhancing wellbeing, productivity and work organisation.

“It is exciting to see South African results showing similar benefits to those we observe around the world, while it also has unique aspects that leave us enthusiastic about its potential for future participants and the wider economy.”

ALSO READ: Companies warned not to rush into four-day work week

No increase in intensity of work

Professor Juliet Schor of Boston College, the lead researcher, says the researchers were encouraged by the fact that participants did not experience an increase in the intensity of work. “This suggests that the work reorganisation strategy succeeded and performance was not achieved via speedup, which is neither sustainable nor desirable.”

Pilot participant, Annerike Meiring, human resource officer at Elnatan, reported that Elnatan achieved overall success with the four-day work week and will continue with it. “Our employees are more rested, productivity has increased and our customers did not experience any difference in our quality of service. The pilot taught us how to be more agile and efficient and we will use what we learnt to rethink and optimise for the future.”

Kealeboga Kaelo, CEO of Precision Vehicle and Asset Tracking, says when the company signed up for the six-month pilot, it believed that a four-day work week was the future of work and worth exploring. “We are happy to announce that after the pilot, it has become our new normal, our current way of work. We adopted the four-day week on a permanent basis.

“Our staff unanimously agreed that the four-day work week benefitted them significantly at individual levels since they have an extra day to attend to personal affairs. Some employees mentioned that being given an extra day to rest during the week helped them to be more productive the following day.”

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