Cutting hours alone will not help companies achieve a 4-day work week, says the leader of a pilot in the US and Ireland

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Cutting hours alone will not help companies achieve a 4-day work week, says the leader of a pilot in the US and Ireland
Companies will have different experiences of what works, depending on the sector, employees, and other factors. Susumu Yoshioka/Getty Images
  • The number of companies and governments trialing the four-day week is growing.
  • But misconceptions remain, said Joe O'Connor, the coordinator of pilots in Ireland and the US.

People have been arguing for the implementation of a four-day work week in various forms since the Great Depression - but the momentum over the last few months has been "incredible," according to Joe O'Connor, global pilot programme manager for the Four Day Week global campaign.

"Every week there are businesses and governments either adopting this, trialing, investing in pilots and research," he said.

In 2021 alone, governments in Spain and Scotland have set aside funds to bankroll future trials, legislators in the US are considering a bill aimed at reducing the length of the working week for care workers.

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O'Connor is hoping that trials he is coordinating in Ireland and the US can help build on that momentum.

COVID-19 has shown workers and companies what is possible, he said. The pandemic has also highlighted the stark inequalities that exist in many parts of the labor force. Finding a way to reduce working hours, without cutting pay, would improve wellbeing and equality - as recently published results from two trials in Iceland show.

But there are some common misconceptions as to what a four-day work week will mean for businesses, and how it should be implemented, said O'Connor. He highlighted some of them to Insider.

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Cutting hours alone will not help companies achieve a 4-day work week, says the leader of a pilot in the US and Ireland
Joe O'Connor is coordinating four-day work week pilots in Ireland and the US. The Four Day Week Global campaign.

Not everyone will get a three-day weekend.

A Monday to Thursday week will be a reality for a small number of companies, O'Connor said, but it won't be the norm.

"The vast vast majority of companies internationally who have introduced this, and the vast vast majority of companies who are joining our trials, are having to continue to operate their service over five days, in some cases, even six or seven days," O'Connor told Insider.

That's about ensuring adequate coverage to provide customer service, which involves clever rostering and strong management to get workers to buy into that, he said.

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"If you don't have adequate staff in a team and a particular day, then that means the trial will fail. And that means that this benefit will not become permanent, so everyone loses," O'Connor added.

The four-day work week isn't inflexible.

Some argue that the concept of the four-day week remains out of touch for many, as a reduction in working hours will exclude those who cannot afford to take time off, like teachers or low-paid cleaners. This is a misconception according to O'Connor.

"There's no one-size-fits-all model," O'Connor said. "It works completely differently in a lot of different businesses."

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Individual companies will have their own experience of what worked and what didn't, depending on the sector, employees, and type of work they're trying to do.

Cutting hours alone is no magic bullet.

"Some firms look at the research that if you reduce work time you can increase productivity," O'Connor said. "Therefore they think that if they reduce working hours by 20% and do nothing else, that magically their productivity is going to go up."

If you reduce working hours in isolation, it's unlikely to yield the same results that other companies - like Microsoft - have seen, he said. Instead, the concept of the four-day week should be a wider entry point to a conversation about how you can work smarter rather than longer, he added.

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That's about changing work practices, becoming more efficient, and empowering staff to come up with solutions, according to O'Connor. A business needs to be clear about the targets it wants to achieve and how success is judged, he added.

Senior leaders and managers also need to set an example, and live by it, if they want to reduce the number of hours worked by their staff, O'Connor said.

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