4-day workweek for employers in South Africa


The concept of a four-day workweek is attracting increasing interest in countries around the world, including South Africa.

With the world’s largest four-day workweek experiment nearly halfway through, organizers are pointing to a significant improvement in people’s well-being, Bloomberg reports.

The trial, which is being conducted in the UK through partnerships between 4 Day Week Global and researchers from Cambridge, Boston College and Oxford University, involves approximately 3,300 employees in 70 different companies. Companies that participate, while working only 80 percent of their regular hours, see no changes in pay or productivity.

The trial started in June and will last until November.

“Anecdotally, companies suggest that there has been an overwhelmingly positive experience with revenue and productivity levels, [that have] either maintained or, in some cases, improved,” Charlotte Lockhart, the general manager and founder of 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit that has been committed to introducing a four-day workweek since 2018, told Bloomberg.

Well-being indicators, including stress, burnout, sleep quality, family-life balance, and life satisfaction, all noted improvements. Lockhart added that, anecdotally, fewer work hours don’t seem to reduce productivity. In some cases, she said, productivity has improved.

“Everything we’ve found so far supports what we’ve always said, which is interesting. But I think the most important thing about this research is that we’re going to have empirical data that contributes to that,” Lockhart said.

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For South Africa, Kirk Kruger, a rewards specialist at the South African Reward Association (SARA), said local employers need to understand the model, decide whether it will work for them and know how to implement it effectively.

How does it work?

“The four-day workweek should not be confused with the so-called compressed workweek,” said Kruger. For the latter, employees receive the same pay and work the same hours per week. However, they work more hours during on-days to make up for their weekly total hours worked.

A four-day workweek, on the other hand, means that employees will work one day less per week, but the same number of hours per day as before. They still get their full salary and benefits. Essentially, they are paid for output and not hours worked.

Why the interest?

Both employers and employees are interested in the model because it promotes a healthier work-life balance, increases motivation and has a positive effect on productivity.

On their weekday days off, employees can take care of personal, family and lifestyle priorities, resulting in a better quality of life, mental and physical well-being and increased energy.

Who will adopt it?

“I don’t think South Africa as a country or economy is ready for this on a large scale, and interested employers will want to test the waters before committing,” Kruger said.

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Potential adopters are more likely to be niche organizations, such as smaller and medium-sized technology companies. Even then, they should take the time to research its impact on their operations, possibly running a pilot program first.

How does it compare to WFH?

“Since Covid ushered in, working from home has picked up momentum and I think it will stay here,” Kruger said. For now, he said WFH will remain the primary focus for employers because of the flexibility and location independence it offers and will overshadow the four-day model.

However, as WFH becomes the norm, workers — especially those with scarce skills — may look for employers who offer both.

Is it a good way to attract and retain employees?

“Research shows higher levels of employee engagement, so there’s good reason for employers to consider this part of their employee value proposition,” Kruger said.

It can set them apart with in-demand and motivated candidates who will deliver results whether they work four or five days. And it will help retain those who appreciate the flexibility it offers them, he said.

What should employers think about?

It is critical that companies consider the impact of the model on operational continuity and customer engagement. This ensures that they do not experience service delays during peak hours due to insufficient staffing.

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“This requires a high level of employee engagement to develop effective policies, including structured communication, active change management and collaborative corrective action,” said Kruger.

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With careful planning, employers can make the four-day workweek a new high in their total compensation strategy. “They should consult their compensation specialist to ensure their leave, overtime, salary and benefits structure aligns with this new way of working,” says Kruger.

South Africa’s labor laws will likely need to be amended to allow for such a shift to be permanent. Abigail Butcher, an associate in the employment law practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, noted that South Africa has a set law and negotiated positions around working hours, complicating any formal shift in schedule.

She pointed to the Basic Working Conditions Act (BCEA) which regulates the working hours of workers earning below the ministerial threshold of R224,080.30, and certain sectors regulated by a sectoral provision.

Companies can also enter into collective agreements with unions that regulate working hours, she said.

“In light of the above, it is clear that working conditions, such as working hours, are highly regulated by labor laws, and for South Africa to introduce a four-day work week, this legislation would have to be effectively amended,” she said.

Read: South Africa’s 9-to-5 workday is no longer palatable amid pressures on shorter workweek



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