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4-day workweek: New research suggests it could be a reality sooner than we think


By Sarah Finnan
04th May 2022

IMDb

4-day workweek: New research suggests it could be a reality sooner than we think

Over half of Irish working professionals believe it could happen within the next one or two years, with the driving reason for wanting the transition being mental health and wellbeing. 

Ireland joined the global campaign for a 4-day work week back in 2019, but new research suggests that it could actually become a reality much sooner than any of us expected. 

The stats

According to a new survey carried out by Hays Ireland, the leading recruiter examining over 1,500 employers across Ireland, over half (54%) of Irish professionals believe that a four-day workweek will become a reality within the next five years. 

19% of those surveyed are convinced it will happen within the next one to two years, while 36% think it might take a little longer, forecasting that the structures will be in place within the next two to five years. 22% think it will become a reality in the next five to 10 years and less than a quarter (23%) believe it will never happen. 

Ireland first began calling for a reduction in working hours almost three years ago, however, the onset of the pandemic and a newfound reliance on hybrid work models means that the campaign has only gained momentum since then. 

Part of an international coalition of unions, businesses, and minority groups all advocating for the benefits of a four-day workweek, 4-Day Work Ireland maintains that a reduction in working hours would be mutually beneficial for everyone. 

What are the benefits of a four-day workweek? 

The most frequently cited benefit of this shorter workweek model is employee mental health and wellbeing (56%), with other positives including talent attraction (14%) and talent retention (13.6%). 11% of those surveyed also believe that it would result in greater organisational productivity. 

A different study, carried out by New Zealand estate management firm Perpetual Guardian, found no change in their employees’ job performance as a result of the reduced hours. In fact, employees felt they had a more balanced work week (24%), reduced stress (7%), and that overall work satisfaction increased by 5%.

According to Hays’ research, 6% of Irish workplaces have already implemented a four-day workweek; 4% of that number have implemented it on a permanent basis, while 2% are currently operating it on a trial basis. 

However, as employers look for new ways to differentiate themselves from their industry peers, it looks likely that this trend will become much more the norm, especially considering that 64% of professionals claim they would be tempted to move to a different organisation if it was offering a four-day workweek.  

Domestic and international implementation 

Earlier this year, Belgium became one of the latest countries to offer employees the option of a four-day workweek. Belgian-based workers are still expected to work a traditional 38-hour week, but they now have the opportunity to complete these hours across four days instead of five, if they choose.

According to the structures in place there, employees can request a  six-month trial period, after which, they can choose to continue on a permanent basis. Other European counties such as Spain and Iceland are also piloting similar models.  Other 

Commenting on the findings, Maureen Lynch, director at Hays Ireland, said, “The last two years have encouraged employers to reconsider the workplace environment. The switch to remote and hybrid-working models have proven hugely successful.  Both employers and employees have bought into this new way of working, with over 76% of Irish-based professionals attributing the hybrid model to a better work-life balance. 

“This has now opened the floor for further discussion of alternative ways of working within Irish organisations. The latest frontier is the four-day workweek.  At face value, for many employees, the prospect of a four-day workweek is extremely attractive.”

However, whether companies decide to reduce the number of hours or compress the traditional 40-hour workweek into four days rather than five, is dependent on both the industry and jurisdiction, Lynch notes. 

“While the number of employers currently offering a four-day workweek is still extremely low, today’s research suggests that this may soon change. At a time when the market has never been more competitive, the proposition of a four-day workweek may present an exciting new opportunity for employers to differentiate themselves from their competitors.”   

Whether the concept will catch on here or not, remains to be seen, though there is increasing pressure on companies to at least trial it, even temporarily. Things are looking positive though and the Department of the Environment became the first Irish Government department to openly engage with the idea in recent weeks, committing to undertaking a feasibility study into the working model… so, never say never.