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Paradigm shift in the workplace: 4-day work week experiment in South Africa a success

Sameera Casmod | sameerac@radioislam.co.za
07 December 2023 | 13:26 p.m. CAT
2-min read

In an interesting initiative, 26 companies in South Africa have recently concluded the first-ever pilot of a four-day work week in a developing country, marking unexpected success and raising questions about the future of work in the nation. Karen Lowe, Director of Four-Day Week South Africa NPC, discusses the remarkable findings of the trial in an interview with Radio Islam International.

Lowe revealed that the initiative took inspiration from a “mothership” in New Zealand called Four-Day Week Global. Driven by a desire to address well-being concerns, talent wars, and the loss of young talent in South Africa, she established a local non-profit company and collaborated with the global entity to bring the trial to fruition.

The South African pilot distinguishes itself as the first in a developing country, facing unique socio-economic challenges. Drawing insights from international trials in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and North America, Lowe acknowledged the scepticism but highlighted that South Africa demonstrated similar positive results despite its distinct circumstances.

Lowe shed light on the 180-100 model, the guiding principle for the trial. It involves a 20% reduction in the average work week with no adjustments in pay and leave. The model emphasises 100% pay and leave for employees and 80% of the average work week, promoting a productivity experiment.

Addressing misconceptions, Lowe clarified that the four-day work week doesn’t necessarily mean a Monday to Thursday schedule. Organisations creatively tailored their approaches, with some allowing Fridays off, others opting for staggered hours, and some implementing flexible daily time-offs, demonstrating the adaptability of the model to diverse industries.

The interview touched on challenges in sectors like education and healthcare. Lowe emphasised the need for a shift in mindset, exploring ways to enhance productivity by optimising work practices and leveraging technology. The discussion revealed the potential positive impact on teachers and healthcare professionals when their hours are reduced.

The transition to digital work, especially post-COVID, was discussed, highlighting the benefits of remote work but also addressing the challenges of the “always-on” culture. Lowe stressed the importance of finding a balance and intentionally managing reduced work hours in a digital environment.

The sustainability of the four-day work week was a crucial topic. Lowe shared that 92% of companies participating in the trial expressed intentions to continue the initiative. Acknowledging the ongoing optimisation process, she emphasised the need for evidence gathering, especially in industries where implementation may be more challenging.

Looking ahead, Lowe acknowledged the need to fight for broader adoption and gather evidence in sectors where implementation may be harder. The challenge lies in sectors like agriculture, mining, FMCG, retailing, and retail banking, where highly skilled and less skilled workers coexist. Companies already part of the pilot are transitioning, refining processes, and perpetuating experimentation to optimise their reduced work week models.

As South Africa pioneers this experiment, the four-day work week is not merely a trend, but a paradigm shift in how organisations approach productivity and employee well-being. With ongoing tweaks, optimisations, and a bottom-up approach, the initiative seeks to reshape the workweek landscape, offering a potential blueprint for the future of work in South Africa.

Listen to the full interview on Sabaahul Muslim with Moulana Sulaimaan Ravat.

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