A four-day working week could be ‘revolutionary’ for gender equality in Ireland, campaigners say.
They believe it could also lead to major improvements in everything from people’s work-life balance to the fight against carbon emissions.
The four-day working week is an idea that has gained momentum in recent years, with some of the businesses who’ve implemented the measure reporting significant gains in areas such as productivity and less employee turnover.
Many businesses have also reported they've been able to make the shift to a shorter week without an impact on employees' pay.
David Cann, managing director of Target Publishing in the UK, says he would certainly recommend businesses 'take a punt' on the four-day week - as his business has seen greater productivity and profitability since making the switch.
They initially made the change alongside pay cuts (due to pandemic-related fall in revenue), but they've since been able to return staff to 100% pay while sticking with the four-day week.
Could the shorter working become the ‘default’ in Ireland?
As part of Newstalk’s Reimaging Ireland series, Joe O'Connor - director of campaigning at Fórsa and chairperson of the Four Day Week Ireland campaign - spoke to The Pat Kenny Show.
He said: “Businesses who have either trialled or introduced the four-day working week are reporting not only increased productivity but also reduced employee burnout and stress… reduced sick leave… reduced absenteeism… and less employee turnover.
“This is something we can think really can be better for business, workers and society - in terms of increased well-being, better work-life balance and more time to spend with family.”
'We believe it's achieveable'
Beyond the immediate benefits for employees, Mr O’Connor says his campaign believes there’d be benefits for broader society - including a ‘revolution’ when it comes to gender equality.
He said: “At the moment, women continue to do the caring responsibilities in the home. It would enable men to take on these responsibilities in the home, and as a result women could take on more leadership positions in work.
“It could [also] have enormous benefits in our challenge of trying to fight climate change. Most of the studies show a very close correlation between working time and carbon emissions.”
Mr O’Connor stressed this wouldn’t be a rigid model or a one-size-fits-all approach.
He said the main goal would be to make a four-day week the ‘new default’ - the way Monday-Friday, 9-5 currently is for many workers.
He explained: “It won’t work everywhere, and we will need to ensure that public services and private services can continue to operate for five and even seven days in some cases.
“This will look different in different places, but we do believe some version of a four-day working week is achievable right across the economy.”
With the economy now seeing the impact of increased automation and tools such as artificial intelligence, Mr O’Connor believes the benefits have to be passed on to normal people.
He said we need to look closely at the 100:80:100 model pioneered by New Zealand - 100% of the productivity, 80% of the time, and 100% of the pay.
He added that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to rethink some of the ‘old established work patterns’ - including the traditional five-day week.